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Faith and Feminism Book Chat on Biblical Equality: Elaine Kelly Interview

In a recent book chat with Feminists of Faith, we discussed feminism and equality, trauma recovery, faith, and writing about biblical stories. Each month, Tiffany Yecke Brooks hosts authors for a conversation on the Feminists of Faith Facebook Group, a community of Christian feminists. Our chat ranged from Christian fiction to historical fiction, trauma recovery, egalitarian churches, affirming churches, feminism, mutuality in marriage, and biblical equality. We discuss what makes my novel different, my research, my spiritual journey, the readers who may appreciate my work, and how to deal with those who disagree with how I present biblical events or figures.

book chat poster
Promo for Faith anda Feminism Book Chat

0.1 intro and bio

1:00 Your book does not feel like other Christian fiction; does not follow the predictable formula.

2:50 God doesn't solve all the problems; my female main characters make an effort to overcome trauma in book 1, Forgotten Followers. In Because She Was Called, women are taking action to fulfil their calling in the world. This feels more realistic and relatable.

3:45 You make an effort to include marginalized characters. Talk about the intentionality around that.

Forgotten Followers has themes of trauma from sexism and grappling with racism. Both books show Jesus accepts and loves disabled people as they are. In Because She Was Called, I include LGBTQ characters and show how they are accepted in the early church. This is based on Acts 10 where Peter speaks to a crowd at Cornelius's house and when the Spirit descends on all who heard his message, Peter announces they can be baptized. Cornelius was a centurion and I believe it is very possible that there were homosexual soldiers among Cornelius's gathered friends. My novel - which is based on the Bible and proclaims Jesus as Lord - does not fit in the Christian fiction genre.

5:40 Christianity talks about inclusion while excluding anyone who doesn't fit a certain mould. Being intentional about including other characters is part of what makes your book unique.

I try to represent society the way that it is. There are seedy characters in the novel and in our world - they are people who are abusive, exploitative, and running prostitution. those are the ones condemned by Apostle Paul and in my novel. The gay people in my novel are not condemned because they are moral.

6:29 Can you go into your research, paying attention to details, and translating skills in research from your business career to your writing?

I put the facts into fiction to make ideas more accessible. My background is not in theology so I did a lot of research from scholars in that field. I was surprised to find some of the patriarchal ideas took root back in the fifth century. It takes a lot of work to figure out what is biblical and what is simply male interpretation from years ago.

7:50 What is the most surprising fact you came across, a moment of thinking how is this not something we were taught?

Stumbling over this answer, I explain that I did not come from an evangelical background, so I am not on the same path of deconstructing faith and moving from Complementarian to Egalitarian. I was raised in a more progressive church. I went to a Baptist youth group but always maintained my belief that women were equal. I didn't give much thought to homosexuality at the time, but our church accepted homosexuals back in the 80s as ministers.

9:10 That sounds healthy!

While in the progressive church, I was afraid of not receiving enough biblical teaching. For me, it's been a challenge to go deep into biblical teaching and scholarship and find it points back to progressive theology. In contrast to what I had heard, the progressive church seems to have deeper understanding and better biblical teaching. While I was raised knowing in my heart that equality was right, I didn't know how to understand the Bible to say that. It has been good to see the recent scholarship showing how the Bible can be seen and understood in different ways and how history is remembered differently by different people. Women have been ministers and church leaders in every century since Christ and women leaders in the New Testament.

10:11 What advice would you give to people who are uncomfortable changing their views? How do you deal with people who are resistant to the way you've written about some of these biblical characters?

I went to evangelical churches for a while and I have friends that I respect and love in that world, and I hope that they still respect me as a Christian. Some people are just not interested in looking at other views of the Bible so that's where they are at right now. I figure those people are safe in a church where they are loved and supported so I don't write for them. I now realize they may not read my book or change their mind based on it. After all, it's written by a woman and they may feel a woman does not have authority to teach. Instead, I write for people who have been pushed out, silenced, or told that their opinion wasn't valued. They are looking for God and think that God is good and God loves them but the church has not shown them love.

11:30 It's important that you feature a character who is recovering from trauma; that is relatable for people who have been marginalized or harmed by church people.

The trauma theme is in Forgotten Followers, book 1. In Because She Was Called, there's a theme of mutuality in marriage, whether or not to marry a patriarchal man.

12:50 Each novel in the series will allow us to explore these different perspectives. Tell us about the series.

The books can be read as a series or as a stand-alone. Forgotten Followers is set in the Gospels. Because She Was Called takes place in Acts 2-11. Philip baptizes a eunuch, who is not considered male or female. Peter baptizes two men who are faithful to each other. The book has LGBTQ characters because Acts 2-11 does also.

14:00 Because She Was Called has a romance between Susannah, the patron in Luke 8, and Philip the Evangelist. It also has a fictional story of Joanna, another patron from Luke 8, testifying about Jesus and fighting to keep both her faith and her son. I bring in the orthodox history of Mary Magdalene testifying to Emperor Tiberius in Rome. She taught him that Jesus rose, and the most powerful man in the land listened to her. My fiction shows Joanna and Mary Magdalene testifying together. Historical records say that Tiberius believed them and proposed to the Senate that Jesus be acknowledged as God, but the Senate refused.

15:10 Can you give us a sneak peek of where you're going with the series?

I would love to continue writing up to 70 AD when Rome destroyed Jerusalem. In Romans 16, Paul commends Junia for being an apostle outstanding among the apostles. I hope my series will show Junia doing the things that earn her this title.

16:15 You also have a non-fiction on some of these themes.

It is a small book of 80 pages with flashcards. The Sword: A Fun Way to Engage, shows the same passage from both Complementarian and Egalitarian perspectives. The idea is to understand each other better.

17:15 Many of us were raised with the idea that "God said it so you can't argue or put your agenda on it." In fact, we all come to Scripture with an agenda - you have lenses and experiences that shape the way you read a text. Your books will help us have conversations to explore the multiplicity of viewpoints.

I wanted my fiction to reflect the biblical scholarship. In Because She Was Called, Susannah makes Palestinian friends and baptizes them. Philip questions her, providing a discussion about gender and racial equality.

19:05 Wrap up. Website and social media links. Contact via the website for a free ebook to read and review. The books are on Amazon.

author with three books
Elaine Kelly on Feminists of Faith Book chat

Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with historical fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:

  • Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Book 1

  • The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role

  • Because She Was Called: from Broken to Bold, Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, imagines Mary Magdalene's trip to testify before the emperor

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