In Which We Have a Talk about Feminism

December 9, 2013 | 54 comments

I’m going to tell you something about my past that might surprise you, … and it feels sort of scary to share it.

But I think it’s important for you to know who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming as a woman and as a sold-out follower of Jesus Christ.

Here goes:

Before I knew Jesus, I knew feminism. Before I was a Christian, I was a hard-core feminist.

I was the kind of third-wave feminist of the 1990s that fought for “reproductive rights” and believed in “girl power.” One of my women’s studies professors spelled women like this – womyn – which I thought was quite clever at the time. I devoured the words of Naomi Wolf and Betty Friedan, and I was one credit shy of a minor in women’s studies.

While a student at college, I wore my feminism on my sleeve – quite literally. I’m not proud to tell you how I wore a T-shirt with these words screen-printed boldly on the front:

no
no
notification
no
no
no

My T-shirt affirmed my position on abortion. I felt that a teenage girl shouldn’t have to “notify” her parents if she wanted an abortion.

This was the feminism of my early adulthood, and it took me many years to unravel myself from teachings that were deeply ingrained and espoused.

I want to be very clear here: Feminism is deeply complex, and it isn’t the enemy. To be sure, feminism has brought well-documented good to our world. If you like to vote, for instance, thank a feminist. If you believe that women ought to get equal pay for equal work, you’ve got something in common with your neighborhood feminist.

But feminism also has a messy side. Feminism was this huge fence between me and Christianity. Professors taught me that Christianity was a patriarchal system that demeaned women.

The message I began to believe was this one: A real feminist could NOT be a Christian.

Then, Jesus. I fell in love with Jesus. Hard.

And based on what I’d spent years studying about feminism, I didn’t think that I could be both a Christian and a feminist – certainly not the brand of feminism that I espoused. The choice was easy.

I dug deep into the Gospels. This is what I discovered: my university professors weren’t fair to my faith, and they weren’t fair to feminism either.

I had been fed a narrow view of both.

Jesus, lover of my soul, taught a different Way. I saw how He treated women. How he loved women, and empowered them, and valued them – in a revolutionary way that rejected cultural expectations of His time. I saw how Jesus stood between a woman and her accusers, stooping down to write in the dust as rocks fell to the ground.

I read how the news of Christ’s resurrection was delivered first to women. The central figure of Christianity did not marginalize or demean women; He affirmed and celebrated them.

Fast-forward to 2013. I’m 41 years old now, and I tossed out my “no notification” T-shirt years ago.

And I have unraveled myself from the feminism of my early adulthood. Yet I’ve learned that I didn’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater – or in this case, I didn’t have to throw out ALL of feminism with that old T-shirt.

I’ve kept the best and truest parts of feminism – the parts that allow me to celebrate equality, without denying my own femininity.

But I never had a word for who I have become, and who I am becoming.

Then I met Sarah Bessey. 

Sarah blazed onto the publishing scene this year with her new book entitled “Jesus Feminist.” It’s a book with a provocative title, and given my history with feminism, I approached her book with great care and caution … but with great hope. I devoured every word, and I cried when it ended.

I couldn’t stop reading the last line in Sarah’s acknowledgements:

“And Jesus: if I had an alabaster box full of expensive perfume, I would smash it on my front sidewalk. I just want to be with you, walking your way, always.”

Reading the book, I felt a lot of things: I felt like someone had opened a door, inviting women into a beautiful celebration of faith and personhood. I felt affirmed. I felt alive. And mostly, I felt wildly adored by my Savior. I felt my heart beating like this: Jesus … Jesus. .. Jesus.

What’s more, I have finally found a definition for feminism that feels right and true in my heart.

“At the core,” Sarah writes, “feminism simply consist of the radical notion that women are people, too. Feminism only means we 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.”

So, Ms. Sarah Bessey, I stand with you today. We may not see eye to eye on every fine point of theology, but sister, I thank you. I break an alabaster box next to yours.

And I can, at last, say that I don’t have to choose one or the other: Jesus or feminism.

