My Sister’s Keeper: A Response to Sarah Bessey’s “Jesus Feminist”

 There’s something redemptive about a man affirming the worth of a woman.

I love the way Greg Laswell reinterpreted Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” He stripped away the pop song to reveal the pain hidden within the lyrics. And as he says in the video, it’s a sad song. It’s the pain of a broken woman.


Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist is like having a conversation with a bosom friend as Anne Shirley would say. I love deep discussions that tackle how theology impacts our daily lives. And that’s what I love about Jesus Feminist. Sarah provides a safe and friendly space to discuss a heated topic. It’s a work of bridge building, and I enthusiastically support those kinds of efforts. We need to be respectfully challenged. Christians may disagree on a woman’s role in the church, but we all can learn from Sarah’s fantastic insights.


jesus feminist by sarah bessey


When I look at scripture, I see some amazing, countercultural women (Bessey does a great job at examining these mighty ladies of God). Just look at the very first woman, Eve. Made from man, but not designed to be less than Adam. She wasn’t property or a slave. Eve was uniquely designed as a helper. All the rest of creation was unfit to work alongside Adam, but Eve was the perfect pairing—and made community possible.


This beautiful community we find in Eden makes me question patriarchy. The curse of the fall required women to be ruled by men. And women in God’s kingdom were given a domestic role in a physical kingdom to ensure Israel survived. But Christianity is no longer a physical empire. It does not grow through sexual reproduction, but through spiritual conversion. The New Testament esteems women as women. They were given amazing rights and privileges that were unheard of during the Roman Empire. Scripture declares that men and women are equal and co-heirs in Christ, echoing back to our status in Eden. Women regain their pre-fallen role of helpers in God’s kingdom and Christianity is far stronger and more effective when both voices work together to bring about shalom—the prospering and redemption of creation.


How this works out in the church remains controversial. For minorities, we sometimes feel left with scraps and crumbs–with no voice and no role in the church. Straight men largely determine scriptural interpretation. I don’t want to jump into the other ditch and hate on men, but I am saying straight men have a lot of privileges. As depraved human beings, we don’t handle privileges very well. We’re selfish, greedy, power-hungry, and forgetful. It makes some Christians into jerks. And there’s nothing worse than a jerk who thinks he’s doing God a service.


Back when I was a preteen, my denomination was falling apart over the issue of evangelism. Hyper-Calvinists in our churches didn’t believe we should send missionaries to foreign countries. They said it wasn’t scriptural or in keeping with our denomination’s traditions (more of the latter). My church was undecided. But that changed when a woman wrote the pastor. Her letter was reasonable and outlined her beliefs why she believed scripture supported evangelism. It outraged the pastor. He brought the letter to church and showed everyone. Evangelism wasn’t one of our traditions, and neither were women who wrote to their pastors. One woman’s courage was partly responsible for the formation of a new church that enthusiastically supported missionaries.


As I’ve grown up in the church, I’ve come across other things that bothered me. I’ve heard a decent amount of crap about women in the pulpit. One time a pastor exhorted women to keep their husbands from stumbling into lust or adultery by giving their men more sex. I walked out. Women often take the blame for a man’s lack of self-control. There’s the sermons on gender roles, “biblical womanhood” and biblical manhood” which supposedly free us, but often enslave men and women in shackles of shame for not meeting up to their pastor’s standards. And as a gay man, I’ve found a lot of sermons on homosexuality to be utterly unhelpful and offensive. I don’t envy pastors. They have a tough job studying scripture to discern what God is telling us today. But sometimes pastors can be presumptuous and arrogant. They take scripture and form their own theories in a void separate of real people and real life. In my experience, most conservatives stick with their own kind and create their own assumptions about those outside the fold.


But sometimes the outsiders you fear are right here; in your pew. That intelligent, free-spirited girl that struggles to keep her mouth shut to make you happy. That kind but distant gay guy who doesn’t know how to participate outside the straight paradigm. You think you know them. But they aren’t free to be known in your congregation.


woman in church

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user nealebc3


Being one of those inside-outsiders, I can say some of those pastoral assumptions wound the soul and take a long time to heal. I’ve become defensive around pastors. Walls fortify my heart; mental filters protect me from anything that might potentially hurt. But a Christian can’t really grow in that kind of environment—LGBT or straight woman. We can’t learn, we just stagnate in bitterness and hide wounds that fester. We need a safe place of vulnerability to God’s Spirit of conviction, because as the old hymn says, we are prone to wander from the God we love. And it’s far easier to wander when you’re alone.


Reading Jesus Feminist was a reminder that, yes, I am my brother’s keeper. But I’m also my sister’s keeper. And my sisters, we your brothers have failed you over and over. Men have patronized you, assuming you weren’t smart enough to sit at the table. Or they were so intimidated by your intelligence that they pushed you out. Men have reduced your worth to your beauty and objectified you. Or they made you feel worthless because they didn’t deem you worth a second look. They built a standard no woman could keep up. Men come up with silly ideas that they want respect and women want love. Why can’t you have both? They want to feel powerful, and they don’t like it when you show strength. Your strength is beautiful, because your strength is from the Lord. Not from an immature muscle-man.


No, girls. You haven’t been the fortunate ones. Men will take a beautiful girl and hide her, silence her, from the rest of the world. All you wanted was the freedom to feel the warmth of the sun. The freedom to know you matter without a man. The freedom to know you equally reflect God’s image to the world. The freedom to laugh, run, feel, speak in all the beauty of God’s kingdom. To know you belong.


I may be one man, but this man is reminding you this: You aren’t alone. I’m taking this journey with you. And you belong, my sisters.


If you’re interested in learning more about Jesus Feminist,