Books: Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl

By Susan Campbell. Beacon. $24.95.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Rarely has a genuine feminist emerged from the modern evangelical movement. An exception is Susan Campbell, whose memoir, Dating Jesus, chronicles her upbringing as an eager fundamentalist in the Missouri Ozarks during the ’70s.

Vigilantly guarding her virginity, the teenage Campbell wears long skirts, turns down invitations to dances, and crosses her eyes at a homecoming photo shoot she considers frivolous. Her true rebellion, however, runs deeper. From an early age, Campbell objects to the church’s limited role for women. When her younger brother is chosen as a child preacher, she argues with her Sunday-school teacher about why girls can’t preach. Noting that many women in the Bible are either harlots or evil queens, she rewrites her own Good Book, with bigger roles for the matriarchs. After a decade of nosing around feminist texts, Campbell, now a columnist for the Hartford Courant, no longer goes to church. “If all believers are urged to stay on the straight and narrow,” she writes, “there seems to be an especially narrow road built for women.”

Dating Jesus lacks intimacy—Campbell glosses over her parents’ divorce, her childhood friends, and even her own conversations—but its glimpses into a misfit tomboy’s evangelical experience make it worthwhile. In the book’s most moving sections, Campbell strives to align her current politics with the radical teachings of Jesus. When a pastor who’s read her columns asks her to talk to his congregation, Campbell reconnects with her thwarted girlhood desire to preach—she even has dreams of lightning striking the roof of the church while she’s speaking. But part of her still believes that, as a feminist, she doesn’t belong there. “Until I can dissuade myself of the notion that God plays favorites,” she confesses, “I cannot honestly sing or pray.”

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate