In the past, I never really felt much connection to the word “feminism,” certainly not in relation to my faith.
Our church employed a female minister on staff, and honestly, it just didn’t occur to me for a long time that there were places where women weren’t welcome in a pastoral role.
I’ve completely taken other blessings for granted as well.
From my first breath, both my parents encouraged me to be anything. Do everything. Thinking back, I realize that my mother fulfilled many traditional gender roles (cooking, cleaning, childcare, etc.), but she simultaneously delivered a much more complex message about womanhood. She worked every day alongside my father, managing the business side of their pharmacy. While leading my Girl Scout troop and hand-making Halloween costumes, she also owned and operated a thriving gift shop and chaired numerous committees in which she directed men. She was the one on top of the roof putting up Christmas decorations, the one paying bills, and the one planning vacations. Thus, though I doubt she’d call herself a feminist, my mother taught me that women are capable, strong, and valuable.
Now, I’m in an egalitarian marriage, where we share spiritual leadership and decision-making and have flexible roles based on our abilities and practicality rather than gender. (As it turns out, we’ve ended up with many fairly traditional gender roles, but that’s a choice we’ve both embraced for this time in our lives. Of course, Charlie does iron all the clothes; he’s just gifted that way.)
Thus, I could have continued through life in my happy “Girls Rule!” bubble with little thought for my less-fortunate sisters.
But Ellie was born, and I entered the blogging community where I first encountered the voices of Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, and so many more, and I gained awareness into why I need to care. I started reading about rape culture, purity culture, sexism, social inequality, and brave women silenced by frightened men and backward cultural norms.
And I realized that I’m a feminist.
In her new book, Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey makes the case for why all Christians, men and women, should be called to feminism too.
With the title alone, Bessey forces a much-needed conversation about the role of women in the Church, but before you picture some angry, man-hating, masculine monster….be warned.
With her beautifully poetic writing style, you might not realize you’re thinking about big things. From the beginning, Bessey’s tone aims to disarm critics by opening her arms and inviting all to join her in conversation by a fire on the shore.
“I’ll be honest: some of the words I have to say might rub you wrong. You might disagree with particulars, but that’s okay—stay with me. Let’s sit here in hard truth…and let us discover how we can disagree beautifully.”
Now, if you came to this post holding negative connotations for the word “feminism” then let’s clarify exactly what I’m talking about before you get your panties (or Star Wars boxers) in a wad.
Bessey’s grand plan for feminism:
“I want both men and women to flourish in their God-ordained self; I want women around the world to be safe and well educated, to have rights of citizenship, voting, and property, safe arrivals of their babies, the choice of marriage for love, freedom from sexual exploitation.”
If we add equal pay for equal work, then we’re pretty close to my own understanding and desire. Notice, there’s strangely nothing about hating God, men, family, stay-at-home moms, or shaving. There’s not even the requirement that all women believe the same things. I believe at its core, feminism is simply the belief that every woman should be able to be awesome in whatever role, pursuit, career, passion, or way to which she is called.
Okay…now that we’ve gotten over gut reactions to the word, let’s talk about why as Christians, we MUST care about feminist issues.
A few factoids from Jesus Feminist:
- Women aged fifteen through forty-five are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined. One major study found that between 30 and 60 percent of women had experienced physical or sexual violence by a husband or a boyfriend. More than 300,000 women are raped in the United States each year.
- Over 135 million girls and women have undergone genital mutilation, and another 2 million are at risk each year.
- Women compose 70 percent of the world’s poorest people and suffer from unequal access to education and employer discrimination. They earn about three-fourths of a man’s pay for the same work in both developed and developing countries.
- More than 75 million school-age children are not in school, and more than half are girls.
So ladies (and guys), even if some of these particular statistics don’t immediately affect our own lives, we should care. These women are our sisters, and we must find effective ways to support their battles against abusive systems. Furthermore, studies have shown that when women assume financial leadership in communities, those areas begin to thrive and find their way out of poverty. As Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn explain in their book, Half the Sky, women are much more likely than men to spend money on nutrition, housing, medicine, and education, leading to healthier and more stable communities.
Thus, Bessey argues that once we’ve experienced the love of God, it naturally follows that we won’t be able to stop our hearts from seeking justice. She writes, “Once we become disciples of Jesus, we live in the Kingdom of God. And we cannot separate our salvation into a private event, divorced from what Darrell Guder calls the ‘advent of God’s healing reign over all the world.’ Ours is a distinct calling—to demonstrate the reality of God’s redemptive power in the world today.”
With so much incredible suffering in the world and so many desperate to know the hope of Jesus, where is the logic in limiting or outright paralyzing so many effective disciples? As Carolyn Custis James writes in Half the Church, “God created his daughters to be kingdom builders—to pay attention to what is happening around us, to take action and contribute.” When we set limits on what a woman should or should not do within the Church, we’re attempting to set limits on the ability of God to speak and work.
Of course, there are those of you who are googling “quiet and submissive” at this very moment so you can hurl some 1 Timothy my way. While she provides sufficient argument for other interpretations of the “quiet and submissive” mandates, Bessey avoids heated hermeneutical debates to focus on self-renewal and love.
To the naysayers who employ scattered (and culture and audience-specific) scripture as justification for keeping women in a restrained space, Bessey points out that Jesus affirms and celebrates women at a time when they were often seen as sub-human in the culture. They were an incredibly present part of Jesus’ teaching and life and an active part of his ministry. She shares of Jesus’ interactions with various women, and how he treated them no differently than men. She writes:
…We weren’t too precious for words, dainty like fine china. We received no free pass or delicate worries about our ability to understand or contribute to work. Women were not too sweet or weak for the conviction of the Holy Spirit, or too manipulative and prone to jealousy, insecurity, and deception to push back the kingdom of darkness. Jesus did not patronize, and he did not condescend.
Mary, the mother of God; the adulterous woman; Mary of Bethany; the woman at the well; Mary, sister of Lazarus; Mary Magdalene, and many others—Jesus treated women unexpectedly. He affirmed that women are welcome to learn, to teach, and to serve. He clarified that women need redemption through their own direct relationship with Jesus Christ….not some filtered blessing coming through another.
The book addresses many other fabulous points including authentic community, singleness, and discipleship. There’s more than I could ever cover in one review, but I’d highly recommend the book as a resource for anyone thinking about the role of women in the church. It’s an encouraging, empowering, and thought-provoking read. Bessey encourages us to live in love and to say yes to God until resounding affirmations “sweep over the world.” And her beautiful final commission calls women from the shadows of fear and silence to the bold, active faith found in the freedom of God.
“Stop waiting for someone else to say that you count, that you matter, that you have worth, that you have a voice, a place, that you are called. Didn’t you know, darling? The One who knit you together in your mother’s womb is the one singing these words over you; you are chosen.”
Why am I a feminist? Because in essence, I think Jesus is a feminist. I believe Jesus loves each of his precious daughters and wants to see each woman honor him with every single talent and strength he’s given her. I think whether God is watching women teach Bible verses to sticky-fingered children or preach his Word from a pulpit, as long as she’s doing it as an act of service and praise, he is filled with love and sending an emphatic “You go girl!” through the heavens.
But don’t worry. I do still shave my legs. Occasionally.
Updated at 4:15 p.m. on 11/13 when I realized I published an early version and left off a few paragraphs. Oops!