Sarah Bessey’s new book Jesus Feminist (reviewed here) came out this week. So now it’s time for the synchroblog. Technically, I already wrote a post on “why I’m a Jesus feminist.” But like most people, there’s more to this story than can fit in a single post, so here goes…
I am a Jesus feminist because of people who believed that anyone can change, even me.
I can only claim this identity, which Sarah articulated so beautifully in her book, because there were people in my life who helped me envision a better way of being human together.
You see, I wasn’t always a Jesus feminist. I didn’t always view women and men equally.
I spent the first part of my adult life on the other end of the spectrum. (Jesus chauvinist?) I belonged to a church whose pastor taught that no woman, married or single, should work outside the home. I evaluated prospective seminaries partly on whether they held a “biblical” view of gender — meaning “no girls allowed” in the M.Div. program.
But there were people in my life who had tasted another way, and they didn’t write me off just because I hadn’t.
There were college friends like Jamie and Erin. Whenever our evangelical Christian school would invite a female pastor to speak in chapel, invariably we’d argue about feminism afterward at lunch — usually while the rest of our friends ate in uncomfortable silence. My arguments (including the ad hominem “I’ve never heard a woman give a decent sermon”) were dripping with condescension. I was too proud to admit it then, but Jamie and Erin were more than a match. They raised questions I couldn’t answer. They found the chinks in the armor of my chauvinistic worldview.
But more importantly, they accepted me. They didn’t stop being my friend. They showed me a better way of being human in how they treated me, even when I didn’t return the favor.
There were teachers — even at my complementarian seminary — who, without dismantling the whole system of patriarchy, subverted it anyway. Like the professor who asked, “If Paul really believed that women shouldn’t speak in church, why did he give ground rules for women to pray and prophesy — in the same letter, no less?” I had never thought of that before, maybe because I only read the proof texts that seemed to confirm my presuppositions.
There were others, too. Like the respected theologian who once lost his job at a well-known Bible school because he refused to denounce his wife’s egalitarian views. One day, I asked him why, and he patiently shared the story of his own journey from patriarchy to equality. It had cost him, but it was worth it.
That was the day I became a Jesus feminist. That was the day I embraced another vision for humanity.
I am a cynic at heart.
In Jesus Feminist, Sarah recalls her decision to bid farewell to the angry, self-righteous blogger persona:
Years ago, I practiced anger and cynicism, like a pianist practices scales over and over… I jumped, Pavlovian, to right every wrong and defend every truth, refute every inflammatory blog post, pontificate about every question… I called it critical thinking to hide my bitter and critical heart, and I wondered why I had no real joy in this ongoing search for truth.
She saw another way and she took it. Instead of being yet another online prophet of everything that’s wrong with the world, she chose to be a voice for what is good in our world and for what could be. She pivoted toward “hope and grace, toward freedom over fear, life over death.”
I’m still trying to make that shift. It’s easier for me to be the cynic. Maybe it’s a hangover from my fundamentalist past, a vestige of believing that things are only going to get worse until Jesus finally presses the “destruct” button.
But I know it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe, just maybe, God has something better for us here and now — which is another reason why I’m a Jesus feminist.
When I get angry with the world, when it feels like some people will never change, one thought keeps sneaking past my defenses:
And there it is. Hope. The invitation to help someone else envision a better way of being human, just as others did for me.
It happened for me. Why can’t it happen for someone else?
Today, I have a three year-old daughter. I don’t have time to be a cynic anymore. I don’t have time to listen to the voice that says this is the best we can do, that the march toward equality can only go so far, so fast.
Patriarchy isn’t God’s best plan for humanity, and it isn’t God’s best plan for my daughter.
At the end of the day, I’m a Jesus feminist because she deserves a better world. I’m a Jesus feminist because if I believe people can change, that they can discover a better way of being human together — just as others believed was possible for me — then maybe in my own small way I can help bring about a better, more equal world for my daughter.
That’s why I’m a Jesus feminist.