5.10.06

Her Kingdom

I had lunch with a friend today. She told me that at the Anglican Cathedral on Sunday the Bishop often slipped in references to God as “She” or “Her.”

I can’t imagine that happening in my own setting one bit!

But why?

I bothered blogging about it because I saw over at Chris Footers nice blog a link to an article entitled “Church declares calling God a He leads to Wife Bashing” and it prompted me to put my thoughts down a bit.

My Womens Studies classes at uni first got me thinking academically about a whole lot of issues, and I have always got fired up about the ludicrous male exclusiveness experienced in my own and others church/home life/ mission. And don’t get me started on misinterpretations of verses in Corinthians etc. But most women – and lots of men- would think along these lines too, eh?

Its an altogether different matter though to pray to Mother God, isn’t it? A conversation a year ago with the female officer I most admire really challenged my thoughts on this, describing the detirmental impact of single gender God language. We would all admit that our theology is (should be) the source of our values, actions, attitudes, behaviours. But if we have an exclusively male view of God, how can we expect gender equality to be long lasting and genuine in the church, our lives? And there is not reason to see God as exclusively Male- the majority of Biblical scholars would admit that. Eg, Moltmann specifically sees the Holy Spirit as female.

So… why limit our language of God like this eh? Is it verging on oppressive/ discriminative talk? Does it restrict our ability to truly live on gender equal terms?

I challenge you- whether you agree or not (just as a social experiment)- to slip in a Her/She in your next God chat!

14 comments:

Chris said...

Thanks for the plug ;)
I agree with what you've said. Our God is above any gender, race, colour or human characteristic... and yet we do call 'Him' 'He'. I guess we find it easier to relate to the person of God if we assign God a gender. The concept of a being beyond gender can be hard to grasp. Somehow praying to a 'Him' or 'Her' makes it more personal. God does take on both female and male characteristics though.

God is the mother that gave birth to all creation. 'Mother Nature'.
God is the nursing woman who looks after and heals the sick. (Yes, I know there are male nurses too)
And the list goes on.

Maybe we should practice referring to God as she. Believing God to be solely 'Him' or 'Her' is to leave out a part of the personality of God.

Tim said...

God is often referred to as “God the Father”, but I also think it’s important to recognize that were we to characterize God as being only male, or only like a father, we would be taking away much of what makes God, God. In fact, to even suggest that God is only male is to say that He isn’t God. After all, the Bible tells us in Genesis 1:27, that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them.”

Throughout the Bible God refers to himself as a mother, and as having given birth to us, and as having nursed us, and as being there to comfort us (Isaiah 66:13, Matthew 23:37). Throughout the Bible God refers to himself as having the characteristics of both father and mother, male and female. In fact, in the original Hebrew text, the Hebrew word for womb is used to describe God’s compassion. So even as we use the word Father to describe God, we should keep in mind that what we’re really talking about here are the characteristics of a parent, and not only both parents, mother and father, but the best aspects of each one.

I think it simply comes down to the fact that, though the Bible is the inspired word of God, God used humans to write it and so throughout its texts are the fingerprints of the human race. Our limited understandings and descriptions of God and his nature. And as Chris pointed out, to refer to God as being without gender is a very difficult thing to do. In fact, we don’t even have a word for it in our language and I suspect that the Hebrews didn’t either.

Anonymous said...

The gender issue drives me mad, we encounter it all the time. I'm all for complete equality by the way.

Jo (my wife) and I are expecting our first baby in March, and i think in some ways a baby in the womb invokes similar thought processes as when we think about the gender of God. That is because we dont know what gender our baby is, we still want to refer to it in terms other than 'it'. As there are only two possible options. But i keep referring to the baby as she, maybe it's a subconscious thing? Maybe its something else.

I think it is interesting what people call God in their prayers, some go for "Father God" or whatever, but it is often i think it's to do with what we want or need God to be at that point in our lives. But your right, i dont think people consider God the be feminine in any way.

What is interesting i think, is that femininity is different in every culture, some cultures are of course matriarchal, what does that do to our image of God as a man or father?

Anonymous said...

The gender issue drives me mad, we encounter it all the time. I'm all for complete equality by the way.

Jo (my wife) and I are expecting our first baby in March, and i think in some ways a baby in the womb invokes similar thought processes as when we think about the gender of God. That is because we dont know what gender our baby is, we still want to refer to it in terms other than 'it'. As there are only two possible options. But i keep referring to the baby as she, maybe it's a subconscious thing? Maybe its something else.

I think it is interesting what people call God in their prayers, some go for "Father God" or whatever, but it is often i think it's to do with what we want or need God to be at that point in our lives. But your right, i dont think people consider God the be feminine in any way.

What is interesting i think, is that femininity is different in every culture, some cultures are of course matriarchal, what does that do to our image of God as a man or father?

Anonymous said...

The gender issue drives me mad, we encounter it all the time. I'm all for complete equality by the way.

Jo (my wife) and I are expecting our first baby in March, and i think in some ways a baby in the womb invokes similar thought processes as when we think about the gender of God. That is because we dont know what gender our baby is, we still want to refer to it in terms other than 'it'. As there are only two possible options. But i keep referring to the baby as she, maybe it's a subconscious thing? Maybe its something else.

I think it is interesting what people call God in their prayers, some go for "Father God" or whatever, but it is often i think it's to do with what we want or need God to be at that point in our lives. But your right, i dont think people consider God the be feminine in any way.

