The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday June 29th

Q&A with "Jesus Feminist" author Sarah Bessey


Sarah Bessey is a Canadian blogger and preacher. She is the author of two books, "Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women," and "Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith." 

Bessey spoke to audio director Alice Wilder about faith, feminism and the crossover between the two.

The Daily Tar Heel: A lot of people at my church are very eager to couple me up with their grandsons. How would you recommend navigating that? 

Sarah Bessey: I think that there is always a lot of pressure for young people to couple up. Or maybe "pressure" is not the right word so much as presupposition that, because I wanted this, then of course everybody wants this. Nine times out of 10, they really do mean well. However, the chitchat you have with total strangers —they're just trying to be interested and kind — there's the other side of it, which is this kind of sleeper idea that you shouldn't be satisfied or that there's something inherently wrong with the season of life you're in or the choices that you've made.

I think that there is a way to speak hard truths with a lot of love and respect, and I think that one of the key things that I have realized out of the last you know, 25 or 30 years of following Jesus is that there are ways to disagree really beautifully, that there are ways to connect with people even over what we disagree with.

DTH: Forgiveness is something that is very fraught for me in the church. You hear often that "if you don't forgive people you can't be close to God because God tells us to forgive," but where does that leave women who are survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence? Aren't there times when it's OK to not forgive?

SB: I think that's a very non-nuanced response to a very complex thing. I think that they're exposing their privilege when they say things like that. There's this sense of like, "you should just automatically do it." Well you know what, there's a lot of complexity to that, and I think that sometimes you can feel erased almost or silenced when that isn't recognized or when the nuance isn't preached in it or taught in it.

Yes, you know what? Forgiveness is a very key part of the Christian tradition... but at the same time I've seen that used almost abusively against women. For instance, women who are being beaten by their husbands will be ostracized by their churches for leaving or their pastors will preach that the only way to win their husbands is if they are more submissive and if they just continue to take it and forgive them, and I could tear my hair out at the root when I hear stuff like that... In these conversations we make pronouncements about what they should or shouldn't do and really it's not our place to do... All we can do is ensure their safety, ensure that they are protected. Our preference should always be for victims while still holding out hope for the redemption and reconciliation of that abuser or that person to Christ.ut that doesn't mean they need to be doing that in the company of the person who they've abused.

DTH: There's a difference between forgiving because that's what feels natural versus forgiving because that's what you feel obligated to do.

SB: Absolutely... There's nothing about forgiveness that is a one-and-done sort of situation... I think we need to do a better job of protecting women. I think we need to do a better job of being honest about it I think we need to stop acting like domestic violence in particular is something that doesn't happen to good Christian people, and the less we kind of bring that out — or the more we bring that out into the light, the more healing and goodness that will come from that.

DTH: One thing that's given me a lot of hope is seeing you and GlennonRachelJory... posting a lot about Black Lives Matter and being very vocal as white Christian women saying, black lives matter to God. I wonder how can churches or we as Christians, particularly white people, take a more active role on issues like this.

SB: Well I think that this is one thing that being a feminist really prepares you for, is this idea of intersectionality. We get to have this realization that you're not just one. I'm not just a woman — I'm also this, and all these different identities also intersect and affect each other really deeply... One of the primary intersections of my feminism is being a Christian... It would be ridiculous for me to deny that being a Western white woman doesn't also really color how I approach feminist conversations... I'm really thankful for the people that kind of can hold up that mirror to me and say, "Look you've got some blindspots here — you're not talking about women who are sexual minorities, or women who are a person of color or women who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds." You begin to see all those different intersections and begin to realize just how deeply our liberation is tied up with each other... 

If one group is being oppressed then that is oppressing all of us, and so even for people like me who are outside of the American experience, you know, I don't have a lot of — I don't know a lot about Black Lives Matter or I don't even know what the American experience of race is. I mean, that's not my experience, but we have other things in Canada with our indigenous women or with refugees being resettled and large immigrant populations in our cities and, I mean, just the ways that we even approach all of these different things, they all intersect. 

I don't feel like I could be a really good Jesus feminist if I was not also paying attention to things like Black Lives Matter, to things like the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Inquiries here in Canada, to the Syrian refugee crisis, to all of these different areas because, you know what, it matters to God. Every single one of those people, they're made in the image of God and I can't make that claim for one person and not for everyone else and not deeply care about that, does that make sense?

DTH: If someone reading this tomorrow is going to read a story of one woman from the Bible that's kind of a more obscure person, who would that be?

SB: I think probably the person that I would love for more people to know about was Junia the Apostle. First of all Paul writes about her in his letters and he calls her first among the apostles, or just the leader among the apostles, which I love because a lot of people, when they think about the apostle Paul, for instance, they assume, you know, based on a couple of contextless Bible verses that he was a misogynist or he was someone who was against women leaders or women pastors or, you know, women even having a voice, and nothing could be further from the truth... 

One of the reasons I love Junia is because she just stands as a protest against that very thing. She was an apostle, she was a leader, she was well-trusted. He trained and led and operated her gift as a woman in the early church with the blessing and knowledge and welcome of the men... People, they oftentimes... think that it was a patriarchal society, of course because it was, and they don't realize all the ways that Christians looked for ways to subvert the system quietly, behind the scenes, so it wouldn't cause any trouble for the larger church. But they were always looking for ways to subvert the patriarchal systems that they were engaged in, and Junia is one of them. I wish more people knew about Junia.


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