Jesus Feminist is the title of a new book by Christian writer, blogger and editor Sarah Bessey. She is holding a synchroblog this week for people who, despite or perhaps because of their fears about using this potentially controversial name, still want to say "I'm a Jesus Feminist."
I'm a Jesus Feminist.
Because this quote from Sarah Bessey's book is nothing more nor less than what I have been saying on this blog for the last two years. (I'm sure her book says a lot more, though, and I really want to read it!)
Because neither Jesus nor feminism should be defined according to how they are represented by vocal extremes.
Because my Savior came to proclaim liberty to the captives. Because feminism, when not defined by extremes, proclaims the simple truth that women and men are equal in humanity, equal in dignity, equal in worth.
Equal, Jesus feminism adds, in Imago Dei, the image of God. Equal in the pouring out of God's Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17). For the sake of the gospel of Christ, who said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10), a woman must be free.
I became a Christian at the age of 15. But I think I've always been a feminist.
In 1963 when I was born, men were still firmly in charge of everything. I remember my mother trying hard to make everything just right for when my father came home. She'd have his cocktail and slippers waiting, and dinner on the stove. I grew up understanding housework as a woman's job, and earning money as a man's job. I knew that because I was a girl, I would not be drafted if the Vietnam War or some other conflict was still raging when I came age-- and that my parents were profoundly grateful for that. And I knew my father had the ultimate say at our house, though my mother usually got her way anyway.
Yet I also knew to the depths of my soul that I was as good as any boy. I was smart. Schoolwork came easy for me. I knew I was a person, as valuable as any other person, male or female. And despite the non-verbal messages they were giving me, my parents also told me that if I worked hard and developed my skills and talents, I could be anything I wanted. No one ever said, "That is, if you were a boy. . . "
Until I became a Christian.
Not right away. Not when I was still a "baby believer," figuring out what it meant to have been born again. But soon.
"You are a woman of God," the church told me. "Learn to be a submissive wife to the husband you'll have someday. Learn to be a homemaker and mother like the Proverbs 31 woman. You can speak in church, and even be a leader, but only a leader of other women. Embrace your calling, and don't sin by wanting something other than you were created to be."
Created to be led. Created to be restricted. Created to be subordinate.
Equal, but somehow less.
And I learned to embrace this because I thought it was the only way to be a Christian. I took comfort in the idea that Jesus submitted to the Father's authority even though He was equal to the Father. That my subordination was by choice, something an equal could choose to do, which meant I remained an equal making a decision, not an inferior accepting the inevitable.
Even though subordination was presented as the only choice, if I really wanted to follow Christ and obey God. Even though the leader-follower relationship between me and the man I married in 1988 often felt forced, even hypocritical, as if we were giving lip service to a hierarchy we somehow couldn't seem to actually bring off.
Even though there didn't really seem to be anything about the women I knew that made them less suited to be elders or pastors.
I lived with this cognitive dissonance for years and years. And then in February 2008 a scholarly blogger friend of mine who called himself Metacrock introduced me to his friends at the Egalitarian Christian Alliance and their Equality Central Forum.
Only five years ago. And yet it changed so many things.
It felt like walking from a darkened room into sunlight.
I found out that there was a different way to read the Bible, that spent more time exploring its historical and cultural context. A way that focused on finding, as far as possible, the original author's intended communication, as it would have been understood by the original readers. A way that stepped back from individual bits of text to view the grand sweep of the whole story of God's revelation to humanity. A way that looked at the new creation and the kingdom of God as things both now and not yet-- culminations of the gospel which will one day finally end all injustice and inequity.
And it didn't seem to be about subordinating or limiting or restricting people, but about setting us all free. Men and women alike, free of restricting roles (you must be the conqueror, you the nurturer; you must always be the leader, you always the follower) to become fully themselves, whoever and whatever they were created to be. And this idea, this radical release from categories and their fetters, seemed to anticipate the fullness of God's kingdom and the new creation that is and is to come: "Neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, not male and female." Galatians 3:28. Maybe we really could all be "one in Christ Jesus." Maybe we really could stop viewing one another according to the flesh. (2 Corinthians 5:16). Maybe instead of one leading and one following, a man and a woman could go where God sent them together, by mutual agreement, hand in hand.
And maybe this has always been meant to start here in this world, with Jesus and the way He treated people-- especially women-- as the first fruits. Maybe that's why He chose women to announce His resurrection. Maybe that's why He said, "The greatest among you shall be the servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Matthew 23:11-12.
In the end I embraced Jesus feminism because it was the only thing that made sense to me. The way out of cognitive dissonance into a new phase of relationship with Him, dizzy with thankfulness and new-found freedom. The way to rediscover what I had always, deep-down, been sure of.
Being female does not mean I am less. That I'm "equal-but." That I'm in the Imago Dei, but somehow not quite as much as if I were male.
No. I was created in His image (Genesis 1:27) and recreated in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). It is God's good pleasure to give me the kingdom (Luke 12:32) which we all enter in the same way-- as little children, without privilege or status greater than anyone else.
I'm still as good as any boy. I wasn't born to be restricted and subordinated and led. And my sisters and I must be free.
For the Bible-- and my Jesus-- tell me so.