In Jesus Feminist, Bessey models how to handle ethical issues in a kingdom framework. She asks if our ethics move us in a redemptive trajectory towards God’s kingdom. Do our practices and morals move us towards God’s intended future of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness? Or do they move us toward injustice and oppression? Just because texts in Scripture condone the holding of slaves or instruct women to be silent, does not mean it is God’s final desire for humanity. And as Bessey states (using capital letters, no less), ““PATRIARCHY IS NOT God’s dream for humanity.” In Jesus Feminist, Bessey demonstrates that to head in the trajectory of God’s kingdom means that the church must choose freedom, equality, justice, and redemption for women, putting patriarchy to an end.
Bessey also reads the Biblical texts about the role of women, such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, through the hermeneutic of the kingdom of God, reading them in the context of the redemptive trajectory of God’s kingdom. Bessey insists that the passages commanding women to be silent and prohibiting them to have authority over men, although difficult, are God-breathed. Yet they must be read through the right lens, in the context of specific first-century churches in a patriarchal society dealing with particular issues. Bessey states that in these passages, Paul intended to restore order to the local churches, but did not intend to silence all women in church forever. That would not make sense in the larger context of Paul’s ministry where he encouraged women to prophesy alongside men, supported them in their work in the ministry of the gospel, and honored them as friends. In the context of Paul’s trajectory of building up the church and equipping the believers for the ministry of the gospel, both men and women needed to be instructed and encouraged, not silenced.
4) She encourages women.
“After years of reading the Gospels and the full canon of Scripture, here is, very simply, what I learned about Jesus and the ladies: he loves us. He 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- calls us all beloved.”
Sometimes Bessey sounds like a writer, sometimes a biblical scholar, and other times like a mentor. Bessey seems to understand that, after years of feeling oppressed and discouraged within the church, many women need the encouragement of a mentor more than the arguments of a scholar to pick back up and remain faithful to both their calling and their community. Bessey’s simple statement, “Jesus thinks women are people, too,” demonstrates that, sadly, sometimes even the most fundamental truth of women’s identity needs to be rebuilt after years of damage within the church.
5) She deals with injustice, abuse, and oppression of women in a global perspective.
“Sometimes miracles look like instant healing; and other times, miracles look like medication and patience and discipline. Sometimes it’s the daily unsexy work of loving people and choosing justice, even if no one ever notices. But know this: God’s heart for humanity is good news for the poor, comfort for the brokenhearted, and release for the captives.”
In one of the last chapters of Jesus Feminist, Bessey tells stories of women working for economic development in the third world, young women finding hope at a residential treatment facility for addictions, abuse, eating disorders, and unplanned pregnancies, Haitian parents taking in orphaned children after the earthquake, and brave everyday women caring for their families and communities through tragedy and hardship. This was the most unexpected section of Jesus Feminist, but my personal favorite. Ending the oppression, exclusion, and discouragement of women must include those who have been abused, enslaved, and impoverished all around the world, expanding the discussion beyond privileged, educated women in the global North. Because, let’s be honest, women who have been hurt the most by patriarchy and systemized oppression often do not live in America. And our goal cannot only be for otherwise-empowered women to find their place in the church, but for women everywhere to be treated with the love and value and giftedness and equality given to them by God.
Two more things you should know. Sarah Bessey can write, and her book is filled with beautifully honest stories from heroic women, Scripture, and her own life. The stories alone make this worth the read, and fill Jesus Feminist with inspiration. The second thing you should know is that this may be one of those books you can give a friend or family member who disagrees with you without having to fear stepping the disagreement up a notch. Bessey’s strong-but-disarming tone invites conversation and will give you plenty to discuss over your next dinner together.