Book Reviews

In which I review “Jesus Feminist”: part II

I couldn’t narrow my thoughts about this book to one blog post, so this is second of a two-part review of “Jesus Feminist” by Sara Bessey.

One of the great things about running a blog is that I get to declare decisions that I would have made, even though I am in no position to be making those decisions. And so, in reading some other reviews of Jesus Feminist I found that there were a lot of people writing about what the book could have been. Even though the writer makes clear that she hadn’t set out to write a highly academic piece, and that she probably isn’t the person to write that kind of book anyway, a number of people still would like to read/critique the more academic treatment.

Now, if I was the editor, and someone came to me with a proposal for a book called Jesus Feminist, I would have something else in mind. Technically I do run a publishing company. Sure it only has one author so far (me), and zero sales, but the concept isn’t entirely absurd. From time to time, I read about some crisis that has the feminist community up in arms, and it strikes me that Christians are one group of people that should agree with them. I don’t just mean one quadrant within the church, I mean everyone from the left-leaning, intolerance-hating, peace advocating Christians to the right-leaning, God and country, literal reading (except for gluttony and loving enemies) believers. I would love it if someone would take the overlapping areas of agreement and flesh them out, or maybe just bring them to public attention.

If it were up to me, I would love it if this was was a book that tackles a number of pressing feminist issues and devotes a chapter to explaining why Christians and feminists already do agree in potentially very constructive ways on each particular issue. Maybe this could be the sequel, we could call it, “Jesus and Feminism: why can’t we be friends?”

At the very least #JesusFeminist could be the hashtag that people use when they tweet about apparent agreement between Christian belief and Feminism. Let me give a few examples of what that might look like.

One issue that feminists often complain about is the double standard in society that men are often lauded for the sexual promiscuity and called studs, while women are derided for the same behaviour and called sluts.  With this general principle, the church should whole-heartedly agree.  Of course feminists would like to advocate a woman’s right to choose her own sexual behaviour without social consequence, and while many in the church would disagree with that interpretation, I think there is still room for us to tweet our agreement.

“There is no double standard in the Kingdom. Formerly promiscuous men and women both welcome. #JesusFeminist”

“The grace of God is so great, even studs can be forgiven. #JesusFeminist”

“For it is by grace that we are saved, through faith, lest no stud may boast. #JesusFeminist”

Another issue that flairs up with the occasional mispoken word from police men and government figures that suggest a woman invites/deserves to be sexually assaulted because of how she dresses. While we shouldn’t expect to see the church defend a woman’s right to dress however she wants, we should expect them to hold the men involved accountable for their actions.

“God will not tempt you beyond what you can bear, and neither will scantily clad women. #JesusFeminist”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘She was asking for it,’ but I say you have already committed adultery in your heart. #JesusFeminist”

“It isn’t unloving to say men are accountable for their own actions, it’s unloving not to say it. #JesusFeminist”

Finally, one issue that won’t go away in both the church and in feminist debates. Studies have shown over and over again that women get paid less than men for doing the same work.  While the gap seems to be closing, many still hold this up as a fundamental justice issue.  The church has largely been percieved to be unsympathetic in this cause, partly because the loudest voices within the church expect women to be content to be unpaid home makers.  Still, there should be room for agreement here.

“Please, pay our women more, so they can tithe more. Sincerely, – The Church. #JesusFeminist”

“There is pay equality in heaven. Equal jewels for equal service. #JesusFeminist”

“Work like Ruth, remmunerate like Boaz. #JesusFeminist”

Sure it’s just a collection of tweets right now, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a twitter account or hashtag resulted in a book contract or sitcom.

I guess neither of these posts constitutes an actual review, but this was my take on what it could have been.

Book Reviews

In which I review “Jesus Feminist” : Part I

I couldn’t narrow my thoughts about this book to one blog post, so this is first of a two-part review of “Jesus Feminist” by Sara Bessey.

Sarah Bessey is someone that I follow with a great deal of interest, for a variety of reasons. First, she embodies a lot of the ways I see myself. She is Canadian, and we need more writers who spell colour with a ‘u’. She’s also a parent to kids the same age as mine. If they ever meet as adults, I’d like to think their conversation would go something like this: “Your parents over-shared about you online as kid? Mine too.” She not only enjoys telling stories, but also seems to write as though she believes that telling the story well is at least as important as staying within the bounds of orthodoxy while you tell it.  So, while she recognizes the pitfalls of the label, there might be some days when she would identify herself as an evangelical Christian.

There are also ways I wish I could be more like her. She tells stories well and approaches complex subjects simplicity, graciousness and humour. She’s a great writer, she’s such a great writer that she has parlayed a blog into a book contract, and that book is what I’m reviewing now.

Not to be entirely outdone, I have managed to parlay a significantly less successful blog into a self-published book. This also means that I am open to learning ideas from other authors about book promotion, and the grass roots promotion of this book was brilliant. She invited her readers to take pictures of themselves, holding up signs that read “I’m a … and I’m a Jesus Feminist.” It demonstrated popularity, it communicated accessibility, and it was fun. I had even envisioned what mine would look like; me holding a piece of paper that read, “I’m a Mennonite pastor and ..” while standing in front of my church sign that read “I’m a Jesus Feminist.”

I had to hesitate though, as I wondered about the accuracy of that statement. Am I a Jesus Feminist?

In many ways, the answer would be yes. Do I agree with the tagline on the cover, “God’s radical notion that women are people too”? Of course. Do I believe that women are equal to men in the eyes of God? Yes. Do I believe that women should be equal to men in the eyes of the law, and therefore be entitled to equal pay for equal work, and full voting, driving and legal protection rights? Do I want my wife and two daughters to live in a world where their merit is evaluated independent of their gender? Yes. In fact, I’m sure that I would meet most of the academic criteria to classify myself as a feminist.

I recognize too that many people will use a different definition for feminism, that include things that I am not comfortable with. I recognize too that there are a variety of things that empowered women feel entitled to do, and I unapologetically don’t think that those things are in their best interests. So, using that rationale, there will be people on both sides of the feminist fence that would argue the label doesn’t fit me.

Now, if I left that message on the sign for any length of time, I might turn some heads, I might help Ms. Bessey sell a few more books, and I might even generate some healthy conversation around God’s view of women etc. I also know a long list of people who would want to offer me a corrective semantic argument by explaining to me the evils of feminism, and in various theological circles I would be branded accordingly. But as inconvenient as they might be, I don’t fear the ghosts of feminist present or future.

Most of all, I fear the ghost of mysogyny past. At various times, many of us will take the path of least resistance, whether or not we are aware of the consequences. For the better part of my youth, the short cut to an easy laugh, social acceptance and evangelical orthodoxy was to oppose feminism, and I recognize now that in the process, I hurt some people. In the process, I propped up systems and institutions that under-valued and devalued some of the exact same people it was supposed to be protecting and upholding.

So, am I a feminist? Don’t ask me. Maybe ask my wife. Maybe ask my daughters in their first year of university.  Better yet, wait until my new, less automatic view of women produces more good than my old view caused harm, but by then, the answer to your question will be obvious.