May 2, 2009

Interview with a Fabulous Female

Susan Campbell is an award-winning columnist at the Hartford Courant, where her work has been recognized by the National Women's Political Caucus, New England Associated Press News Executives, the Society for Professional Journalists, the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and the Sunday Magazine Editors Association. She is also the author of Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl. Susan was kind enough to take the time to discuss her work, her faith and her outlook with Della Donna editor April Boland.


AB: What prompted you to write Dating Jesus?

SC: I was moved to write Dating Jesus on several fronts, not the least of which I felt like I'd been arm-wrestling with God for decades, and She kept winning. I had this mad scriptural memorization thing going, but couldn't tell you the context of all the verses I knew. I felt and feel like religion is an important motivator for some (for good or ill) and decided I needed to figure out my own theology and how it motivates me. That's my spiritual motivation, I guess. My temporal motivation was I was in a writing group and hadn't taken anything to read in weeks and weeks, so one night before my writers' group met the next day, I whipped off a three-page essay on my baptism, and the other members of the group were so encouraging, I kept writing.

AB: Your memoir is controversial because it criticizes a certain Christian paradigm. What has the general reaction been?

SC: I have to say it's been pretty gracious. I have heard from people who've left the church and people who are still in there, and I think of those who contact me, many of them do see the need to shift our attention from the rule and letter of the law to the spirit of it. As for people who might adamantly disagree with me and send me to hell over it, I really haven't heard from them. Maybe they've given me up for lost. Or maybe they know I was raised and trained as they were raised and trained, and I will stay in an argument on just about any topic until I'm dead. As my brother said, we argue thus: Hit 'em early, hit 'em hard and leave 'em to bleed out on the floor. That's not very Christ-like but then, neither am I.

AB: Do you have any advice for other women who struggle within a patriarchal religion?

SC: I would advise anyone (man or woman) in a patriarchal religion to really stop and listen to that still small voice, the one that pokes at them when they hear something they know is wrong. We know how women suffer in a patriarchal religion, but men suffer too, because their spiritual training sets them up to think life's going to treat them a particular way simply because of their genitalia, and the world really isn't like that. What a disappointment that must be to reach an age in a secular world and realize your genitalia can only get you so far. I'm not even being snotty here. God didn't make a segregated world. We all benefit from sharing the weight and the pleasure of an egalitarian one.

AB: How has your faith background played into your career as a journalist?

SC: My religion was excellent training ground for my work as a journalist. It taught me to look at things for reasons, for motivation. It taught me as an outsider (and a fundamentalist is definitely an outsider in the real world) to view people different from myself with a little bit of compassion. It doesn't work that way for everyone, but it did for me, and I shall be forever grateful.

AB: Do you believe there is such a thing as Christian feminism? What does it look like to you?

SC: Though there are plenty of people who disagree with me, I do think there is such a thing as Christian feminism. I believe it's called "Christianity," the real kind, the kind found in the Bible and created by Jesus. Jesus never intended there to be second-class citizens, not based on gender or sexual orientation or anything else.

AB: What are you currently working on?

SC: I'm currently working on putting off starting my second book, and I am quite skilled at that - turns out I'm better at that than I am at writing. But it's on my list of things to do, I promise.

AB: Who are your writing influences?

SC: I have a lot of writing influences, and wouldn't want to leave anyone out, but I am heavily influenced by the classic novels I read growing up (like Little Women) because the stories in there are so finely told. I am not comparing my work to Louisa May Alcott's, but she's a fabulous storyteller.

AB: Do you have a favorite quote that sums up your philosophy on life?

SC: My favorite quote is from Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me." Corny, but there you are. It's that or "Bite me." I like that one, too. Did I mention I'm not terribly Christ-like? But I know a lot of scriptures.