Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dating Jesus (part one)

When I was at the Christian Scholars Conference in Nashville I met a new friend named Susan Campbell. Susan wrote a brilliant memoir about her experience as a woman growing up in a conservative church of Christ. It is called Dating Jesus: A story of Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl. Over the next few posts I will reflect on a few of Campbell's key points.

I have been slowly working through the book since I purchased it in June. It took me a long time to get through for 2 main reasons: 1. The book is not simply personal anecdotes and reflection but also a well researched analysis of feminism, fundamentalist tradition and scripture that is taxing to read. 2. The personal anecdotes and reflection often made me think critically about some of my own experiences and were, at times, emotional. I would consider both of these reasons great strengths of the book, but it is certainly not the kind of book you read in a day or two on vacation.

The book tells the story of her journey of getting to know Jesus in church growing up, ultimately feeling as though she couldn't stand to be in a church tradition that cast her aside. Campbell is honest about how difficult that decision has been for her, and the pangs she feels at times for her church's singing and friendly faces. But, in the end, the lack of equality is simply too much to bear. A common theme in fundamentalist churches is to think that you are the only ones who are really right. Campbell eventually trades being right for doing right, which is ultimately the most important thing anyway.

One of my favorite parts of the book comes from a story Campbell tells about fundamentalist evangelism. As a teenager Campbell door knocked in her community to save souls for Jesus. One day she comes across an unfriendly dog, and feels guilty that she is going to let the person living in the house burn in Hell because their dog scared her from knocking on the door. She writes:

"I feel like a creep about this. There are kids in my youth group who, even they bring not one solitary soul to Jesus, seem to thrive on this, the thrill of the hunt. I do not understand what is wrong with me... There's a hymn we sing, "Come to Jesus, He will save you, though your sins as crimson glow," a line that always catches my net... I worry about what my own neon-red light might say, but when I talk to these sad people I don't see any red. I see abject poverty and houses that smell like last week's dinners and windows painted shut and children in clothes that hang off their thin shoulders. These are my neighbors and I know they're struggling, with overdue rent and cars that don't start, and I haven't the heart to send them to hell on top of all that. figuratively and otherwise. As much as it weighs on my soul, I opt, instead, to let the sinners go free. Perhaps somewhere down the road, if God really loves them, they will find their way to Jesus-my brand of Jesus, the one we worship at Fourth and Forest church of Christ. This is my prayer."

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