feminism and jesus.

Because it seems pertinent: I’m a feminist! Yay!

I would like to tell you that I am a feminist because of Jesus. It’s probably true in some ways, but I prefer to say that I became a feminist because of my mother and my aunts and my grandmothers and the way they were Jesus to me. I could also say I am a feminist for my son’s future. Because the church where I grew up taught the girls how to put on makeup while the boys were mentored by our pastors. Because my students still insult each other with the phrase “like a girl.” Because of income inequality and maternity leave (or lack thereof). I see the world through my experiences as a woman and a Christian and a librarian and all of those things have made me a feminist. There were lots of small things that shaped my realization that Christianity and feminism aren’t really at odds, but the thing that finally made me unafraid to claim the title was this essay. I am a feminist! You might be, too! And that’s a good thing!

So, of course, as a lady who is a Christian and a feminist, a book titled Jesus Feminist intrigued me. I read Sarah Bessey’s blog from time to time and on her “about” page she defines herself as “one of those happy-clappy Jesus followers.” If you know me at all, you know that I have never been happy-clappy about much of anything, and that her breathless “prophetic” style is a little bit emotionally intense for straightforward old me (not to mention the part where she talks about loving her Vineyard past in all its speaking-in-tongues glory and I get a little panicky). But I knew all of that going in to the book, and I wanted to give it a try anyway.

jesusfeminist

Jesus Feminist is a little bit about Sarah Bessey’s spiritual journey and a little bit about girl power and a little bit about women in the Bible. It’s a lot about love – God’s love, the love of a mother for her children, and the love of women for each other. And it’s a call for women to pursue justice for other women throughout the world. If you are a woman who questions her place in the church, if you need a reminder that you are beloved as a child of God, then Jesus Feminist is a book that will speak to you.

As a casual reader of Bessey’s work, I was surprised that so much of the book was already familiar to me. I had read several of the chapters in blog form, so if you are a hard-core fan, I am not sure how much new material you will find in Jesus Feminist. This is important to note because I doubt very seriously that anyone who is strongly opposed to the idea of feminism would pick up a book called Jesus Feminist, and yet a lot of the material seemed to be both from her blog and preaching to the choir.

I had two main problems with Jesus Feminist. First, I would suggest that the book might have worked better as a memoir with her journey to being a “Jesus feminist” woven throughout. It felt disjointed and could have used a stronger framework on which to hold the story.

My second problem with it was that Jesus Feminist didn’t match its title. This is not aiming to be a scholarly work, and barely talks about feminism at all except in a women are equal, doncha know kind of way. Bessey’s qualifications appear to be that she really loves Jesus and she grew up in churches where men and women are equal. Her husband went to seminary and she read his books and edited his papers but she points to no serious study of women’s issues or women’s history. Instead, the book is positioned as an impassioned plea to let women use their gifts. In the second half of the book, it does explore Biblical issues regarding women, but my guess is that she would have already lost anyone she was hoping to convince by focusing entirely on her feelings and God’s love for everybody at the beginning. While I think there are some interesting points in here about women in the church, I think the book deserved a different title, one that better represented the story inside. Jesus Feminist seems to be a title that intends to shock, and that doesn’t pair with the warm tone of Bessey’s writing. A better title might have been Abba’s Daughter, as Bessey returns again and again to the idea of an Abba Father who loves and gifts all of his children.

Despite Bessey’s style being a little bit much for me, I do think that there is an audience for Jesus Feminist. It’s not a book for a person who is interested in deeply studying the subject of women in the church, but it would be a good introduction to the topic, especially for women who feel marginalized by the church. I wish I could give it to 16-year-old me, who would have liked to know that she wasn’t so alone. There is a place for us, I would say, and this might help you find it.

NetGalley provided me with a copy of Jesus Feminist. My opinions are my own.

Right after I finished Jesus Feminist, I saw this post by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove about Sojourner Truth and it tugged at my heart so I thought this would be an appropriate place to share it.

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