This is the second part of an ongoing series delving into Sarah Bessey’s book “Jesus Feminst”. The first part can be found here.
There is a pretty common phrase that says “there are two sides to every story, and then there is the truth.” The point of this thought is rooted in communication theory. People are not deliberately lying, they genuinely believe the truth of whatever it is that they are saying. But, their perspective is always going to be a little skewed toward making themselves look as good as possible. The truth usually lies somewhere in between the two perspectives. I was thinking about this while reading chapter two in Jesus Feminist. Bessey writes that she has received wisdom and insight from both egalitarians as well as complementarians.(p.24)) If you have never heard of these terms, a quick GENERAL definition will be needed. (Please, I don’t want to get into a debate about these terms so these will be very BASIC) Carolyn Custis James in her book Half The Church defines these terms as follows.
Egalitarians: “believe that leadership is not determined by gender but by the gifting and calling of the Holy Spirit, and that God calls all believers to submit to one another.”
Complementarians: “believe that the Bible establishes male authority over women making male leadership the biblical standard.” (p.154)
I’m not here to get into a debate between these two schools of thought. And neither is Bessey thankfully. Instead she states her purpose as wanting “to take a step out of those debates, to pursue a third way; a redemptive way.” (p. 25) She goes on,
“God has a global dream for his daughters and his sons, and it is bigger than our narrow interpretations or small box constructions of ‘biblical manhood and womanhood’ or feminism; it’s bigger than our frozen-in-time arguments or cultural biases, bigger than socioeconomics (or the lack thereof), bigger than all of us-bigger than any one of us.” (p.25)
This brings me back to the opening quote. We limit ourselves when we act like there are only two ways to put God’s word into practice; by either letting women take on major leadership roles, or not. While we are busying arguing for one side or the other, God is standing in front of us pointing to the third option. It’s the path that we can’t see because right now we “see through a glass darkly” and God is waiting to bring us face to face with him. So until we are living in eternity and fully understand the message of God and how best to put that message into practice, what do we do in our daily earthly lives? I believe that God doesn’t wait for perfection in order to move and transform the world, and so does Bessey. Instead he “works with whom he’s got and with what we’ve got-all to bring about his purposes.” (p. 26)
The world we live in is broken. We can sense that brokenness and we long for something to come into that brokenness and help us. God’s solution is called redemption and it is a powerful thing. Each Sunday when my pastor prays over those who are making a decision to follow Jesus for the first time I get chills up and down my spine. God’s redemptive grace is so amazing and overwhelming that it never ceases to amaze me.
Bessey talks about how in Scripture we see a redemptive movement of the Spirit in operation and often it is practiced by Jesus himself. She writes that ” Jesus would teach or quote a portion of the Law and then move us forward from our current place toward God’s original intent.”(p.27) The example she uses to drive this point home is Jesus taking the “eye for an eye” accepted law and telling us to instead “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” As Bessey says “God is both here with us, and ahead moving us onward to fullness.“(p.27) I love this thought so much. God loves me and accepts me for who I am right in this very moment, no questions asked. And yet, he is not content that I should stay where I am at this exact moment. Instead he gently moves me forward in a redemptive move toward himself. Powerful.
What Sarah Bessey is doing in this chapter is very subtle. She is showing how Jesus worked within the paradigm he was given and yet at the same time was always shifting the paradigm slightly. She also gives a few examples of how the church has done this same thing and it easy to move from this thought and see that she is also commenting on certain interpretations of Scripture that seem to prohibit women in leadership. Bessey first brings up slavery and how for hundreds of years many Christians understood any Scriptural reference to masters and slaves to imply that slavery was both biblical and right. However Christians of today would almost universally say that what God wants for humanity is justice for the oppressed, not slavery. (p.28) So what happened? I’ll let Sarah elaborate.
“The church eventually moved to the forefront of abolition because it understood this truth: just because the Bible contained instructions about how to treat slaves in a context and culture where it was acceptable to hold slaves does not mean that slavery is a godly practice or part of God’s intended purpose for creation.” (p.28)
Today, not only do Christians oppose the slavery that occurred in the past, but they actively fight modern day slavery. Bessey mentions one of my favorite pastors, Christine Caine, and her organization The A21 campaign which fights human trafficking. Chris Caine is a dynamic speaker and her heart for slaves around the world is awe inspiring and humbles me greatly. She is doing great work and she’s doing it because she believes in the redemptive plan of God that wishes to free all people from oppression. But as Bessey points out, “all this battling to eradicate human trafficking happens despite the fact that there is actually no specific verse in Scripture that prohibits the buying and selling of human beings.” (p.29)
This reiterates a thought I’ve had for awhile now. The Bible is the inspired word of God and I believe it’s message and teaching is infallible. I also believe that human beings are extremely fallible. When the Bible doesn’t make sense I don’t question the Bible. Instead, I question the way I’m reading it; the cultural biases, the beginner theology, the personal biases I’m bringing to the text. This doesn’t just happen on personal level. The Church as an organization is extremely fallible and sometimes we put our stamp of approval on things that future generations look back on and shake their heads in dismay. I think of Rachel Held Evans in her book Evolving in Monkey Town. In the introduction she talks about the things we hold tightly in our hands and how sometimes we hold them so tightly we crush the real truth out of them. When 21st century Christians look back at Civil War era Christians that vehemently spoke out in favor of slavery, we shake our heads. They held too tightly to something that ended being incorrect. I wonder what future generations will shake their heads about when they look back at my era of faith? It isn’t wrong to hold beliefs. I just need to hold them loosely with my hands open ready for my Savior to take them out if he so chooses. What am I holding too tightly?
Bessey closes the chapter with what I’ve taken up as a reiteration of the calling I’ve often felt on my life.
“As a Jesus feminist, I believe that we are part of the trajectory of the redemption story for women in our churches, in our homes, in our marriages, in our parenting, in our friendships, and in our public lives. This trajectory impacts the story of humanity.” (p.30)
I can’t wait to see what his plan has for me next.
What about you? How do you see God’s redemptive movement in your own life? Are there other examples of The Church in the past holding tightly to something that we now have let go? Is there something you wish the church would hold less tightly?