A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl
Beacon Press, Hardcover, 9780807010662, 224pp.
Publication Date: January 1, 2009
By the age of twelve, Susan Campbell had been flirting with Jesus for some time, and in her mind, Jesus had been flirting back. Why wouldn't he? She went to his house three times a week, sat in his living room, listened to his stories, loudly and lustily sang songs to him. So, one Sunday morning, she walked to the front of her fundamentalist Christian church to profess her love for Jesus and be baptized. But from the moment her robe floated to the surface of the baptistry water, she began to question her fundamentalist faith. If baptism requires complete immersion underwater, what does it mean, if a piece of fabric attached to a would-be Christian floats to the top? Does the baptism still count?
In Dating Jesus,, Campbell takes us into the world of fundamentalism-a world where details really, really matter-while wrestling with questions that would thwart any young woman intent on adhering to a literalist religion. If dancing isn't permitted, what do you do when you're voted part of the homecoming court? If instrumental music is prohibited inside the church, can a piano be played during your wedding? For a while, Campbell diligently plays by the gender-restrictive rules. She knocks on doors for Jesus rather than preach from the pulpit; diligently guards her chastity, refusing even to date; and memorizes long fragments from the Bible. But her questions continue to surface, and when dogmatic answers from her Bible teachers, family, and congregational fellows confirm that women will never be allowed a seat at the throne, her faith begins to erode.
After Campbell flees her church, she remains thirsty for an unwavering and compassionate faith she knows is out there, somewhere. To find it, she returns to the historical roots of religious movements, studies the works of early feminist thinkers and contemporary theologians, and rereads the Bible with the same fervor of her youth. Dating Jesus is a lovingly told tale of how one born-and-bred fundamentalist matured into a feminist while holding onto her sanity and sense of humor.
In her youth, Susan Campbell was the class virgin, the sophomore homecoming princess, and the perennial smarty-pants winner of her fundamentalist church's Bible Bowl. But she was also a scrappy little outfielder and a self-described Missouri hillbilly whose budding feminism led her to question why girls and women should be content with second-class spiritual citizenship. That isometric push of irresistible force against immovable object followed Campbell into adulthood and is both the engine and the energy that drives her remarkable memoir, Dating Jesus. Simultaneously wisecracking and scholarly, both heartfelt and hilarious, Campbell's story gives testament to a 'Christ-haunted' life that rejects the chauvinistic dictates of religious dogma and insists on fairness and equal footing for all. Amen to that. I loved this book!—Wally Lamb, author of The Hour I First Believed
"Engaging . . . seductively simple . . . intellectually honest . . . totally informed . . . affectionate and respectful . . . this confession of faith is all these things, and more too. I loved reading it, and I continue to enjoy savoring it." —Phyllis Tickle, author of The Divine Hours
"While it may be true that Jesus loves all of us, Susan Campbell is clearly His favorite. Her writing cuts to the quick and slices to the bone, thereby cleaning and healing old wounds for every woman who's struggled to find acceptance within, and without, conventional religion. Driven by anger and longing, but sustained by grace and joy, she offers the gift of her own journey to faith without sentimentality and with unmatched honesty and wit. An essential book."—Regina Barreca, author of Babes in Boyland
"Dating Jesus resists easy answers—or glib categorization. Susan Campbell is too bright—and funny—for that. From fundamentalist Christianity to why baseball trumps softball, from an exploration of Title IX to footnotes steeped in scripture (and the occasional 1970s TV reference), this book entertains, educates, and surprises."—Lindsey Crittenden, author of The Water Will Hold You: A Skeptic Learns to Pray
"Throughout this captivating memoir, I felt the presence of the spirit of Jesus merging with the feisty spirit of a fundamentally faith-full follower, guiding her through and beyond religious rigidity with liberating grace." —Miriam Therese Winter, professor of spirituality and feminist studies, Hartford Seminary in Connecticut