I just finished Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. It constitutes a very compelling case for equality and justice being Christian virtues. A small part of the book directly addresses the Pauline passages in the New Testament that suggest a lesser, subordinate role for women in the Church community, and I think she deftly parries any claims that they should be applied today. But the more meaningful argument is in the book as a whole, with stories and longings and calls to action. Equality (and its accompanying virtue, justice) are never narrow goals. There’s no mistaking a call for equality of participation by women as a claim that men’s participation should be diminished. Instead, Bessey emphasizes both the invitation and desperate need for an expansive equality, for the way in which removing the barriers to full participation by women will magnify the expansive reach of the Good News brought by Jesus. It is in that sense that Bessey is most clearly a Jesus Feminist.
My own religious tradition prefers to emphasize it’s uniqueness (its peculiarity), but I found myself repeatedly struck by this though, “The struggles she is describing in her Christian congregations are so similar to what we’re facing in ours. Yes, the trappings and specifics and even some of the language is different, but the challenge is the same: How do we weed out the inequalities of the world to maximize the impact of everyone’s contributions?” It’s not an easily answered question, as Bessey fully admits, but its one worth wrestling precisely because we are called by Jesus to do so much for this world, and we need all the strength we can get.
To best highlight the value of this broad message (broad enough to reach those of other faiths, or even no faith, I think), I’d like to close by sharing a few of the passages that stood out to me, in hopes that they will be helpful to you as adopted to whatever institutional or personal setting you find yourself in.
On arguments over “women’s place”:
“I’m through wasting my time with debates about women-should-do-this and women-should-not-do-that boundaries. I’m out. What an adventure in missing the point. These are the small, small arguments about a small, small god.”
On the impact of women leaders:
“If more mothers were pastors or preachers, we would likely have a lot more sermons and books about the metaphors of birth and pregnancy connecting us to the story of God. I am rather tired of sports and war metaphors. If more mothers were pastors or preachers, perhaps the beautiful crèche scenes of Christmas wouldn’t be quite so immaculate. We wouldn’t sing songs of babies who don’t cry. And maybe we wouldn’t mistake quiet for peace.”
On “women’s meetings” at her church:
“So I gave up attending these kinds of official meetings for a while. I felt bad about it at first, but I was already choking on cute things and crafty ideas. I didn’t need another fashion show of makeup tutorial, another chance to fill in the blank in a Bible study with a pink flower on the cover. Besides, the world can give us cute cupcake designs and decorating tips, scrapbooking parties, and casserole recipes.
“Women are hungry for authenticity and vulnerability, real community – not churchified life tips and tricks from lady magazines. These can be fun, even relationship building, but surely it’s not the whole picture. Some of us are drowning in our lives because of our past or our present, others are suffocating under the weight of unmet expectations, and still others are dying of thirst from want of the cold water of a friend. So many of us didn’t grow up with mothers or grandmothers, fathers or grandfathers who loves Jesus, and our hearts are sadly aware of our own weaknesses and inadequacies in the face of real needs in our own homes and around the world. We’re burned out on Facebook; we’re ready to learn community.”
Of course, gender isn’t only about women. I’m tired of sports and war metaphors too, eager for activities that take us beyond ourselves or our gender roles, and eager to leave behind the small, small arguments.