A Joyful Invitation to Women and Men: a Review of Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
I read this book with a swirl of emotions. It was 40 years ago that I with gladness was transformed by the same good news that Sarah Bessey has discovered and proclaimed: the Bible tells us in Jesus Christ that “women are people, too.” I came from evangelical provenance, although a different strand, from a Reformed branch, rather than charismatic, but one that took Scripture seriously, with authority. This starting point is one of the primary gifts that Bessey bring in her book, Jesus Feminist. She is a credible, knowledgeable spokesperson to those who are formed in their faith in a foundational belief in the Bible and knowledgeable about what they have been taught. As she moves through texts and issues on women for those in the evangelical community, she grounds all her discovery and practice in that knowledge and her trust in the God who is Love and calls humanity Beloved. She is powerfully wise as she observes the ways in which small behaviors in a faith community can belie what it proclaims about a God of Love–the righteous indignation, the judgment, and in the subject of this book, the exclusion of women from relationships and calls which are given to them by God.
On the one hand, I am grieved that this generation of young women, and there are many spokeswomen for them, needs still to take a prophetic stand for inclusion in the Church all these years later. I have been an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament for 30 years, have served as a pastor and seminary professor, and spiritual director because of those who shared this good news with me 40 years ago. On the other hand, I am delighted that the good news of full inclusion in the Body of Christ is being discovered, re-discovered and practiced, by theologians new to me, pastors and lay leaders in many denominations, and families of all kinds. Sarah Bessey is a winsome leader, appropriately self-disclosing, charmingly humorous, and, most powerfully, crystal clear that the impetus for women claiming personhood is not self- fulfillment or self-realization for her own sake, but is necessary for the sake of the good news in the person and presence of Jesus Christ in the world. Marriage, leadership in the Church, missional outreach, changing traditional systems are all included in powerful stories of women who have been freed to love and serve the world in ministries of mercy and justice.
From my location I would have been glad to have seen her wrestle with inclusive language in the Church, and with other issues that many feminists work with continually, such as equal pay and community support for any choice a women makes. However, I am happy to recommend a book that opens the way for those who have continued to struggle with gender roles to see the Bible with fresh eyes, to enter into the freedom and breadth of the faith community that the good news promises.