I always feel that books with titles like “Jesus Feminist” (subtitle: “An invitation to revisit the Bible’s view of women”) are meant to be more attention-grabbing to people who, unlike me, don’t already believe that being feminist is completely congruent with being a Jesus-follower. To some extent, then, a book like this is “preaching to the choir” in the hands of a Christian feminist like me.
However, it’s great to hear a variety of voices joining the conversation, and Sarah Bessey has a lot to contribute to this discussion. I’ve categorized the book as a memoir, and it is partly that: Bessey tells about her own experience growing up in a conservative evangelical setting, marrying, and encountering various attitudes to women and women’s ministries within the different churches she was part of, all of which helped shape her own adult views of Christianity and feminism. What I particularly enjoyed, apart from her warm and frank voice, is that she writes from the perspective of having grown up in and moved back to Canada (albeit with several formative young-adult years spent in American evangelical churches). Most of the progressive voices I hear coming from within the evangelical church tend to be American, so it’s good to hear someone from this country taking up some of these issues and sharing her experience.
Bessey goes beyond just sharing her own life story, however, to explore many issues around women’s role in the church, with time spent analyzing Biblical texts in context. One refreshing addition to what was, to me, a familiar survey of the issues, is her insistence that any exploration of the role of women in ministry must be placed firmly in the context of service, and particularly of service with our sisters in the developing world. This is an important point, although in making it Bessey passes over some troubling issues, such as the fact that many of those same developing countries where the Christian faith is growing and vibrant, and Christian women play vital roles in evangelism, are also the countries where Christians are most likely to be implacably opposed to equal recognition of women’s gifts in ministry, particularly if that involves ordaining women to the ministry. This is an uncomfortable reality that all of us Western feminist Christians need to grapple with, and I’d like to have seen it touched on here.
I would be really interested to see how this book resonates with a Christian reader who isn’t already convinced that women and men are equally “one in Christ Jesus” and in Christian ministry. Would Sarah Bessey’s experience and arguments be convincing to such a reader? I don’t know, but I did find this a worthwhile and enjoyable read.