For I am this:

I am a Bible-believing, sold-out-for-Jesus, evangelical mama and farm wife in Iowa, … and I am a Jesus Feminist.

Jesus Feminist, contrary to its provocative title and subtitle, does not seem to be a book meant to convince the reader of a radical position on gender roles. Instead it seems to be a book intended to point to the character of God, the purpose of His creation, and the journey He takes His children on toward the fullness of His kingdom. Is there a theological bias in the book? Yes, absolutely. Sarah is an egalitarian and believes in roles for men and women without distinction in the Church. But the book does not terminate on her bias, because her true bias is the name and renown of Christ, and a robust Church filled with all kinds of people fully used by Christ. – Lore Ferguson

Have you read “Jesus Feminist”? What does the word “feminist” mean to you? 

by | December 9, 2013 | 54 comments

54 Comments

  1. Megan Willome

    Thanks for this, Jennifer.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Always glad to see you here, Megan. Have you read Sarah’s book? Highly recommended.

      Reply
      • Megan Willome

        I haven’t, but I’ve been reading so many good recommendations. Love what you wrote, Deidra!

        Reply
  2. ro elliott

    Isn’t it all such a journey…for me…the second wave of feminism impacted my world …I didn’t come to The Lord until my 20s…I did not know New Testament from Old…So I was really a blank slate ready to be written on…I am so very thankful for those God put in my life…while most was bringing me freedom…one area was not…the role of a woman…as a young mom the older woman taught us…how to be a wife…a mother…now this was when the role of a stay at home mom was being trampled and majorly devalued by the femainist movement…we were the inbetwwen generation…between the 40-50. And the nineties…we had the song …I am woman…you can have it all…and to have it all…you needed to work outside the home…bring in the bacon…fry it up in the pan…(at least this is how it impacted me)
    So the church in general was pushing back hard…and taught me very definite roles…and the church really wanted to speak such words of value and affirmation to what was seemingly becoming a lost role…stay at home moms…but we…me..in turn…turned and trampled and devalued those who worked outside the home…this pendulum swing was making us all motion sick…
    Again….for me…the younger generation is speaking maybe the swinging is a bit more gentle…and me…we…the older ones need to listen…I do think God is restoring the view of a true womanhood…one that has been so distorted both inside and outside the church…I have been challenged by so much of what I read these days…
    I have not read Sarah’s book but I am looking forward to it…and honestly…it’s sad to admit…years ago I would have just stood in judgement…. Oh His sweet mercy and grace…where would I be…where would we be without it.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Each of us is a collection of our life experiences and teachings, and in my case, it has taken a long time to unravel the knots. I have had a hard time with the word “feminist” because I was taught that it meant something very specific, and that there wasn’t room for Jesus in that definition.

      I appreciate your honesty here, Ro. I hope you’re able to read the book sometime soon, and I would love to hear what you think about it.

      Reply
  3. Deidra

    Let me answer your first question, first: Yes. I read Sarah Bessey’s book and, like you, I cried when I got to the end of it. I also cried through most of the rest of the chapters in that book. It’s beautiful. Plain and simple.

    Second question: I grew up in a family and a church that celebrated women. It never even entered my mind that someone would believe a woman was less than a man. I had two incredibly strong Grandmothers who overcame ridiculously difficult circumstances in the segregated South and who gave me every reason to believe I could become anything I wanted to be. When I think of feminism, I think of them. They were strong women who know how to discern the Truth about what God thought of them, and what’s possible, even though the world around them said differently. Oh, I heard the messages in the media, and culture, and even in my public and private school classes. But then, I’d look at my Grandmothers and see there clearly had been a misunderstanding somewhere along the way, and I determined it was the education system, and the media, and our society that had it wrong. Because when a person sees something lived out in front of her, it’s the thing that becomes what’s True. And what I saw was two strong, beautiful, loving, kind, gracious (not perfect, mind you) women who were charting a clear and straight path right out in front of me, for as far as I could see.

