The latest dispatch from a woman emerging out from under evangelical Christianity is now available. It’s another lifeline for women who are trying mightily to hang on to a Christian faith while bumping up against patriarchal limits on their humanity. I’ve written before about Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist and Dianna E. Anderson’s Damaged Goods, and now Jennifer D. Crumpton offers up “The Modern Girl’s Guide to the Good News” with Femmevangelical.
As she interweaves personal anecdotes with substantive information about the history, texts, persons, and theologies that contribute to the Christian tradition, Crumpton points out early on why we need this book, and so many more books like it. Upon discovering Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissident Daughter, she wonders:
“Where had this been all my life? It reminded me that women must continuously tell our stories to combat the slyly suffocating, subordinating effects of male-dominant religion. Each story is important and cannot be repeated enough.” (p. xi)
To that end, there are some familiar themes in Femmevangelical; at least, they will be familiar to anyone who has lived in some form of evangelical Christian subculture, where girls’ worth is tied to their virgin sexuality, where male power defines reality, and where Jesus’ message is distorted to support exclusion and domination. Realizing this distortion can be confusing, as Crumpton notes: “we are suddenly dependent on no one but ourselves, yet we have not been taught how to fight for ourselves ….” Her book offers up a companion for the next stage of the journey, for women who are working to disentangle themselves from patriarchy, to borrow Kidd’s phrase.
What distinguishes Crumpton’s story is her more-than-substantive engagement with biblical scholarship, Christian doctrine, and the social and political implications of male hierarchy. These are what she calls “the big three” the “primary culprits that hold women back: Biblical literalism, doctrinal damnation, and hierarchical control.” They are important to deconstruct and reconstruct for anyone who still wants to hang on to some semblance of Christianity while rejecting the contemporary patriarchal garb it wears. She draws on generations of feminist theological scholarship as well as biblical analysis and social commentary throughout the text.
Thus, the term “femmevangelical” is “a description for following the way of Jesus as an independent, professional, modern woman. It is the convergence of critical thinking with the liberating gospel of Jesus. … It is a term for being faithful to feminism, believing deeply in equality for women, and zealously working to convert the world.” (p.14). It is, in short, an attempt to bridge the perceived gap between evangelical Christianity and feminism … a bridge fully supported by the weight of suppressed texts, traditions, and women’s voices.
Crumpton offers her description of what the gospel of Jesus is, and sets the stage for how it naturally converges with feminism:
“The good news of Jesus was not that he was launching the creation of Christianity; his intention and vision had nothing to do with what later morphed into a new religion. Instead, Jesus was organizing his people under a common frame of values in order to demand change, to bring about a new order in which the vulnerable were empowered and the downtrodden redeemed to a new life. The good news was that Jesus was starting a movement to be respected and restored as a people, and they could all join in. In fact, success depended upon everyone joining in.” (p.23)
Another distinctive feature of Crumpton’s book is the devotional reflections and guidance she offers at the end of each chapter, a feature designed to draw readers in and in fact get more people to join in to this movement. It is a femmevangelical feature:
“To be Femmevangelical is to know this good news is true for women of all ethnicities, races, and religions around the globe; and to act with intention and vision to establish a new culture that is respectful, safe, and full of unrestricted opportunity to live into our leadership and purpose, no matter what form that takes.” (p.24).
Not only do I commend this book to any woman or man working to disentangle themselves from patriarchal religious practices and ideologies, I see it as a call for more to tell their stories. The lessons can’t be learned deeply or frequently enough, and Jennifer Crumpton is ready to stand with the storytellers:
“This is how feminists of faith will, in the way of Jesus, bring about the jubilee: a new day of freedom, equality, and justice. This is love. This is the good news.” (p. 154).