Full disclosure: I picked up this book on a whim, mainly because I am fascinated by and invested in the intersection of faith and feminism. My primary area of interest revolves around Christian faith of the Protestant flavor, given that it was the faith of my young adult life and I’ve spent the last few years reconciling my intellectual and emotional beliefs with the teachings of the Bible. The other reason I picked up this book is because the foreword is written by Rachel Held Evans, whose book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I enjoyed and reviewed here.
I don’t think I can say the same for Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women. Both Evans’s book and Jesus Feminist are written for a primarily evangelical Christian audience, but I doubt a non-Christian feminist would connect with Bessey’s book. I would have no issue handing Evans’s book to any reader of this site, no matter their background and saying, “Here’s what liberal/progressive Christians are talking about in regards to women and some of those really troublesome Bible passages. Call me if there are references you don’t understand.” I would not feel comfortable recommending Bessey’s book to anyone who is not a Christian.
There are things to like about Jesus Feminist. Bessey is a proponent that Jesus’ life and ministry supported the belief that women should have equal standing with men in all ways, though in this context, she’s primarily arguing that women have equal rights to fulfill roles as leaders and pastors in the Christian church. Also, that thing about wives submitting to husbands isn’t quite as black and white as it seems. Bessey’s message that women should pursue their ambition as church leaders is one that many Christian women need to hear. It may seem silly, but when you’re told from a young age that women leading in church contributes to the moral decline of our society and represents a harbinger of the apocalypse, it takes quite a bit to shake that off. I ended up skimming these parts, mostly because I have the basic history and concepts of feminism down and have read more academic texts regarding the Bible and feminist theory.
Bessey relies mostly on personal anecdotes to convey her message. She states in the notes that this book is not an academic text by any stretch. She paints some very beautiful pictures with her words, though she has a tendency to get too purple in her prose. What’s more, she has too much of an affinity for rhetorical questions. In the end, I could not connect with this book in the same way I did with A Year of Biblical Womanhood. The ideas were a bit too simplistic for me and I could not connect with the life stories she told. I recognized the type of person she wishes to engage, but that person is not me.