    And now, may I add this? It’s what I loved so much about Sarah Bessey’s book. And, it’s something I believe we need more of in the Body of Christ, I guess. I think some of the initial resistance to her book is this feeling that a person has to be one or the other — either a feminist or, whatever isn’t a feminist. But, I don’t think that’s what Sarah’s saying. I think she’s saying, “Here. Let’s talk about this together. Let’s all sit around this campfire and drink wine and share stories about what it’s like to be a woman Jesus loves. We have a lot of logs for this campfire and there’s lots of room, and we’ve got plenty of time, and the bottom line in all of this is that yes, Jesus loves you. And also? What if what you think I’m talking about here isn’t really what I’m talking about at all? And vice versa. But, how will we ever know if we don’t just sit here together for awhile and talk about it in our inside voices, right here under all these stars.”

    I don’t know. Maybe that’s not what Sarah meant at all. But I do love her. And I’m so glad I read her book and that she wrote it.

    Thanks for inviting us into this conversation, Jennifer. You know I love stuff like this. 🙂

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Deidra,

      I felt what you felt, that Sarah created a space and a time … and that she set out a whole lot of campfire logs for us. I absolutely adore the heart of this woman, and her book reminded me of the verses in Luke, with the Emmaus travelers. They look to each other and say, “Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way?”

      I felt utterly loved while reading this book.

      Really glad you joined the discussion, Deidra. And also? I’m immensely grateful for your grandmothers, and though I didn’t know them, I am pretty sure I catch glimmers of their hearts in you, beautiful friend.

      Reply
      • Deidra

        Emmaus. Yes. That, exactly.

        Reply
    • Sarah Bessey

      I’m just so happy to read this, Deidra. That’s it. That’s so my heart and it makes me feel glad that you “get it” with me. Love you.

      Reply
  4. Christie Purifoy

    This is lovely and brave. Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the term feminist (though my women’s studies prof in college was my favorite! a wonderful woman and teacher), but I loved Sarah Bessey’s book. It deserves many readers.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      And thank you, Christie, for reading and receiving my story. Glad you’re here.

      Reply
  5. Rebekah Richardson

    Jennifer, this was just lovely. I am in the middle of reading her book, and am soaking in every word.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts after you finish, Rebekah.

      Reply
  6. Eyvonne

    I haven’t read Sarah’s book yet, and I’ve tried to stay away from the topic because there is so much distasteful conversation around it in the body of Christ. Sarah, while making her views clear, has commendably stayed above the fray of those conversations and I so respect her for it.

    This is a brave post friend. I’ve been quiet lately, but I had to pop in and tell you how much I appreciate you here in this.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Eyvonne,

      I appreciate your words here. I’ve missed you!

      I really believe that Sarah has created a safe space with her book to talk about these issues, even if it makes some of us feel uncomfortable. Like I said in the post, I don’t think that Sarah and I see eye to eye on everything (neither do my own pastor and I, for that matter!), but she’s invited all of us around the campfire to talk about it. That generosity of spirit had been missing in some of these conversations.

      Reply
  7. Ed_Cyzewski

    Thanks for sharing your story Jennifer. It’s wonderful how following Jesus has led you to a place of true freedom.

    Reply
  8. Jeanne Damoff

    Thanks for this, Jennifer. I love reading redemption stories, and that’s exactly what you’ve shared here — how Jesus finds us where we are and gently, patiently leads us to truth. I haven’t read Sarah’s book, so I certainly can’t speak to its content. And I can’t claim to know her heart or motives — I can’t even claim to honestly know my own, the heart being the fickle and deceitful thing it is. But since we’re having a conversation here, I will share one thing that troubles me about the label “feminist” and particularly when you attach Jesus’ name to that label. When I read your quote from Sarah’s book about what feminism is at its core, I think, that’s not feminism. That’s Christianity. It’s not a radical
    notion that women are people, too. It’s a biblical notion. Biblical Christianity champions “the
    dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in
    importance – not greater than, but certainly not less than – to those of
    men.” Biblical Christianity “refuses discrimination against women.”

