Monday, March 28, 2016

Dirty Word

If someone called you a feminist, would you take it as a compliment or would you feel the need to defend yourself?

What if someone called you a Jesus feminist? 

Sarah Bessey opens her book Jesus Feminist:An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women with a strong statement: "The word feminist doesn't scare me.  In fact, I'd like to see the church (re)claim it."

It might surprise people that feminism was around way before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Feminism's deep roots are tied up with Christian women's commitments to temperance, suffrage, and abolition. Feminists simply "...champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance--not greater than, but certainly not less than--to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women."  Put more succinctly: "Feminism does not mean feminine. It means equality." 

Jesus Feminism means fighting for equality not just because that is what's right and fair, but because of one's lifelong commitment to Jesus and his Way.  

Sounds easy, right?  I mean, the fact that equality for the sexes (and races and religions) isn't society's default is completely maddening.  Like, that there is an option to exclude and that it is exercised with such prejudice and is often excused as biblical makes me look around and wonder, is this real life?!

Though I was raised Catholic with rigid gender-based job descriptions, my all-girls high school education helped introduce me to strong, intelligent, charismatic women that could pursue any career. Like Bessey, "I grew up without knowing that anyone thought women could not or should not lead or preach or speak of follow the clear calling of God for their life. To us, it was not about your sex; it was about how God had gifted you.  We didn't believe the gifts of the spirit were sex-based." And honestly, I didn't even realize that "feminist" was a dirty word until I entered ministry with my husband in rural Illinois communities. 

In some circles it seems that feminism is not compatible with the quiet and gentle spirit we Bible-reading women are supposed to cultivate.  There is a lot of talk about "women's ministries", which are heavy on the coffee fellowship and craft projects but light on empowerment and leadership.  This leaves many women wondering where they belong in the church.  We wonder if being a church lady only means being able to deliver a casserole to a sick friend on a moment's notice. But can it also mean preaching, or teaching, or leading missions? If the men are supposed to lead, where does that put us?

That's why I loved this book. Jesus Feminist covers Paul's directions to early Christian women (spoiler alert: we've used these verses to oppress instead of empower), mutual submission in marriage, biblical womanhood, women's ministries, orphan care and global missions. It isn't a how-to book for Christian women fighting for a seat at the table. In fact, Bessey urges us to stop lobbying and "be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, 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."

Ladies, we can lead without being bossy.  We can change the world and change diapers, too (though motherhood isn't required to make you a woman or a feminist).  We know that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Bessey encourages us to wage an "intimate insurgency" to help redeem ourselves, our church, and our broken world.  Sometimes "making space for God behind enemy lines" is equally as hard as running a charity to help stop sex trafficking.  Start small, and start where you are.  There is a place for everyone at the table. We need everyone's gifts.

Women know intuitively that leaning into the pain makes giving birth easier.  And there has been a lot of pain--centuries of it, in fact--inflicted upon women in the name of the Bible.  But maybe that means the world is preparing for a new birth. Sometimes change happens by overturning tables in the temple.  Other times it starts by quietly serving around a table of friends and family. 

So, if the word "feminist" bothers you, go clutch your pearls somewhere else. Call it something different if you must. But I'm happy to call myself a Jesus feminist, and that's not a dirty word.  

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