I’m not sure that I’m a Jesus feminist at all.
I left home for university in the late 1980s, I was 20 years old, the Movement for the Ordination of Women in Britain was close to victory, Mrs Thatcher was still on the throne and David Alton’s private members bill to change the law on late abortion was crushed to the loud cry of a woman’s right to chose. In the American universities the radical feminist theologians were rewriting the scriptures and the liturgy with gender neutral language and I slowly worked my way through the volumes on the shelf in the short loan section of the library: Rosemary Radford Reuther, God Talk; Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father and Gyn-Ecology. There was a logic at play in some of this writing that threatened to obliterate God entirely and I was more at home in the evangelical safety of, “God says it, I believe it, that settles it”. Somewhere between synthetic wombs and reproduction without men feminist politics made an outsider of me. They got a bad name for themselves when they argued that marriage was institutionalised rape and for a while there the territory looked exclusively lesbian. I wrote my essays and read the journals. I spend a little time sorting through the bigger picture perspectives to distinguish my second-wave from my third-wave feminists and my Biblical and post-Biblical feminists from my Goddess feminists. But it was tiring. Back at the University Christian Union some of us were reading Elaine Storkey and maybe Margaret Hebblethwaite whilst others of us wondered if women should even hold executive office or speak at our meetings.
Somewhere along the way the well thumbed paperbacks, the feminist theologians and the evangelical apologists ended up in a cardboard box at the second hand book store and the man behind the counter apologised. It was a big collection but he couldn’t give me very much for it . People just weren’t reading this stuff any more. I wasn’t reading this stuff anymore. I had four small children and serial postnatal depression. I needed the money: shoes for the kids and an ever growing fiction habit that consumes the afternoons whilst they napped.
These are very nearly years without God for me. He seemed far away most of the time whilst the novels I devoured put me in touch with a life-breathing, heart-throbbing human reality that was easier to believe in. Stories of loss, pain, abuse, grief, of hope, redemption and self discovery. I found authentic humanity from a safe place called fiction and most of the writers I loved were women like me. I wanted to hear their stories over and over again. I did not tire. I love that they found a room of their own between the demands of fathers and husbands, childbirth and illness, madness, poverty and stifling convention, to be who they wanted to be in their stories and their words. The stories they told made no demands and I had room to grow. And I never quite lost hope that the God I thought I knew was really interested in all our humanity, every last dirty scrap.
And so I returned to Jesus more human than I was before and found Him to be more human that I had thought Him to be.
He healed the sick and preached freedom and pulled himself away from the crowd to spend time with unsuitable people, in homes he should not enter and in conversations he should not have had. He was controversial, audacious and subversive and he reached the places in the heart where no one else could go. When he speaks His words you almost hear their sighs of relief as burdens of shame fall away. Social stigmas cast by guilt or political oppression, the law or religion, are lifted from their shoulders and they stand tall. All of this for the sinners and the outsiders. But then he speaks to the women …
Once you notice the women in the gospels, how the writers position them, they’re key, in the flow of the story, as the kingdom grows, you can’t miss their worth. Jesus speaks to women calling them friend, drawing them out of the shadows of social exclusion, the ones born on the wrong side of the gender divide, conscribed to life outside the dignity of personhood because of the law, because of religion and because of man-made tradition. He offers them the names and the status that the law and their religion have taken away and he offers it to them immediately, in time and history as heaven comes to earth and the kingdom is made real before their own sparkling eyes. There is no anger or fury and there are no intellectual gymnastics to be performed. This is simple love, an embodied love that says in actions and in words, you are a person too.
So this is why I am a Jesus Feminist.
If you were troubled when Jesus went into the temple courtyards and turned over the trader’s stalls you need to know that this was nothing compared to the rumpus he was going to create when he finally turned the tables on the powers of darkness, oppression and sin that had enslaved his Father’s children since those heady days in the garden of Eden when the enemy of freedom first whispered those seductive words, “Did God really say?” In the upside down kingdom of the Jesus I love there is a table-turning, lie-busting, revolution waiting to happen that will do violence against every authority, philosophy or social structure that held us back or curtailed our glorious God given freedom to be. You will have to get used to some confrontation, a few harsh words and some small violence in the real business of kingdom revolution. This is not for the faint hearted.
But, if someone did something to you, or said something to you that made you feel less human than you really are let us not shy away. I want to take you to Jesus and see him restore the full image of God in the fully human person that he made you to be.
“We are creating a world where every woman can be who she was created to be without apology, in freedom.”
Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist
For Jesus is making us human again.
Sarah Bessey is a writer and an award winning blogger at www.sarahbessey.com. She lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, with her husband Brian and three tinies.