    Yes, there have been and will continue to be prideful, misguided men who mistreat or marginalize others (women, children, the poor, the disabled, etc.) in the name of Christianity. There have been sickening abuses by men in authority that have led wounded women (and men, too) to despise a “patriarchal” model of leadership. But my concern is the tendency to look at abuses and assume the model itself is therefore evil.

    Up till now I’ve been publicly silent on this topic, because many people I dearly love are very enamored with the Jesus Feminist movement. And maybe I should remain silent. But I look at scripture, and from Genesis to Revelation, God almost exclusively raised up men to lead (Adam, Abraham, Moses, the fathers, the patriarchs, the prophets, the disciples, the early church pastors and elders). Yes, He used and uses women, He honored and honors women, He dignifies and delivers and redeems women. But He also clearly unfolds a story that reveals a church led by men, and He is equally clear that Christian families are ideally to be led by fathers. It won’t always happen that way, but it is the pattern God gives as best.

    And this is where I think feminism sometimes crosses an important line. Basically it comes down to entitlement. No one (man or woman) is entitled to do or be whatever he or she wants. We are created by God for His pleasure and glory, and we are entitled in Him to be what He created us to be. I simply can’t bring myself to believe that God calls any one of us to disobey His Word, whether by brazenly disregarding it, or more subtly by contorting passages to fit our preferences. I believe with all my heart that God was fully aware of our times and our culture (and all times and all cultures) when He inspired the writers of scripture. Paul’s letters were written to specific churches in a specific time, but they were breathed by the eternal God, and they reveal important truths about who He is. So, for me, the first question I need to ask when I read a hard passage is, “What does this say about God? What does it reveal about His character, nature, purposes, and plan?” Because, ultimately, the story is about Him. Not me. And He is good in what He gives and in what He forbids. It is all, only for our good.

    As for entitlement, thank God we’re not getting what we deserve. Jesus paid the highest price to buy our redemption from that fate. And then He gave us His Spirit on top of our salvation. Who are we to demand anything beyond that? On the contrary, it would seem we should look for every opportunity to serve the least, to wash others’ feet, and to rejoice when we’re counted worthy to suffer for His Name. (I don’t see anyone denying women those opportunities in the church. Do you?)

    So, yes. I know this comment is long, and I apologize. I haven’t met Sarah, but I’m sure she is a lovely person with a heart of pure gold (and I write that without even a hint of sarcasm), and I’m sure her love for Jesus is as real and deep and life-changing as my own. I pray for her, for me, and for all of us, as we fall at His feet with our alabaster jars, that we’ll lay down any sense of entitlement. Do you suppose the woman who modeled that beautiful picture of worship followed it by looking up into His loving, forgiving face and demanded anything? I doubt it. And I don’t want to either.

    And now I’m sitting here, and honestly? I don’t want to post this comment. I considered deleting it and sending it to you in a private message. But that’s wimpy. And I don’t think it’s wrong to find complete freedom in submission, or to own an identity that requires no label but His Name alone. So I’ll toss my log in the fire with the rest and pray you’ll hear my heart. Thank you for grace.

    Love you, friend.

    Reply
    • Lynn Morrissey

      I’m glad that you did post this, Jeanne, and I think that it’s a well-reasonsed rsponse. Thank you.
      Lynn Morrissey

      Reply
      • dukeslee

        Agreed. Thanks Lynn.

        Reply
        • Emily Wierenga

          Yes. I’m so very glad too Jeanne. I love you and Jennifer so much. e.

          Reply
          • dukeslee

            Love you, too, Em. We should Skype sometime. Would love to talk with you personally about this. xo

          • Lynn D. Morrissey

            Emily, you are such a blessing. I so appreciate you and your ministry and just wanted you to know that. And my friend, Kelly Greer, thinks the world of you!

          • Emily Wierenga

            Thank you so much Lynn! You are such an encouragement to me. I love Kelly Greer–and thank you also for your comment below, Lynn, on the post. I really appreciate your heart for the Lord. Bless you. e.

    • dukeslee

      Jeanne, I am so very glad you posted your thoughtful response. I always, always want to be sitting next to you at the fire.

