When churches try to control women by accusations of “a Jezebel spirit”

May 7, 2013

Contrasting Jezebel and Deborah 
Sarah Bessey writes a blog that describes its purpose in her tagline, “the intersections of a spirit-filled life.” In this post, she talks about having grown up in Christian circles where any sign of a woman’s stepping out of what was considered her assigned place of subordination would be quickly accused of having “a Jezebel spirit.” The accusation comes from the condemnation of Queen Jezebel, wife of King Ahab of ancient Israel, for her worship of Baal and her role in killing God’s prophets. (The story of Ahab and Jezebel is woven throughout parts of 1 Kings 16:29 through the end of the book and again in chapter 9 of 2 Kings, which describes Jezebel’s gory death. She is also referred to in Revelation 2:20). Sarah Bessey refers to the paradigm of “either-or” false binaries that many Christians operate in. She writes, “For instance, regarding women in leadership: there is a vast difference between a Jezebel Spirit and a Deborah Spirit. Just as there is a vast difference between David and Saul. (Just because two individuals share a gender doesn’t mean they share a story or a prediction or a precedent.)”

While all this may seem far-fetched to many readers, it’s real in some circles. I’ve been told by Christian counselors, who have worked with clients from some fundamentalist churches, that they’ve counseled anxious clients who said preachers had warned them that  by taking such initiatives as leaving an abusive husband or preparing for a leadership position in church, they were displaying a spirit of rebellion against God— a “Jezebel spirit.”  Such attempts to silence and control women continue in many conservative Christian circles, whether or not that term is still used.  Sarah Bessey’s reassuring essay is a good antidote to such teachings—teachings that have been so damaging to so many women.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni (1935-2024) was an independent scholar, writer, and editor, and the author or coauthor of nine books. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992). Letha served as editor of Christian Feminism Today in both its former print edition (EEWC Update) and its website for 19 years until her retirement in December 2013.