Recommended Reading From a Progressive Christian Adrift in the Deep South

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Heather Bottoms

Staff Writer

Heather Bottoms is a used book lover, theatre geek, and compulsive volunteer. When she is not curating her Little Free Library, she is working at her local community theatre or over-preparing for book club. She hosts book swaps, leads an LGBT-themed book club, and loves to see people bonding over books. She lives with her computer nerd/musician husband and three kids in Tennessee. Follow her on Twitter @HeatherBottoms.

This is a guest post from Heather Bottoms. Heather is a used book lover, theatre geek, and compulsive volunteer. When she is not curating her Little Free Library, she is working at her local community theatre and over-preparing for book club. She hosts book swaps, leads an LGBT themed book club for her local PFLAG group, and loves nothing more than to see people bonding over books. Heather lives in Tennessee with her computer geek/musician husband, and they love hanging out with their three adult children, all of whom love to read.

I am a Jesus-loving, Bible-honoring, egalitarian, LGBT-affirming, feminist Christian living in a small town in the middle of Tennessee. I also have a genderqueer child and am an ally and Board member of my local PFLAG group. Here in the Bible Belt, my progressive leanings are not the norm, and I often feel a bit out of place within the Christian community surrounding me. Sometimes it is hard feeling alone, and I want to hear from like-minded people that approach faith in a similar way. As a lifelong reader, I have always sought comfort in books, and these five authors really delivered. I have found great encouragement and camaraderie in the following books:

searching for sundaySearching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

This was one of those “Me, too” books. I was relieved to know that I’m not alone in struggling, reevaluating, and yet still embracing my faith. Evans shares her own doubts, her frustrations with the church, and the ways she has been wounded. But she gives equal time to recounting times of God’s faithfulness, the beauty of the people of God, and the many ways the church has truly reflected the love of Christ.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey

Bessey does not position herself as an expert in the scholarly debate, but encourages the reader to reconsider the deep-seated complementarian viewpoint that is so prevalent in the evangelical church. She does offer scriptural support, a discussion of cultural relevance of some Old Testament passages, and a compelling look at how Jesus interacted with women in the Bible. I loved hearing stories that affirm women’s experiences and champion the power of the gospel to empower women to use their gifts in their own unique ways.

Just Mercy by Bryan StevensonJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Stevenson is a lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, created to defend the most vulnerable in the prison system (the poor, the mentally ill, women, and children), a group disproportionately represented by people of color. He shares personal experiences and legal insights into many of his most heartbreaking cases. It is a call for compassion and justice for the oppressed, and a reminder that “the true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned. We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.”

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Bolz-Weber is a fantastic storyteller, and I am a huge audiobook fan, so I really enjoyed listening to this one. A former addict, Bolz-Weber is now a pastor of a church in Denver with an unconventional approach to ministry. Her personal stories of how God works in and through broken, needy people were a breath of fresh air for me. I occasionally battle with depression and anxiety, and it was encouraging to be reminded that Jesus is present and working even in the messy places of our lives.

Changing Our Mind: A call from America’s leading evangelical ethics scholar for full acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church by David P. Gushee

Gushee, a Christian ethics scholar and writer, spent most of his career holding firmly to a traditionalist evangelical view on same-sex relationships and LGBT Christians in the church. In recent years, he has come to change his mind and now champions full inclusion and affirmation for LGBT Christians. I appreciate his careful, reasoned investigation of scripture, and the gentleness and kindness with which he outlines opposing viewpoints in a divisive subject.