The f-word makes a lot of Christians uncomfortable, and by “f-word”, I mean “feminist.” For example, theologian Wayne Grudem argues in his book Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism that feminism is the gateway to “a system of thinking that denies the complete truthfulness of the Bible as the Word of God and denies the unique and absolute authority of the Bible in our lives.”
But for Canadian blogger Sarah Bessey, them’s fightin’ words. She says that she is a feminist because of the Bible and adds, “Jesus turned me into a feminist.” Her new book Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women is a wildly popular exploration of gender in light of her interpretation of the Christian scriptures. Here, Bessey and I discuss how she defines feminism, where the church has misunderstood the issues, and what she wants to say the submissive homemaking woman who is happy with her life.
JM: To begin, we really need to understand what you mean by “feminism.” How do you define it?
SB: I define feminism as the simple belief that women are people, too. At the core, feminism simply means that we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women. That’s it.
JM: You’ve made the provocative statement that Jesus made a feminist out of you. Can you say more about that?
SB: Well, the title of my book, Jesus Feminist, started as a bit of a joke to be honest. As I became more passionate about women’s issues in both the Church and in the world, I began to call myself a feminist. In some circles, this was usually met with surprise or disbelief or distrust. People would usually ask me, “Well, what kind of feminist are you?”
I understand that reaction, I do. Because the Church has been fed such a divisive and stereotypical view of feminism over the years, they were really asking me if I was angry or bitter or a lesbian or pro-choice. They wanted to know if that meant I was against marriage and motherhood, or if I was responsible for everything evil they’d ever heard about “those feminists” from Christian radio shock-jocks and straw-man arguments on Sunday mornings. After all, we’ve heard feminism blamed for everything from day care to rape culture, from bikinis to tornados, from abuse to childhood obesity. So when people would ask me, “What kind of feminist?” I would laugh and say, “Oh, I’m a Jesus feminist!” It stuck in a disarmingly cheeky sort of way because by saying that I meant that I was a feminist precisely because of my love for Jesus, because following Jesus turned me into a feminist.
I get into it a bit more in the book, but after a season of my life spent wandering, I emerged from a spiritual wilderness crazy about Jesus. I poured over the Gospels, and decided that I wanted to follow this man for the rest of my life, wherever he took me. I learned about the Kingdom of God, I learned to look at my life and even the world through the lens of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings. And as I became more active in women’s issues, I began to see specifically how Jesus interacted with women in the Gospels. It was revolutionary. It was profound. It was just plain normal. And I loved it. Jesus thought women were people, too, and at that point, [tweetable] I decided that I wanted to be a feminist in the way that Jesus would be a feminist [/tweetable].
When I say “Jesus made a feminist out of me” it also means that Jesus shapes my feminism, rather than the other way around. When I decided to become a disciple of Jesus, it meant that I wanted to live into my right-now life the way I believed Jesus would do it–that included my passion for and advocacy for women’s voices and experiences, healing and justice. It’s precisely because I follow Jesus that I want to see God’s redemptive movement for women arch towards justice.