      I will forever self-identify first as a sold-out follower of Jesus Christ. I would agree with you that the definition is, in essence, a definition of Biblical Christianity. I suppose that’s why it was so much easier for me to accept the term “Jesus feminist.”

      Because of my history with feminism, it is a term that I have eschewed. I read the book with caution, mostly because of the title. But in the end, it felt less like a book about gender roles and more a book about who God is. That being said: I’m sure the book isn’t for everyone, and certainly, anyone who reads it brings his or her own set of experiences to the campfire. I read it through my own lens, and if I were to re-read it in another year or two, I would most assuredly have new lenses through which to view her words.

      And, I must say, how much I resonated with your words about serving. ” … it would seem we should look for every opportunity to serve the least, to wash others’ feet, and to rejoice when we’re counted worthy to suffer for His Name.”

      Dear Lord, never let me stray from the bowed-low position of washing feet, and of serving You, by serving others in Your name, and to live for You alone, no matter the cost. Mold my attitude to be same as that of Christ Jesus, who “made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant.” Amen…

      Reply
      • Jeanne Damoff

        Thanks so much for your grace-filled words and your beautiful prayer. I know you mean it. And thanks for the link. The review was very thorough, thoughtful, even-handed, and helpful. Love you and your servant heart, Jennifer.

        Reply
    • David Rupert

      Very reasonable and balanced, biblical approach.

      Reply
  9. Lynda-Mum of 4

    I haven’t read the book you speak of but I can speak of God who is pushing through to bring me to freedom without fear in the area of a woman’s place in his kingdom – for my good and the good of my 4 teenage arrows. Women have been silenced (to the great loss of the kingdom) and I am glad God won’t stop with me on this issue until I can wholeheartedly say that He has never done that. Jesus Feminist – yes.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Praying for God to lead and guide you, Lynda.

      Reply
  10. DeanneMoore

    I read this earlier and sat with it awhile. I have been crawling through books the past month since I became my Dad’s caregiver, so I haven’t gotten to Sarah’s book. I want to say I appreciate your telling this part of your story. Since I only “know” you through your blog, you could edit your life, and I could let only your words from this week inform me. So appreciate all the different facets of your life you share. I have always been averse to labels. period. I think my openness has allowed me to see God in his world in a much bigger way than what could be defined by my little life. We live such paradoxical lives. I sit here with my Dad suffering cancer. I feel grief and gratefulness. I am a woman who is independent and strong and I am a woman who is submissive and under the authority of the husband I prayed for, the one who asked me to be a stay at home wife and mother. Things didn’t go the way expected when I grew up saying “no man will ever take care of me” and I am glad that I went with God’s plan not mine. To me, feminism can be just another tribe. As someone said recently in one of these communities I hang around, tribes circle up and get defensive. (Was it you?) I am glad to know that Sarah’s book doesn’t elicit that kind of response. Feminism can also be a celebration of the way I was created, that I am loved as unique in the creation (even though I have an identical twin). So many of the ‘wars’ I thought were over, aren’t I suppose. Maybe I am pie in the sky, but I just want to walk with Jesus, I want to die to Jesus. He shouldn’t love me but he does, broken woman that I am. I will never wield the influence of Sarah but I will be loved just as much. Thanks for sharing and opening up a great conversation.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Hi Dea, First of all, I am so sorry for all you’re going through with your Dad. I pray for divine appointments and holy moments amidst the hours.

      Second, I am not the person who wrote about tribes circling up and getting defensive, but that’s a poignant observation. I struggled greatly with this post, primarily because I don’t want to be a tribe-circler. I don’t like boxes or labels. And if I’m circling anywhere, I pray it’s at the foot of the cross.

      I want to keep the main thing, the main thing.

      Thank you for sharing.

