jesus-feminist

instagram image credit @kenberd

Well, hasn’t this been a … fun week?

Jesus made a feminist out of me. 

It’s true.

I can’t make apologies for it, even though I know that Jesus plus feminist might be the one label that could alienate almost everyone. I understand that – I do.

I know the label “Christian” carries a lot of baggage, particularly in these times. There are the 81% of evangelicals who voted for a candidate who is racist, sexist, xenophobic, protectionist, a serial philanderer, and corrupt. There are the stereotypes: the ignorant, the uneducated, the angry, the anti-Muslim homophobes, terrifying us on our late-night television programs, deriding progress and climate change and women’s equality. Christianity has been blamed for wars, for abuse, for justifying evil like slavery and patriarchy, for fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia against refugees, for colonization, and spectacularly bad Nicholas Cage movies. Most of what has passed for a description of Christianity is fear-mongering misinformation.

I know feminism carries a lot of baggage, particularly within the evangelical church. There are the stereotypes: shrill killjoys, man-haters, angry nasty women, and rabid abortion-pushers, terrifying some of us on cable news programs, deriding motherhood and homemaking. Feminism has been blamed for the breakdown of the nuclear family, day care, physical and sexual abuse, hurricanes, the downfall of “real manhood,” the decline of the Christian Church in western society, and spectacularly bad television. Most of what has passed for a description of feminism is fear-mongering misinformation.

In some circles, using the word “Christian” is the equivalent of saying you’re a racist, homophobic, climate-change denying ignoramus ready to storm a women’s health clinic to murder a doctor.

In some circles, using the word “feminist” is the equivalent of  saying you’re an abortion-loving, man-hating, crude, obnoxious radical ready to tear down or mock or destroy everything you hold dear.*

***

Here you are. Stuck in the middle with me.

Maybe we have more in common than we think. Maybe.

***

I identify as part of a group of people who receive their fair share of criticism.

And to be honest I think a lot of the criticism has a grounding in truth.

There are things Christians do that I find wrong and embarrassing and unholy and counter to the Gospel.

There are things feminists do that I find wrong and embarrassing and unholy and counter to the cause.

But here I am. I’m a Christian. And I’m a feminist. 

I’m not fully represented by what those labels mean. They’re imperfect. And I know that the stereotypes of those labels cannot sum up the vast majority of the people I know who live within them.

***

I’m not an apologist for Christianity. I’m not an apologist for feminism. I don’t feel fully at home in either label as they are understood by most of our society these days. 

But here I am, a both-and and not an either-or. And I’m not alone.

The family of God is big and diverse, beautiful and global. So is feminism. So these dogmatic labels, while sometimes useful for discussion in books and classes (not so much on Facebook, tbh) aren’t always the right boundaries for a life or relationship. Most of us live somewhere in between them.

Let’s agree, for just a little while anyway, that both sides are probably wrong and right in some ways. I’m probably wrong, you’re probably wrong, and the opposite is true, because still see through a glass darkly. I want to approach the mysteries of God and the unique experiences of humanity with wonder and humility and a listener’s heart.*

***

There is so much good that Christianity has done and is doing and will do. And it’s fair to say the same thing about feminism. 

All truth is God’s truth. I think we can rejoice for any human flourishing, no matter who claims credit.

It is interesting how the first wave of feminism was deeply rooted in the Christian faith. It was precisely because of their deeply cherished faith that women were compelled to organize for the vote, for women to be declared persons under the law, for the rights of workers, for women to wear pants, for temperance even (because the victims of drunkenness were usually women and children), and so on.

Our roots are more tangled up together than we realize.

The term Jesus Feminist would not have seemed odd or note-worthy, not in the beginning anyway.

***

Confession time: There are Facebook posts by prominent evangelical leaders that make me want to personally organize a new Schism.

Yep, I get upset by people who I think are an embarrassment to the Gospel. I feel angry. I feel like they are doing damage to our witness in the world. I feel ignored and marginalized. I feel like they don’t know Jesus, not really. I feel like the Church is missing it – missing out on all the ways the very people whom they fear or exclude or deride or judge are often the very people with whom Jesus would be spending all of his time.

So I often feel like an outsider in Christianity – because of both my politics and my theology.

But I will always work and pray from within the family to see us rise to who we were meant to be all along, God’s glorious vision for humanity in full shalom. I will never stop working to amplify the voices and experiences of the people on the margins, the people whom Jesus loved: the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the sick, the curious, the ignorant, the disrespected. I won’t ever shut up about how much God loves us today in this moment.

And then there are people within the Church who think I don’t belong. They see me as the embarrassment to the Gospel. I make them feel angry. They think I’m doing damage to our witness in the world. They are pretty sure I don’t know Jesus, not really.

