By Maria Drews
Sarah Bessey recently released Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women, exploring “God’s radical notion that women are people, too,” through stories, Scripture, faith, and inspiring models. Here are five reasons why you should read it.
1) She changes the tone of the conversation, and invites you to do the same.
“Let’s agree, for just a little while anyway, that both sides are probably wrong and right in some ways. I’m probably wrong, you’re probably wrong, and the opposite is true, because we still see through a glass, darkly. I want to approach the mysteries of God and the unique experiences of humanity with wonder and humility and a listener’s heart.”
Often the current “topics of debate” in the church, such as homosexuality, the role of women in the church, the inerrancy of Scripture, and the existence of hell, are discussed in just that way, as “debates.” Fortunately, Bessey knows this tendency and heads it off before it begins, opening her book by saying, “Let’s try to lay down our ideas, our neatly organized Bible verses, our carefully crafted arguments.” Bessey is not interested in a pointing fingers in accusation, proof texting the Bible, or building an arsenal of arguments against complementarianism (she barely even uses the word “complementarianism”), but in having a real conversation built on empathy and understanding on both sides. “No, my purpose… is actually to take a step out of those debates, to pursue a third way: a redemptive way.” Throughout Jesus Feminist she celebrates the stories of women, points to prophetic witnesses, and insists on putting love first, practicing the grace-filled way of Jesus though the conversation.
2) She reclaims the word “feminist.”
“At the core, feminism simply consists of the radical notion that women are people, too. Feminism only means we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance, not greater than, but certainly not less than- to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women. …now I call myself a Jesus feminist because to me, the qualifier means I am a feminist precisely because of my lifelong commitment to Jesus and his Way.”
Bessey is not scared of the word “feminist” and doesn’t think the Church should be, either. “I like the word feminist, even if it worries people or causes a bit of pearl clutching… I’d like to see the Church (re)claim it.” By rejecting “feminism” as the work of secular scholars such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, she argues, we can forget feminism’s roots in Christian women fighting for voting rights and the abolition of slavery, and the way the “secular” feminist movement promotes justice and human thriving in the world. For many millennial Christians, fearing “feminists” sounds just as silly as fearing The Assyrians. We not only accept that women should have equal dignity, rights, and responsibilities, we are willing to fight for such rights around the world, educating girls, advocating for the equality of women, and dismantling systems of sex trafficking and abuse. As Bessey argues, we should be using the word feminist not in spite of, but because of, our commitment to Jesus.
3) She models kingdom ethics and hermeneutics.
“In Christ, and because of Christ, we are invited to participate in the Kingdom of God through redemptive movement- for both men and women- toward equality and freedom. We can choose to move with God, further into justice and wholeness, or we can choose to prop up the world’s dead systems, baptizing injustice and power in sacred language. Feminism is just one way to participate in this redemptive movement.”