Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why I'm a Jesus Feminist

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.

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.


Janet said...

Dear Sarah, sister in Christ,
I bought your book, but I must tell you I can't agree with your label "Jesus Feminist".
I have been a Christian 17 years, and before that an unbeliever and a feminist. I also was born in 1963 and grew up with similar teachings.
When I got saved, I only need to call myself Christian, because being Christian is about reconciliation and equality for the new humanity in Christ Jesus. Equality for women is included. So, we don't need to call ourselves other labels. But we do need to educate everyone on what Christianity really teaches about the people of God, male and female, Jew and Gentile, Free and Slave.
Feminism is not a word that can be inclusive within the church body. That is because there is such a spectrum of what that word means. As a Feminism and unbeliever, to me it involved an us versus them mentality. Men were the enemy and women were the victims.
Now as a Christian, I see both women and men as victims of false teaching about women and men. So, there is no longer an us versus them mentality. That doesn't exist within Christianity.
I belong to Christians for Biblical Equality and both men and women within the organization are working diligently to bring the truth about women in the Scriptures to the church and surrounding culture. Men and women working together. This is not usually the approach in feminism, especially today. It really has evolved into something different than our early women in Christ sisters who as suffragettes fought for what was our right as part of God's family.
So, actually Christianity came first and out of it came a version of feminism. But that version doesn't exist anymore - because we just call it being Christian now.
I bought your book to support you sister in Christ, and because the concepts you teach are correct.
But I really wish you would re-release your book under another title.
Sincerely, your sister in Christ,

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kristen. Your words are a bracing and wonderful - I feel encouraged and grateful for women like you! - Kerri

Kristen said...

Keri-- Thanks!

Janet-- this is nice, but I'm not Sarah. Her blog is at the link I posted at the beginning of my post. I suggest you repost this on her blog. I wrote what I did out of solidarity with her, and the term "Jesus feminist" is hers, not mine.

Personally, though, I think the word "feminism" needs to be separated from these negativities that have attached themselves to it. Christian feminism is not secular feminism, any more than Christian humanism is secular humanism. I'm proud to call myself a Christian humanist in the tradition of Erasmus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Dorothy Sayers. Just because secular humanism rejects God doesn't make the term "humanism" wrong to use by Christians who believe in the dignity and worth of the individual, made in the image of God. And just because some feminists vilify men doesn't mean Christian feminists can't use the word "feminist" to mean they believe in the full human worth of women. That's how I see it. I think the words should be reclaimed, not jettisoned. Why should the world think Christianity is anti-feminist? Or anti-humanist? Is that a good representation of Christ to the world?

But you are free to disagree, and I embrace you as a sister in Christ and a coworker for the liberation of Christian women. :)

Anonymous said...

Kristen, I resonate totally with what you've said here. I must be a similar age to you because my mum did similar things (not cocktails, cause we lived in Australia, but a beer) and Vietnam war was raging, etc... and Helen Reddy was singing, 'I am Woman, hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore'

That was my first thought that things could be different... and then I too, became a Christian, and if I thought I was smothered before... gosh... just wait to see how the Church could help you see your lessness.

I'd love to blog but am not up and running yet with that, but I love the whole Jesus Feminist focus we have right now and am very blessed by writing such as yours.

Unknown said...

"For the Bible tells me so" - loved that! So good, thank you for this!

Anonymous said...

I love this! This was my favorite line: "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."

May it be so.

J. K. Gayle said...

"By a feminist is meant a person who is in favor of, and who promotes, the equality of women with men, a person who advocates and practices treating women primarily as human persons (as men are so treated) and willingly contravenes social customs in so acting." - Leonard Swidler, author of Jesus Was a Feminist: What the Gospels Reveal about His Revolutionary Perspective

"Of course, Jesus was not part of the modern political movement we call feminism, but he did challenge the patriarchy of his day and embraced women as full members of his new community. Thus, Jesus opened the door for the modern feminist movement." -- Adam Ericksen, blogging "Top 4 Reasons Jesus Is My Favorite Feminist" at

" Jesus was not a Christian

And he’s much more radically feminist than most Christians today." -- J. K. Gayle, blogging "Jesus was not a Christian," at

"Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago [in 1985]. It was my hope that at that time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism." --bell hooks, author, in her book, Feminism is For Everyone: Passionate Politics

Kristen said...

I really appreciate everyone's encouraging comments-- especially Sarah Bessey's; so glad you liked it! You're an inspiration!

Kurk, I just loved your post "Jesus was not a Christian." Love how you showed how constantly He turned everyone's expectations upside down! I appreciate the other quotes as well!

Briana said...

Hi Kristen! I jumped over here from my blog, I love your take on Jesus Feminist. I can really relate to this: "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."
This is how my husband and I try to walk...hand-in-hand :)

Caroline Schleier Cutler said...

I would just like to say, in response to Janet, that I'm also a member of Christians for Biblical Equality and I'm proud to call myself a feminist. I know many others in CBE who feel the same. If you look at the resources available from the CBE bookstore you'll find several which connect the origins of feminism with 19th century evangelicalism. I agree with Kristen that we need to uphold "full human worth of women" and all human beings as created in God's image and that the word feminist needs to be "be reclaimed, not jettisoned." And thanks, Kristen, for a great blog post! I'm looking forward to reading Jesus Feminist too!

india2australia said...

I really appreciate everyone's encouraging comments-- so glad you liked it! You are an inspiration.

I just loved your post and
I appreciate the other quotes as well!