      Reply
  11. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Jennifer, I really appreciate reading your insights here and respect your opinions a lot. I had purchased Sarah’s book earlier, and have not yet had a chance to read it, so I can’t comment whatever on what she’s written. Pre-Christian days, I would never have considered myself a Feminist, but I realize in retrospect, that I did hold to some of their beliefs–equal pay for equal work, abortion rights, etc. But when the Lord got a hold of me and I came to Christ, many of my views changed drastically. As you know (and likely anyone who reads where I have commented on blogs knows), I had an abortion as a brand-new Christian and before I really understood the heinousness of this sin. I have come to Christ in repentence, and He has forgiven me (and I will add that I suffered grievously mentally/emotionally for eighteen years before I could receive His forgiveness and forgive myself). Continuing….. my difficulty with things like Feminism (as a Christian), is that I don’t see the need for labels. Simply to follow Christ is enough for me, and it seems to me that I can leave it there, and devote my life to obedience to Him–to laying down my rights at the foot of the Cross. Like you, I see that Jesus treated women with great dignity. I personally see no need to fight for my rights as a woman. I’m not saying you are saying that, but unfortunately, I think, the word Feminism is fraught with many negative connotations, and I’m not sure one can separate those out. The meanings of words do change over time (take “gay,” for example), but I think the general consensus of most people would attach certain things to Feminism (like abortion “rights”) that would be impossible to separate from the accepted definition. So at this point in my life, I personally would not add the name Jesus to the movement. I am eager to read the book to see what Bessey is actually saying, and again, I respect your opinion, and your thoughts, too, would be a recommendation for me to read it. Not sure this post is making sense. It feels a bit disjointed to me, especially because I”ve not read the book. Thank you for addressing a topic which some might consider controversial. I always appreciate hearing what you have to say!
    Fondly,
    Lynn

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I so appreciate your thoughtful comment here, Lynn. I understand what you’re saying about words being fraught with negative connotations. One of those words? Evangelical. I’ve written about that here on the blog. Here’s an excerpt:

      Hi, my name is Jennifer Dukes Lee, and I am an evangelical.

      That’s not a shy confession, but a radical profession.

      Yes, I know what that word has come to mean for some people. You might think a woman who self-identifies as an “evangelical” would belong to a certain voting bloc, talk in a secret lingo, worship only with a certain kind of music, adhere to a particular denomination (or non-denomination). You might, then, be surprised how people don’t fit neatly into pre-assigned boxes.

      I get the hesitation over the word; I do. I understand what the word has come to mean. And I’m sad for all the ways that one beautiful word —“evangelical” — has become a dirty word, even among us as Christians. Some will blame the news media for making the word dirty, labeling and lumping us with a political party instead of a Person. Others will blame the evangelicals themselves. Critics will say that we evangelicals made a mess of things on our very own, by not really living out the teachings of our Savior, that we profess from the pulpit.

      I cannot say that I disagree entirely. For I’ve looked in the mirror. I’ve seen the sinner staring back, wearing a righteousness not her own.

      And because I know Who saved me, I know — for sure — that evangelical is not a dirty word, and I want to take it back.

      The word doesn’t belong to the critics and the mockers; it belongs to the Good News People.

      Reply
      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        I greatly appreciate this kind and thoughtful response, Jennifer. I’d not seen it earlier. And I totally concur w/ your take here. Isn’t it a shame about the connotations now associated with what was once a word filled with the Spirit of Christ and His Good News? Again, I’m most glad that you have dived into deep water and have started a dialogue. We can’t be afraid of a civil discussion, even when there is disagreement. Name-calling, frankly, is never civil, and sometimes labels can be reduced to name-calling. I will read the book in the NY, and hopefully, I can then re-read your first post to see if I agree with what you and Sarah are saying. But know this: I know you love Jesus, passionately, with all your heart, soul, and mind, and that you serve Him passionately and faithfully. That is not open for discussion! I so admire you.
        Love
        Lynn