I have felt that way about feminism at times, too. I’m embarrassed by it, angered by it, damaged by it, ignored and marginalized. I feel like they don’t know feminism, not really, because it’s supposed to be big and generous and inclusive and welcoming.

So I often feel like an outsider in feminism – because of both my politics and my theology. And then there are a lot of feminists who think I don’t belong and want to keep me – and women of faith like me – out. And yet I will work from within to see more inclusion and more justice, I remain deeply committed to women’s issues and causes, voices and experiences.

I long to see women rise.

***

Our big and good God is at work in the world, and we have been invited to participate fully – however God has gifted and equipped and called each of us. One needn’t identify as a feminist to participate in the redemptive movement of God for women in the world. The Gospel is more than enough – of course it is! But as long as I know how important maternal health is to Haiti’s future, and as long as I know that women are being abused and raped, as long as I know that girls are being denied life itself through selective abortion, abandonment, and abuse, as long as brave little girls in Afghanistan are being attacked with acid for the crime of going to school, and until being a Christian is synonymous with doing something about these things, you can also call me a feminist.*

***

You don’t really know us. 

Oh, you think you do.

You think because you read some biased news stories on Facebook that you have us figured out.

You think because your friends laugh at the same jokes about us that everyone sees it the way you see it.

You think that statistics or the on-the-spot interviews tell the whole story.

You think you know exactly what we think, exactly what we believe, exactly how we vote, exactly how we move through our lives.

And you don’t know. Not really.

Because within us, there are multitudes. There is nuance. There is beauty. There is redemption. There is justice and laughter and community and goodness. There is intelligence and wisdom and knowledge. There is longevity. There is redemption. There is healing. There is history.

On the inside, you’ll find the best people you’ve ever known –  kind, funny, self-deprecating, gentle, bold, wise, peace-makers.

And we have a vast complicated middle who won’t make the news, who won’t write a Facebook rant, who don’t perch in tall stools on news programs; we’re quietly getting on with the business of what we believe and we yearn for love to be our name.

***

Being both a Christian and a feminist can be frustrating. But it’s also a gift. Because I don’t get to indulge in stereotypes. I don’t get to reduce people to caricatures. I have to embody the truth that people are people and love is love and we are all worthy and we all belong.

***

I’m a feminist, sure. But first, last, always, I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ. My first allegiance isn’t to feminism. My first allegiance is to Jesus and his Kingdom.

Some consider this a form of intersectional feminism, others not so much.

Yet I choose to be a feminist in the way that I believe Jesus would be a feminist. 

The ways of the Kingdom of God stand in direct contrast to the ways of the world and our culture. (Sadly, our churches can sometimes resemble our culture instead of Jesus – witness our fascination with militarism, entertainment cults of celebrity, power, materialism, and patriarchal culture and so on.)

When I decided to become a disciple of Jesus, it meant that I wanted to live into my right-now life the way that I believed Jesus would do it. That has led me to many changes in my politics and activism and opinions, how I live out my faith, my marriage and my mothering, my engagement with the Church and community, and all points between.

Because I follow Jesus, I want to see God’s redemptive movement for women arch towards justice.

We can prophecy a better world with our very words and actions.

The Spirit transforms our hearts and minds and then our lives: regardless of our past, regardless of our context, regardless of our privilege or lack thereof. If we are disciples, we are participating in the life of Jesus now. And the way in which we engage in our lives matters. (The way in which we engage our enemies matters even more perhaps.)

This is how we will be known: by our love.

***

I want my work and witness as a Jesus Feminist to be marked by who I build up, not who I tear down. I want us to be known as the ones who speak life, not death; the ones who empower and affirm and speak truth. I want us to be the ones who boldly deconstruct and then, with grace and intention and inclusion, reconstruct upon the Cornerstone. You will know us by our love.

I turn more and more towards the words in 1 John 4 when I’m working for justice for women: “Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.”*

***

I want to be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, the second-chance givers, the radical grace lavishers, the ones with arms wide open, the courageously vulnerable, and among even – or maybe especially – the ones rejected by the Table as not worthy enough or right enough.

I want to stand outside here in our Canadian wilds beside the water, banging my old battered pots and pans into the wind and the cold and the heavens, hollering, “There is more room! There is more room! There is room for all of us!”*


I wrote a book about this back in 2013 called Jesus Feminist. You can buy it everywhere books are sold. It’s not a perfect book but it might help you understand why following Jesus made a feminist out of me – and many others.

Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

*Some portions here are excerpted from my book, Jesus Feminist, and this blog post. Aff links.

A Prayer for the Broken-Hearted at Christmas
A Prayer for International Women's Day
thank you for sharing...
  • Pin this page101
  • 32185