Undergraduate Summer Research: Sarah Bessey and the Evangelical Pulpit

Research is the process of generating knowledge: asking a question that has no answer, and then discovering the answer. Throughout the year, and especially in the summer, Hope’s Communication students engage in research—studying how, why, through what media, and with what effects humans communicate. This summer, Ms. Lindsay Hayes and Dr. Sarah Kornfield collaborated to study how Sarah Bessey preaches Jesus Feminism to the evangelical church in America.

Ms. Lindsay Hayes presenting at Hope’s Arts & Humanities and Social Sciences Summer Research Showcase.

This research began in the Comm 260: Rhetoric & Public Culture classroom where Lindsay Hayes learned the methods of rhetorical criticism and applied them to study Sarah Bessey’s featured sermon, “Bearing the Image: Jesus Feminist.” Then Hayes and Kornfield decided to collaborate over the summer, developing this project further and preparing it for publication. Hope College is ranked 4th in the nation for undergraduate research by US News and World Report. We prize our research collaborations between students and faculty and take delight in preparing graduates to generate new knowledge and make that knowledge accessible to our local and global communities.

Analyzing Bessey’s sermon, Hayes and Kornfield demonstrate how Bessey weaves together historic modes of speaking, creating a tapestry that draws upon and reinvents the styles and strategies women have long employed when preaching in the church. Ultimately, we argue that Bessey is an evangelist to the church: rather than preaching a message of salvation to those lost in sin, Bessey preaches a message of Jesus feminism to Christians lost in patriarchy.

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