God Marks a Hero Differently than the World Does: Jesus Feminist

I began reading Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (2013) with the impression that I was going to learn about how Jesus was a feminist.  After all, my own feminist leanings began because of how well the feminist theory I was studying as a master’s student seemed to line up with my own feelings and understanding of Christ’s gospel.  However, this book, while definitely about the connection between feminism and Christianity, is more about how Sarah Bessey defines herself as a Jesus Feminist.  It is a title and a way of understanding her church, the evangelical movement, through a feminist lens.

She certainly critiques certain church and cultural practices for excluding women, but her tone is mostly that of hope and consensus-building. She uses a couple of metaphors to create this feeling.  First, she pretends that her readers are sitting around a campfire with her. Second, she imagines the church as a large table, at which everyone is welcome.  This reminded me of Joanna Brooks’s book, a memoir with a Mormon feminist lens, that uses the same metaphor of the table having room for everybody.

My favorite idea from Bessey’s book is that there’s a difference between critical thinking and being critical.  She wrote, “I learned the difference between critical thinking and being just plain critical. And I found out that he is more than enough, always will be more than enough” (p. 50).  She admits to practicing “anger and cynicism, like a pianist practices scales, over and over” (p. 5). But her journey has taken her to a different place, one where she has learned that Jesus “loves us. On our own terms.  He treats us as equals to the men around him; he listens; he does not belittle; he honors us; he challenges us; he teaches us; he includes us” (p. 17).

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Her book is about the journey of melding her Christianity and her feminism, and how she has evolved into focusing on love and understanding the gospel through her experiences as a woman. She notes that a Christian feminist might seem contradictory, but that “feminism’s roots are tangled up with the strong Christian women’s commitments to the temperance movement, suffragist movement, and . . . the abolitionist movements of the nineteenth century” (p. 12).  (See more about these feminists here.)

She tackles the problems with hierarchy, especially when it means that some people are considered more “spiritual” or “better than” others. “It seems we’ve fixed a false hierarchy in our minds: everyone in public full-time vocational ministry is at the top of the Truly Committed Christian Food Chain, and the rest of us are support workers—some call us pew fodder” (p. 155).

However, this is contrasted with her take on true heroes. “We have been so busy celebrating the mythical evangelical heroes that we’ve forgotten that heroes come in all walks of life, callings, and success ratios.  God marks a hero very differently than the world does” (p. 155).  She argues that all of us can move “with God to rescue” and improve each other with our varied talents.

She echoes an important concept in my religion, that of personal revelation.  Mormonism started with a question, after young Joseph Smith read James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Bessey reminds us of this important concept: “If any of us lack wisdom, we are to ask God—he is faithful to give it” (p. 178).  She admits her lack of wisdom and her need of this important principle in her life.

I love how Bessey writes, and her ideas and phrasing have been mulling around in my mind since I finished her book.  Here are some of the gems.

“We didn’t believe the gifts of the Spirit were sex-based” (p. 41).

Ezer kenegdo actually means man’s perfect match” (p. 78).  (This is the Hebrew word for help meet.)

“I look forward to the day when women with leadership and insight, gifts and talents, callings and prophetic leanings are called out and celebrated as a Deborah, instead of silenced as a Jezebel” (p. 92).

“Women have always worked; they will always work—for their families, for their homes, for survival, for provision, for the good of their souls” (p. 94).

“I pray that when you are bored and tired and discouraged and frustrated, when you feel futile and small and ridiculous, you will never, never, never give up” (p. 196).

Jesus Feminist is uplifting and should give women grappling with some of these issues courage, strength, and hope. She is optimistic and caring.  She preaches a gospel of love and self-acceptance.  “Rest in your God-breathed worth. Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head, dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice, and satiating your hunger with the lesser things of this world” (p. 195).  Amen, sister.

This is the end of my series highlighting feminism(s). I’ve heard whispers of other types of feminisms, such as fourth-wave, revisionist, cultural, existential, and neofeminsm. I supposed the types will always be multitudinous.

The complete series on types of feminism can be viewed on my page I’m Not a Feminist, But.

P.S. I passed my Ph.D. comprehensive exams, with distinction!

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33 thoughts on “God Marks a Hero Differently than the World Does: Jesus Feminist

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  1. Yay! Congratulations on passing and doing so well!

    I absolutely loved this book. Just like you, I so appreciated that Bessey talked about faith and feminism in an optimistic, encouraging way. That tone is so desperately needed in this conversation. I don’t think her book is the greatest for a theological support of feminism, but it is a welcome addition to the literature. I’m glad you liked it!

  2. Congratulations on your exams! As for the book, I don’t know a lot about feminism in religion, but it sounds like a welcoming, thoughtful book on a subject that I’m sure can be sensitive and even controversial.

  3. Emily, that is wonderful about your exam passing. Well done.

    On your subject, a devout, attorney friend shared a great term in a letter to the editor the other day. He called some ministers “Cafeteria Christians” meaning they pick a la carte language from the bible to use as justification to divide and demonize people. His comments are these ministers are overlooking the larger context of Jesus’s words of treating others like you want to be treated.

    From my posts and our written conversations, you know that I feel the bible should not be viewed as word for word accurate, as God did not dictate the words to a stenographer. The words were written by imperfect men, interpreted and reinterpreted by imperfect men and translated and retranslated by imperfect men. The two operative words are men and imperfect, so the bible is based on the biases of gender, mores and known science of when they were written and each time they were interpreted or translated.

    In my view, Jesus stepping in to protect the women who was about to be stoned could be seen as a feminist moment, as well as one for both genders. Plus Jesus did not hang out with the ministers of the day, but was more in the company of the disenfranchised. It sounds like an interesting book. BTG

    1. Thank you! I like your views. I think if we all remembered how imperfect we are, we could all be a little more gentle with each other. And yes to your thoughts on the Bible. Well put.

  4. I loved this book, and I’m so happy to see you included it in your post! Those who are sharpening their swords to critique Bessey for being a “walking oxymoron” need to realize there’s a disconnect between political feminism, and the basic idea that women are deserving of equal rights and dignity; two things they have been tragically denied in almost every culture and every period of human history.

    1. Nicely said. I’ve had people tell me how curious it is for me to be religious and feminist, but I think there’s room for it and there are even some very important intersections. Thanks for the comment.

  5. I loved this post, as melding the two parts of me has always been an ongoing process. It’s also one that I understand and accept far better than most of my friends and family. But it works for me.
    Many congratulations on your Ph.D. That is a major big deal!

    1. I think it is hard for all of us in general to accept contradiction and messiness, since we tend to try to make sense of the world through black and white thinking. As we get older, we should hopefully be able to realize that life isn’t that simple and accept those “two parts” or many parts. I hope your friends and family eventually learn this in their relationship with you. 🙂

  6. Dear Emili, if you want to read a book on Jesus as a true feminist, I suggest you : Gesù amava le donne e non era biondo (Jesus did love women and he wasn’t fairhaired )by Iacopo Fo and Laura Malucelli. I don’t know if there’s a translation into English available, but it answers to your need to know how he really saw women and how he respected and beloved them. Don’t be misguided by the irony in the title: it is a serious historical reconstruction…
    I admire your commitment to books and feel grateful:)

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