Jesus Made a Feminist Out of Me

woman wearing red beret and gray long sleeve dress with wild feminist print
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Growing up, I never heard the f-word in my house. No, not that one, although I didn’t hear that one either; I didn’t hear the other f-word: (whispers) feminist. I did encounter the word early in adulthood. This word challenged me; I was simultaneously drawn to it and afraid because of what I had been taught. Was identifying with this word the slippery slope to hell?

In my 20s while in graduate school, working my first professional job, and birthing my first baby, I spent a significant amount of time trying to understand the gender teachings, the gendered system of the church, and my role as a female. What I was taught did not align with what I felt. Was this really that way God intended things to be? 

Fast forward a number of years and Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey kept showing up in my life. I put it on my ‘to-read’ list for a long while before I actually read it because Jesus and the f-word in the title?! Woah. 

“Patriarchy is not God’s dream for humanity.” 

Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist

Those words stunned me when I read them. Finally an answer! Things finally made sense – patriarchy is not the system God intended for their children or their church. Patriarchy is a system where power and decision making is held by men. Some men hold power over other men, women, and children. It is a system of dominance, of power over. It is the opposite of a system of power with. This system of patriarchy, of power over, dictates what individuals can do and who they are based on gender. Individuals are valued for the role the system requires them to fill and not for their individual skills, desires, identity, needs, life situation, or interests. 

Those who have lived under the dominance of patriarchy – whether benevolent or oppressive – are well aware of its harms and limits. I am tired thinking about how my own life has been shaped by patriarchy – the mixed messages about my body, the policing of what I wear, the messages that there is only one acceptable life path for me, the fine line of speaking in a way that is not shrill, not bossy, not too loud, not too emotional. The effort that it takes to be taken seriously. It’s all so exhausting.

“For the sake of the gospel, a woman must be free to walk in her God-breathed self…in whatever vocation and season and place of her life.”

Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist

If we truly believe that we are on Earth to learn and grow, then all people of all genders need to be able to be allowed to make their own choices regarding education, marriage, career, family, and other life pursuits. If we really believe that all are unlike unto God, that we are all children of God, then we all deserve the dignity of being treated as such.

“At the core, feminism simply consists of the radical notion that women are people too.”

Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist

It is past time to move forward.

“I’m through wasting my time with debates about women-should-do-this and women-should-not-do-that. I’m out. What an adventure in missing the point. These are the small, small arguments about a small, small God.” 

Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist

We are invited to follow Jesus. Come, follow me, is an invitation to heal and radically change how we show up in the world; it’s not a curriculum of pre-packaged questions to check-off every week. Jesus showed us how to treat people on the margins and patriarchy certainly relegates many people to it’s margins. Jesus talked directly to women, healed people, taught women and a time when society said they weren’t allowed an education, acknowledged women as disciples, and appeared to women as the first witnesses of the resurrection at a time when women were deemed too unreliable to witness in court. Not to mention people who are LGBTQ+, people of color, people who are poor and others who today are at the margins of church leadership.

“Misguided hierarchies and inequalities have no place in God’s shalom. Patriarchy isn’t the dream of the kingdom of God, and so we can loosen our grip on this old culturally conditioned way of thinking, unfurl our fingers, and simply let it sink to the bottom at last.” 

Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist

Jesus made a feminist out of me. I now know that I don’t need to be afraid. Feminism is not the f-word I thought it was. I do have compassion for my younger self; the one who was afraid to question what she was taught. I have compassion for the females who were adults when I was born during a raging debate about the ERA. That’s been close to half a century ago though. It’s time to dump the baggage that is collectively holding us back from growth and connection with each other. Like racism, patriarchy needs to die so something new and better can be born. Some of us are veteran feminists who have been working for decades to bring about change for all genders, some of us are well on our way to being those who have been working for decades, and some of us are budding feminists just awakening to the injustice and inequality in the structures that govern the church. There are even some of us who are still afraid of the word ‘feminist.’ To those people I echo Bessey’s words:

“We can choose to move with God further into justice and wholeness, or we can choose to prop up the world’s systems, baptizing injustice and power in sacred language.”

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2 Responses

  1. nicolesbitani says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story; it really resonated with me. This line will stay with me for a while, too: “[Jesus] appeared to women as the first witnesses of the resurrection at a time when women were deemed too unreliable to witness in court.” What a powerful example of how the Savior’s example transcends mortal, patriarchal limitations.

  2. Katie Rich says:

    I love me some Sarah Bessey. Such a wise and gentle teacher.

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