Jesus Feminist is an invitation to the
life waiting on the other side of our Church's gender debates. To
me, it's less a book about Christian feminist theory and more a
book about the Kingdom of God, and what it can look like when we
are all walking together in wholeness.
When I say "Jesus made a feminist out of me,"
it also means that Jesus shaped my feminism rather than the other
When I decided to become a disciple of Jesus,
it meant that I wanted to make my right-now life the way I believed
Jesus would do it. That included my passion 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.
Jesus Feminist grew rather organically out of
my life in Christ. I grew up in an egalitarian home, with
strong, godly parents who loved Jesus with their whole hearts, and
we attended small churches in western Canada where women and men
were equally active in ministry. In my late teens and early
twenties, as I became more aware of the Church as a whole, I became
more actively engaged in women's issues within Evangelicalism,
which then led me to a more global awareness ,and advocacy of
women's issues in the world.
As a writer and blogger, I love to write
through my life to figure out what I think and dream and believe
about God - as well as the Church, marriage, motherhood, community,
all of it.
The book took shape out of my own history as a beloved
daughter, in my experiences in the Church as a woman, in
my heart for justice and wholeness for God's daughters, my passion
for writing out mylife, and, most particularly in my adoration of
Jesus, and commitment to live into the Kingdom of God.
If people read the book, I hope the chief thing
they walk away knowing is that they are loved, and they are
I have so much respect and love for Christian
feminist writers and theorists, academics, and theologians.
Everyday armchair theologians like me - the ones who didn't go to
seminary, and have a regular sort of a life - are so blessed to
have men and women who do the deep trench work here.
I think that the thing that makes me appreciate their
work is the thing that sets me apart, perhaps. I'm not a
theologian. I'm not an academic. I'm not a theorist. Instead, I'm
an everyday follower of Jesus, and a story-teller.
So far the reception has been quite positive.
Even people who disagree with where I end up theologically have
said that they feel like we have a lot of common ground, and that
the book created a space for them to question and learn, without
feeling judged or devalued. My heart was really to take a step out
of the zero-sum-game rage-tone and engage in the issues in a way
that made room for everyone, regardless of where we ended up.
I cherish my place as an outsider to a lot of
dominant Evangelicalism for several reasons, but one of them is
that my experience as a woman in the Church has been overwhelmingly
positive and affirming. I think this is what makes the book a bit
of a surprise to people. In many ways, I grew up post-gender
debates: these issues have been settled for so long in my own story
that I want to tell about how God is moving and transforming out
here in the freedom of equality, what life looks like "on the other
Of course, when I encountered the bigger Church
as an adult, I was shocked that my experience wasn't normative.
Isn't everyone? In a way, that is what drove me to figure out what
I believed and why: I needed to know if I was wrong. In my research
for the book, though, there are a lot of articulated reasons for
churches to hold women back: misunderstanding or misapplication of
scripture, tradition, fear, cultural conditioning, all of it.
But at the root, I believe it's about power.
Jesus is subversive because he turns our world's power structures
and household codes, all of it, on its head with his teaching. In
Matthew 20, Jesus tells us that, among us, it shall be different. I
believe that, as we follow Jesus, we'll follow him right into an
upside-down kingdom of love, servanthood, and wholeness among us
As a whole, our world has not valued or esteemed
women. This is part of why I believe the Church can
prophesy the Kingdom of God's ways for men and women.
I am hopeful, because I see change spreading
slowly and organically, which to me signifies lasting impact.
I see so much of our disagreements and
discussions as an adventure in missing the point. I don't like the
whole "you can do this but not this", narrow, nit-picky kind of
stuff. I tend to be a bit of a Canadian in that way: I like a bit
more fresh air than that.
In many ways, if we can get the starting point
right, then the way it plays out will change.
I'm enjoying the conversations around Jesus
Feminist; so I'm travelling a small bit to
participate in those gatherings. Otherwise, it's just business as
usual right now: I'm a stay-at-home mum with three tinies, so life
is always full. I'll probably starting working on my second book
soon, as well.
We live on the west coast of Canada, just
outside Vancouver, British Columbia. But I grew up as a prairie kid
in Saskatchewan and Alberta. My husband, Brian, is American, and
we've been married for nearly 13 years.
My relationship with the Church has evolved over the
years. I went through a period of disengagement with the
institutions of the Church, which I write about in the book a bit.
But, in the end, I really felt called to intentional Christian
I suppose I'm a bit of a postmodern cafeteria
Christian, borrowing traditions and liturgy and
experiences across the spectrum. I have found a lot of life in many
different expressions of Christianity, but I'm still one of those
happy-clappy, Spirit-filled Christians at heart. I've been
everything from a pastor's wife to an outsider. Now we're pretty
settled in a community church, and we lead a home-group and teach
Sunday school. I seethe Church as a lot bigger and borderless these
days, and so I find family in a lot of communities and places,
I read voraciously and love to learn. Lately,
I've been reading a lot of Walter Brueggeman. Old favourites are
still Brian McLaren, Kathleen Norris, Madeleine L'Engle, Dallas
Willard, Carolyn Custis James, Brennan Manning. To be honest, most
of my reading happens outside Christian living or theology.
We have a busy and loud household. By the time
all the tinies have finished homework, we've cleared the dishes
from supper, gotten ready for bed, read their stories, and tucked
them into bed, the silence that begins is so lovely to me. Everyone
is safe and snug, clean and settled. And now it's time for me to
read a book and have a cup of tea.
We don't do a lot of travel, because our
children are young and budgets are tight. We like to explore here,
though, since we're in a pocket of Canada, right between the
Pacific Ocean and the mountains. It's crazily beautiful here.
I'm happiest when I feel like I'm right in the
middle of where I'm supposed to be. That changes often: sometimes
it's in a moment with my children or my husband, sometimes it's
when I'm preaching or writing, sometimes it's when I'm praying with
other women, or when I'm all alone on a walk.
I once heard our pastor say that the same part
of us that worries is the part of us that prays. I have been in
times when I've worried constantly, without words or thoughts. So I
began to pay attention to that, and learn how to pray constantly,
or keep my thoughts, fixed there years ago. I still do that -
that's the happy-clappy tongues-talker in me, perhaps. I go through
seasons of set prayer or praying the hours through Common Prayer,
but really I'm almost always praying in some way as an undercurrent
through my life.
I think I'd take the silence as my companion.
To be honest, the thought of being locked away for a few hours in
solitude sounds pretty good! We don't make a lot of room for
silence or quiet or solitude - or at least, I don't - and so the
thought of a few hours to rest in the presence of God sounds like
the right thing to do if I found myself locked in a church.
Sarah Bessey was talking to Terence Handley
Jesus Feminist is published by Darton, Longman & Todd
(£10.99 (CT Bookshop £9.90)). Review, page 24