By Kendra Weddle and Jann Aldredge-Clanton
Cascade Books, 2018
Paperback, 193 pages
Reviewed by Mark William Olson
I’ve known and admired Letha Dawson Scanzoni for close to 45 years. As a founding mother of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus (now known as Christian Feminism Today), she has had—and continues to have—a remarkable impact on countless lives, my own included.
For many individuals, her impact has been rather direct and personal, coming through her careful speaking, thoughtful writing, and tireless organizational networking. But her impact has extended, as well, to many who would probably not register even the faintest recognition of her name, for as the title of this richly researched new book suggests, Letha Dawson Scanzoni has, indeed, built life-changing, bond-breaking “bridges” that many have joyfully crossed without actually knowing who their steadfast builder was.
For that reason alone, I would have been grateful for this impressive new volume. It’s an important contribution to the historical annals of American Christianity, filled with illuminating quotes, not just from her later work or most well-known books (each of which has gone through multiple editions) but also from her hard-to-find early writing and correspondence, works that amply illustrate the development of her perspectives and commitments.
But Building Bridges offers more than a dry historical record.
The authors of this vibrant volume not only document Letha’s personal and organizational history, along with her liberating biblical and sociological insights, but they bring her to life as the warm, caring human being she is. Perhaps that’s where the last two words of the book’s rather surprising subtitle come in.
The authors portray Letha not just as a wise individual living in an ivory tower but also as a courageous, interconnected human being who has long been woven together with a wide variety of friends with whom she has shared a divinely quilted, Spirit-blessed journey. The inclusion of her interactions with this diverse weaving of grateful companions, including the authors themselves, gives the book a richness that is not always found in every biography.
With clarity and gratitude, Kendra Weddle and Jann Aldredge-Clanton offer insights into Letha’s personal history, a history that has sometimes been painful, sometimes been joyful, but has always been faithful. They lift up numerous examples of her christocentric approach to biblical interpretation, including her evolving, ever-expanding “love thy neighbor” paradigm, a paradigm utterly unlike that which currently emanates from so many of this nation’s self-serving autocratic religious and political leaders.
The book mentions multiple times in which Letha and other Christian feminists were accused of taking positions that would lead themselves and others down a “slippery slope” into hellish apostasy and despair, a pit from which there would be no return.
Well, the world is, indeed, filled with slippery slopes, but contrary to the frantic words and upside-down lies of those religious and political autocrats who seek to hold humanity in bondage, these are not slopes that we need fear sliding down. Rather, these are the confining slopes that we are called to climb. They are the slopes up which we so often need to claw our way, not singularly but hand-in-hand with all who have been trapped in the miry clay of demeaning exploitation and oppression.
And claw her way up, hand-in-hand with others, is exactly what Letha Dawson Scanzoni has done, empowered by her expansive love of neighbor and by her enduring love for the One who forever sets the prisoners free. With steadfast conviction and courage, she’s been a slope climber, a mountain scaler who keeps seeking new vistas—and along the way keeps finding new Wisdom-filled places of rest and renewal for herself and a multitude too large to number.
In the remarkable book of Revelation, the author hears an angel pleading for a message to be delivered to a congregation of the faithful, a company of slope climbers that the angel refers to as “Philadelphia.” It’s a gathered multitude whose love of neighbor and hand-in-hand caring for one another has caught the attention of the One who is holy, the One who is true.
“Tell that crowd—tell that congregation—that I know your works,” says the One from whom all love flows. “There are those that try to drag you back down the slope to the mud where they reside. But I have set before you an open door, a door which no one is able to shut. You may not have had a lot of weapons. You may not have had great prestige. You may have even been shunned by those who say that they have great faith—but are lying.
“Because you have kept my word, because you have been steadfast in building bridges and scaling those slippery slopes that once seemed so hard to climb, because of your anointed energy, diligence, and persistence, I tell you this: no one shall put you out. No one shall seize your crown. Indeed, I will make you a pillar in the temple of the holy. I will write on you the name of my God—and the name of the city of my God, that city into whose heights you have climbed, that new Jerusalem that comes forth from heaven” (Revelation 3:7–13, paraphrased).
In keeping with that vision, I’m not sure which divine “name” should be written on Letha Dawson Scanzoni and the multitude of interwoven friends with whom she travels, but Building Bridges, the new book by Kendra Weddle and Jann Aldredge-Clanton, will give you a host of incredible possibilities.
Surely Letha Dawson Scanzoni has been—and ever will be—“a pillar in the temple of our God.”