        Reply
  12. Kris Camealy

    I appreciate you sharing a bit of your back story, Jennifer. I have my own back story related to this topic, one I want more time to put words to, and perhaps more space than a comment box–and maybe I want to talk about it face to face… (ask me in february 😉 ) But I haven’t read Sarah’s book, yet either, so I am not able to comment on what she’s written. Like you, based on her blog, I’m fairly sure we take slightly different theological paths, but at the end of the day, It’s all Jesus for me. He is my bottom line, my point of focus and faith. So, yeah, I’ll smash my fancy perfume on the floor and use my hair to wipe His feet–it would be an honor I can only imagine. I love all of my sisters in Christ, every one of them (you included) challenge me to look at things that make me squirm, to take it to God, and ask Him what HE thinks about it all… I am grateful for this mosaic of beautiful women that complete the body. What grace.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Thanks for squirming with me. It’s been a squirmy kind of day. See you in February. Can.Not.Wait.

      Reply
  13. pastordt

    Jennifer – First of all, thank you for writing this beautiful testimonial and review of Sarah’s book. Thank you for the bits of your own story that are here, and thank you for seeing Sarah’s heart. Her book is not perfect – what book is? But I believe it is one of the most important books of the last few years. Why? Because of the inclusive and lyrical way she has written out her story and her view of women — in life, in the church, and in marriage. And she has made every effort to do so without alienating those who might not agree with everything she says. There is nothing of the “A Letter to . . . ” kind of finger-pointing and admonishing in this book. There is strong, clear language about what she believes and why, but never without inclusion of those who might disagree with her.

    I’ve written about my own journey in several places around the web, about how God has called and formed me, about how God has worked in my husband’s heart and mind as well as in my own. I did not begin where you began or where Sarah began. I am quite a lot older and grew up in the 1950s when church and culture pretty much limited women’s voices to one place only: the home.

    And that’s what I did – I chose (in the 70s, when it was counter-cultural to do so!) to stay at home and raise my family. But I read and I studied and I prayed and I talked and I learned. By ‘happenstance,’ my husband and I settled in a neighborhood church that was part of a denomination that began ordaining women in 1974. And it was the male pastors in that church – and the male professors at seminary – who encouraged me to pursue what became quite clearly the call of God to enter the ministry.

    Before any of that could happen, however, I had to jettison much of what I had been taught about marriage and gender roles. And my husband and I did that together, reading Genesis and Galatians alongside 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, learning about household codes in the ANE, watching the mutual marriages of others being used by God to do powerful kingdom work. At this end of 48 years together, we are more convinced than ever that we are called to mutual submission, with Jesus as ‘the leader’ in our home. And I do not believe that I, or thousands of other believing Christians that I have known or read, have ‘twisted’ scripture to arrive at this place.

    The longer I have lived and the more I’ve experienced some of the systemic evils of the cultures of this world, the more strongly I am convinced that at the heart of much of that evil is the degrading view of women that has been taught for centuries in culture after culture, generation after generation. Our denomination had a fund-raising campaign a few years ago to help our extensive mission work in Congo, and we called it, “Educate the Girls.” We did that because study after study has shown that when women are allowed to learn, when they are given permission to step outside of the restrictive, even abusive, patterns of their cultures, amazing things happen.

    And THAT is what I mean when I say ‘feminism:’ the raising up of women to their God-given status as co-heirs of salvation, as equally gifted and called, as worthy of education, meaningful work, and leadership as men are. We were created and designed for partnership. Unfortunately, that label has been conflated in the minds of many to mean something much more convoluted and unsettling than that. So I’ve never used the feminist label for myself much at all.

    Sarah is very clear that her title does not have a comma in it! She is not saying ‘Jesus, Feminist.’ Rather she is saying that the kind of feminist she is is defined by Jesus, whom she loves with all her heart. I would say that I am that kind of feminist, too.

    I am more grateful to read your words here than I can even begin to put into words, my friend. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I always, always look forward to what you have to say, Diana. You are wise and wonderful and beautiful.

