I’m the daughter of a feminist who runs her own business, is legendary for her desserts and loves preaching. So it was perhaps expected that I’d grow up with an easy understanding that women are equal to men, should have equal rights and opportunities.
But I also grew up in a church that struggled (still does) over the “women issue”. I was ten years old the year that the first 32 women were ordained as vicars in the Church of England. I remember, in that faded echoey way of a child’s memory, the intense discussions being had by the adults around me and flooding the media. As a ten year old who loved Jesus, it seemed like a no-brainer.
But apparently it wasn’t to everyone. Our own vicar was against it. And so my mum was allowed to lead the worship, organise the small groups teaching material and facilitate them, oversee the children’s ministry, lead the prayers on Sundays. But she was never called “leader”. Never allowed to preach.
As a teenager, I set out to figure it out for myself. I asked every Christian women I knew what her thoughts were, and got answers across the spectrum. I read books, found obscure articles online (back in the day when most online articles were obscure). At summer festivals I attended all the workshops on women and their role, taking copious notes in neat handwriting.
I felt like my integrity was at stake. I didn’t want to pretend that the religion I followed said something that it didn’t about the role of women. If Christianity was really against women in leadership positions, I needed to know. But the thought that it could be, the thought that I might have to give up this faith that I loved so much, the faith that gave me such strength and hope, it hurt even to think about it.
At University once, in a debate about this very issue, a good friend with the opposite opinion to me said in exasperation, “why does it even matter so much anyway? It’s not central to the theology of salvation. It’s a side issue.”
“But I am not a side issue!” I cried.
Actually, I didn’t answer that then. Instead I left that dorm room in frustration, attempting not to cry, wishing I had a good rebuttal, the perfect closing argument.
That thought came to me later and I knew it was Spirit-given. You are not a side issue. I heard the whisper in my soul and it breathed new life and peace in with it.
I am not a side issue. My femininity, my femaleness, the woman I am, is central to who I am, is central to who God created me to be. And so my freedom, my empowerment, my opportunity to live life to the full has to be central too.
I’m not a good arguer. I don’t have a degree in theology to help me, or thorough knowledge of the original Greek to shore up my position. I know others who do though. And it’s stopped needing to be about arguing. It’s started to be about living.
I live in the truth of equality. I try to act it out, in how I speak, in how I behave towards people. I train myself out of the sexist thoughts that my culture taught me. I celebrate the women I know who are glowing with life because they embrace all of their gifting, skills, and passions, in whatever role they find themselves in. I advocate quietly and persistently for more women in leadership roles alongside the men.
And it’s brought a peace to my soul. I’m a Jesus Feminist because the Spirit whispered the truth to me one heart-sore night and I found freedom there.
Sarah Bessey’s new book Jesus Feminist, was released on Tuesday in North America. It releases in Europe on 27th November and I’m counting down the days (twenty…). Sarah’s writing is a song of gentle strength and beautiful freedom, and I am so sure this book is an important one for the church today. I’m linking up with her today for the synchroblog to celebrate the book’s release. Click over there to read the other entries.