Born Again Feminist


JAvaciaWhen feminism and Christianity meet.

By Javacia Harris Bowser

 

wish I were a Jesus feminist. 

Sarah Bessey, the woman who coined the term, defines a Jesus feminist as a person who is a feminist because of her (or his) commitment to Jesus. “Jesus made a feminist out of me,” Bessey often declares on her blog, SarahBessey.com, and in her book, Jesus Feminist, which was published last year.

I am not a Jesus feminist.

I am a Christian, and I am a feminist. But I am not a Jesus feminist. I cannot say that I am a feminist because of my Christianity. In fact, most days I feel I am a feminist in spite of my Christianity. It’s no secret, for example, that many churches treat women like second-class citizens, forbidding them to hold leadership positions. Nonetheless, I am a believer. I believe in a God who says that the two greatest commandments are simply to love God and love people. And I believe in church, even if sometimes church doesn’t believe in me.

Sometimes church folk will point to Bible verses that declare women should listen and learn in silence and not be allowed to teach men, never considering that perhaps the Apostle Paul didn’t mean this for all women of all times and all places.

As Bessey discusses in her book, let us not forget that Paul also wrote in a letter to Galatia that, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus,” and let’s not forget that he actually encouraged women to prophesy alongside their brothers.

Some church folk will point to the creation of Eve and declare we women are here to be a helpmeet for men. Bessey points out that, yes, God called the first woman ezer and the word that accompanies ezer is kenegdo, typically translated as suitable or helpmeet. But, Bessey explains, ezer kenegdo actually means man’s perfect match. In fact, the word ezer is even used to describe God at some points in the Old Testament.

Bessey writes: “God isn’t a helpmeet in the watered-down milquetoast way we’ve taught or understood that word within our churches, is he? No, our God is more than that: he’s a strong helper, a warrior. By naming his daughters after this aspect of his character, God did not name women as secondary helpmeet assistants. No, friend—women were created and called out as warriors.”

I believe in a God who calls me a warrior even if the church calls me weak. There was a time when I became so disillusioned with the church that I stopped calling myself a Christian. I didn’t want to be associated with the sexism, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia that I had started associating with the Christian church. So I stopped saying I was a Christian and started saying, “Jesus is my spiritual guru.” But soon I realized I sounded as silly as people who say they believe in the equality of the sexes but swear they aren’t feminists.

I get it. People are reluctant to use the term feminist because they think it’s a synonym for man-hater or they think it means they can’t be a wife and mother. Perhaps they think to be a feminist means they can’t wear makeup or care about fashion. Or maybe they remember how feminist movements of the past have alienated and excluded women of color. But this is exactly why I felt it was so important for me to take up the feminist banner. When I—a black woman who loves men, marriage, and makeup—declare that I am a feminist, I help dismantle these stereotypical notions of what a feminist is. I remind people to stay focused on what feminism is truly about: equality.

Likewise when I—an open-minded progressive—declare myself a Christian, I can challenge stereotypical notions of that word, too, and remind people what Christianity is truly about: love. Because I believe Christianity is about love, I also believe in the importance of church. As Bessey states in her book, quoting writer Sara Miles, “You can’t be a Christian by yourself.” Fortunately, I have found a church that I love—one that is filled with people who make me feel loved and who empower me as a woman of God.

While feminism is primarily about equality, to me it’s also about sisterhood. I feel this uncanny kinship to nearly every woman and girl on the planet, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, religion, ability, or sexual orientation. This sense of sisterhood drives me to try to empower women and girls in all I do.

I believe my love for womankind, for mankind, for humankind—a love that was birthed from my feminism—is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

While I can’t say that I am a feminist because of my Christianity I can say, ironically, that feminism has made me a better Christian.

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