Blogger extraordinaire and self-described “happy-clappy Jesus lover” Sarah Bessey has just released her first book, Jesus Feminist. In it, she explores “God’s radical notion that women are people, too.”
This is a (mostly) hyperbolic statement. Bessey actually explores the radical notion that women have worth and a calling all their own, both separate from and equal to that of men. As Bessey puts it, “Feminism only means we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance … to those of men, and we refuse to discriminate against women.”
Despite Bessey’s use of the “f-word” that many (erroneously) associate with anger, bitterness, and man-hating, she has a soft voice that is lyrically feminine, and full of love for men and women alike. Bessey is poetic, prophetic, and, at times, downright folksy. But one should not be fooled by her inviting and easy tone. Her words carry force and conviction, and all the more for their accessibility, as readers find themselves nodding in agreement at well told stories calling for love and justice in a hurting world.
It is in those stories that Bessey’s real argument lies. Using a strong scriptural and historical foundation, she relates how the church has responded “to the movement of the Spirit throughout the centuries, and [how] gender inequality is only one more example of justice seeking in progress.” Bessey tells of God’s redemptive love through the ages, and how women have served and are serving their homes, churches, communities, and the world at large to bring forth that love. The power of women coming together — or acting alone — for God is clear: Women, she writes, can move mountains, even if one stone at a time.
If a world devalues half its members, for every woman who moves a mountain, there will be another woman suffering. Bessey notes the disturbing fact that “Many of the seminal social issues of our time — poverty, lack of education, human trafficking, war and torture, domestic abuse — can track their way to our theology of, or beliefs about, women, which has its roots in what we believe about the nature, purposes, and character of God.” And with that sentence, conviction begins.
Bessey relates heart-wrenching anecdotes and lists the horrifying statistics women carry in their hearts daily. Women are raped, beaten, tortured, killed, and mistreated in numbers so large that they seem fake. This is what Bessey thinks about when people ask her if we are past the need for feminism. She responds that until being a Christian is synonymous with doing something about the injustices women face, she will call herself a feminist. She is done debating about the boundaries of what women should and shouldn’t do, which is, she writes, an adventure “in missing the point.” And suddenly, the smallness of these debates is crystal clear.
Small though they may be, their deconstruction is essential for living out God’s call on all his people to participate in the “holy work of restoration, renewal, and redemption.”
To live out this call and for the sake of the gospel, “women must speak — and teach and minister and prophesy, too ... a woman must be free to walk in her God-breathed self as the ezer kenegdo,” God’s helper,“in whatever vocation and season and place of her life ... alongside her brothers.”
Bessey claims not to know how to make this change in our collective theology. But she does. She says she is best suited to the small works of making change. But she isn’t. Instead, by writing Jesus Feminist she has given us a blueprint for moving forward toward equality, as well as taken on the big work of redefining narrative and deconstructing patriarchy. By grounding her book solidly in God’s word and the church’s historical progression, Bessey should be able to avoid the criticism of pride and devaluing of scripture. As she explains, the move toward equality not only is scripturally supported, it also “continues the movement of the Holy Spirit as given to the Church in Acts.”
Even though Jesus Feminist sets forth a strong blueprint, it certainly should not be an end point. Rather, it should be the starting place for reframing the discussion of gender equality within the church. To keep the discussion moving forward, women would be well served by following Bessey’s advice to tell the stories of God’s work in them and through them to all who will listen.
In so doing, perhaps we can all come to learn what God already knows: Women are indeed people, too.
Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a writer and attorney living in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and their children. She is a contributing writer for Christian Feminism Today and FaithVillage.com, and a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Her writing appears in numerous publications, including Sojourners and Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics. Jamie blogs weekly at jamiecallowayhanauer.com, and you can follow her on Facebook or on Twitter @JamieHanauer.