      Reply
  14. Lisha Epperson

    Hi Jennifer! I haven’t read her book yet.
    A Feminist is a powerful princess. A maiden with authority.
    I grew up the daughter of a woman who walked in the authority declared by Christ for ALL. She made decisions during my childhood that proved her strength and value. She used her voice. Women’s studies classes in college opened my world to celebrated authors and progressive thinkers, further shaping my views. And then I gave my life to the Lord at 22, in a church pastored by a powerful woman. The terms Jesus and feminist, in my world, have always made sense. But I’m happy to hear this discussion is taking place. I plan to read the book. I know many struggle with this topic and will be helped by it’s message.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Grateful for your input, Lisha. Each of us bring our varied experiences to the table — or in this case, to the campfire, the place where Sarah has invited us.

      Reply
  15. Amy

    Loved hearing your heart on this, and I share your thoughts on the book. Sarah reminded me of my “beloved-ness.” I’m grateful for her courage and honesty, and yours.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Beloved in blue jeans, babe. 😉

      Reply
  16. Diane Bailey

    I remembered hearing you talk about this a little at Laity. I am reading Sarah Bessy’s book now. I grew up in a family that believed a woman was to cook, clean and have children. I fought for the freedom to choose the life that I knew God had created me to live. There are times I feel insecure because I hear old messages trying to resurface. But I know, that God has created me to cook, clean, have babies and so much more. He created me intelligent, and I plan on using it all in many areas of life. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I want to go to heaven empty-handed because I used and gave out all that He gave to me.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the book, Diane. Will you share on your blog?

      So glad God created you for so many beautiful and important roles — cooking, cleaning, baby-raising, writing, photographing. He was generous with gifts when He created you, my friend.

      Reply
  17. bluecottonmemory

    I haven’t read it – but the feminist view that shaped my view (( graduated h.s. in ’81) – was the Wonder Woman image – that implied you had to excel at everything, that men could be more capable than men – and it put a burden on me that I wasn’t designed to carry. It wasn’t until I turned 40 and understood that I didn’t have to be Wonder Woman – but who God created me to be – nothing more nothing less – and that when my oldest son turned 12 and could lift a chest I couldn’t budge – I realized there are huge differences – differences for good. I think I would love to read that book.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      You *are* a Wonder Woman, my friend. What a wonder you are. You really are. And you deserve a cape. 🙂

      Reply
  18. Sarah Bessey

    Loved this and love you, woman. We’re in this together. xoxo

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Yes. Yes, we are in this together.

      I’m so glad God made you, Sarah Styles Bessey. What a wonder you are. You let us all know how *much* we’re loved by Jesus.

      Breaking alabaster boxes with you. For Jesus.

      Reply
  19. Mia

    Dear Jennifer
    No, I have not read this book, but am definitely putting it on my to read list. It amazes me how the evil one has his subtle evil ways for each one of us that he knows will blind us to the greatest Love Affair the world has ever experienced and those who are His bride will experience that “happily ever after” one day for ever and ever! In my case his lies of being totally detestable and unlovable crippled me. Until our Lord stepped in and showed me that there is no one who can love me as much as He does and His love is unchanging!
    Blessings XX
    Mia

    Reply
  20. Nancy Ruegg

    If feminism means providing women the same rights that men have, then I am a feminist. But those rights do not include taking the life of an unborn baby. That is where I draw the line.

    Those who claim the Bible teaches that women are second-class citizens do not know the book well. In addition to the example and teachings of Jesus, Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). The role of women in society was actually elevated by Christianity!

    Reply
  21. David Rupert

    A conversation I had with you brought up an element of feminism in your life. You were talking about your career as a journalist and your husband the lawyer, How you two were hard-charging. I asked “what changed?” You said this,,,,”I met Jesus, And I had a baby,”

    Those things bring balance to ‘feminism’

    Reply
  22. jasonS

    I wrote a couple papers in college about how Jesus treated women differently than culture would have dictated. It’s such a liberating thing to see that as Galatians 3:28-29 points out, we’re not Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female–we’re all one in Christ Jesus. Very next verse says we are heirs according to that faith in Him. In the Law, only sons got a share. In grace, the full rights of women are restored as well. We don’t lose our masculinity or femininity, we are simply enhanced to the fullness of what He intended us to be. Thought-provoking stuff, Jennifer. Thanks!

    Reply

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