I just finished reading Sarah Bessey’s little yellow book, “Jesus Feminist”, and I want to applaud, hug her, and raise my wine glass in a toast.
It’s a beautiful book: redemptive, hopeful, saturated with the words and tone of the gospels. It is conversational yet profound. For all that she has tackled a hot-button topic, she has created a safe place in the pages of her book. It calls on us to consider that God has called and gifted ALL his children, men and women, to follow in His footsteps and participate in the great and wonderful work of seeing God’s Kingdom come on earth. Where ever we are, who ever we are: we are beloved, we are called, we are needed, we are commissioned.
How can you not want to applaud at these truths?
But did I mention that I’m one of those “complementarian” types? As much as I read about the roles men and women in the current church debate, I am still persuaded that Scripture has assigned different roles to men and women in marriage and ministry. For reasons I don’t want to dive too deeply into in this blog post, I am not convinced by the argument for “mutual submission”. I still can’t explain away that the Bible describes a wife’s submission to her husband and his love to her as being a model of our submission to Christ and His love to us. I understand submission as being a word which implies a voluntary yielding to authority, which by necessity means there has to be an authority relationship for submission to happen. We submit to Jesus, but he does not submit to us. He LOVES us. He SERVES us. But he doesn’t submit.
But do you know what? I don’t believe it matters that much, and Sarah Bessey’s book is a wonderful example of how believers can be on exactly the same page even if we disagree over interpretation on some points. To draw a line in the sand on this issue and stand toe-to-toe ready to shout is, as Bessey describes, “an adventure in missing the point.”
Why? Because the bigger issues at hand are the love and character and servant-heartedness of God’s people. When Bessey describes her egalitarian marriage, it sounds a lot like my complementarian one: we aim to serve one another, we put one another first, we are trying (with God’s gracious help) to put one another’s needs ahead of our own…. and friends, the way of other-person-centered love WORKS and brings joy in marriage, no matter what title you put on it.
In high school geometry I learned that complementary angles are two angles which add up to a Right Angle (90 degrees). I always understood complementarity in relationships to mean men and women together, both adding value side by side. I don’t believe that having different roles, or even acknowledging that there are relationships of authority and submission, necessarily means I am supporting patriarchy. Jesus and the Spirit submit to the Father (and not vice versa), but there is no patriarchy there.
Where oppression occurs, it occurs because of sin and a failure to love. Wives who are loved and nurtured in such a way that they flourish (as Ephesians 5 enjoins husbands to do) are unleashed to live a life of radical discipleship. I know this: I am a complementarian wife who teaches, who serves, who speaks, whose husband makes time for me to write. This is not the case for many though: there are many oppressed in the name of authority – and believers can and should speak up about this. Using authority for oppression is NEVER okay for God’s people. Never. The problem is not necessarily the existence of authority: it’s the sinful abuse of it. As one example: South Africa under the leadership of Nelson Mandela is very different to how it is under Jacob Zuma: same system, different character.
I loved Sarah Bessey’s little yellow book. Loved it. Even though I thought we might be on “opposite sides of the fence” on a thorny issue. Even though I was nervous about the word “feminist”. I want ALL my beloved sisters to read the words of comfort and commissioning in this book, without fear of taking ‘sides’. This book is not about taking sides on “the women’s issue”; it is about men and women together being on Jesus’ side. I love that she has, in putting the emphasis on Jesus and His call to love God and love each other and love this world for all we are worth, put the spotlight squarely where it needs to be.
We are LOVED. We are commissioned. There is work to do and a world to serve and people to love. And for Jesus’ sake, this one-here-woman shouts a hearty ‘Amen’. If that’s what a Jesus feminist is, count me in. Even as a complementarian.