What is interesting i think, is that femininity is different in every culture, some cultures are of course matriarchal, what does that do to our image of God as a man or father?

Anonymous said...

sorry Lu, didnt mean to do that three times

lucy AR said...

wowza, what an enlightened bunch of males..

Really good points. Referring to God as "it" just doesn't cut it eh! So in want of a Gender transcending word we must surely just need to consciously
balance out our God language- any of you thrown in a she or her yet?

Steve, you were just being trinitarian innit.

Sandy Crowden said...

Hey Lucy,
don't usually feel inspired to comment on blogs but this one's close to my heart. I did refer to God as she once during a meeting here but only in reading a children's book and got plenty of comment afterwards! For the most part I just exclude gender altogether when talking about God and noone even notices. Gender exclusive language is something I find both insulting and limiting and you have my committment that in our setting I will do all that I can to refrain from using it, also to educate people that God is so much greater than our gender restrictions. So, pick me up on it if you hear me slip up and don't laugh when I use such terms as Godself, which does sound a little clumsy!
Found this cool quote from St. Augustine this week:
"God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you understand you have failed."
Keep blogging.
Sandy

Glyn said...

Ok, here goes (a little late, I realise, but I'm going none-the-less),

I don't understand the debate.

As has rightly been pointed out, God is far and beyond gender. Even to suggest that God has "feminine" qualities (giving birth, nursing us etc.) and "masculine" qualities (apparently he pees standing up) is to give the impression that God borrows from our idea of gender and because he's God,he can have bits of both.

The truth is, giving birth isn't a feminine quality. It's a God quality. Being strong, courageous and in charge certainly isn't a masculine quality. It's a God quality. God doesn't have the qualities of men and women. Rather, men and women have the qualities of God.

God is not a man. God is not a woman. God is not a mix between a man and a woman. God is God. And we come from that.

So why, after believing so strongly that we can't pigeon-hole God into a gender do I also believe that we should still refer to God as heavenly father and as a he or a him?

As intellectually simple as it may sound, the answer, to me, seems obvious:

The bible tells me so.

Glyn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
lucy AR said...

Sandy, yeah Tim said he has noticed the "Godself" every so often, I will have to listen more closely! We are blessed to have radical C.O's! Fab Augustine comment.

Yo Glyn, thanks for your comment, not too late just fasionable. I guess you are referring to The Lords Prayer as an example, eh? For me it is about pictures- in this prayer Jesus is painting a picture of God as our close Father, which would be a liberating image for people then. Yet elsewhere he paints a picture of himself as mother "as a hen gathers her brood under her wings" (Matt 23:7).

I'd be interested in a further comment about our instruction to refer to God as a Him.

(Also, have you gauged out an eye, or cut off a hand lately? There's a few images offered by Jesus that we wouldn't bind ourselves to, eh? But I'm really not meaning to be antagonistic, hehe.)

If anyone is interested, there is an interesting (and v. neutral)article on:

http://www.spiritualitytoday.org/spir2day/884044osiek.html

Glyn said...

Alright so that last comment of mine wasn't quite how I meant it. I didn't mean that we should refer to God as "He" or "Father" coz the bible tells me TO (although the Lord's prayer thing is a good example of that if one were to go down that road). Actually I don't think the bible connects God to feminine or masculine attributes at all. Those things are just metaphors:

God is not a father (in the literal earthly masculine sense) anymore than he is a shepherd or a groom or, indeed, a hen. These are just words used to help our limited earth brains come to terms (be it ever so smidgeonesque) with God's character.

So if we can't acurately refer to God as a "He" or as a "She" then what do we do? As has been previously stated, the word "it" would be bordering on the ludicrous.

Like all things where we fall short of understanding God, I believe we have to follow the example of the bible. And the bible refers to God as "He". So refering to God in the masculine doesn't have to mean that we consider God to be a male (although I appreciate that that is often the case). We do simply to follow the example of Jesus and the bible (if Jesus refered to God as a "He", why should we question it?). I believe that referring to God as a "she", however, whilst making no difference in terms of how we might view the character of God, actually just pigeonholes God into our concept of gender by saying that God must be one or the other or both when he's not. He's God and seeing as we don't have the appropriate words to address him, we simply have to follow the example left for us.

Does that make more sense? I have a tendency to ramble while I'm formulating an argument. Sorry.

Corryn said...

One of the things that fully threw me when I first started learning French and German at school (albeit back in the last millennium!) was that everything was either feminine or masculine.

Tables, chairs and computers suddenly had a gender. Of course, you and I both know tables, chairs and computers don't have the anatomy that usually defines gender, but despite that the pronoun before the noun had to express it.

Maybe it is something like that with God? It would be interesting to go back into the Old Hebrew and Greek Scriptures and find out what the culture thought in those days.

My other thought is that if we don't want to define God as "He" because it stirs up the pro-feminine side of our number, why would we swing the pendulum in the other extreme and say God is "She"? What is that doing to the masculine?

lucy AR said...

Hmmm. Yeah. Cool thoughts. (And Hebrew does have the same deal, Corryn)
Sandy (thats our pastor/ CO) neither refers to God as He or She- because of all the above difficulties. She just says God. So like yesterday she said "I had this deal with God about the garden, I would do my part if God does Gods part" (Instead of His, geddit, which doesn't sound so very odd, but you would have to try hard to form your sentences differently)
Were Sandy to throw in a She (which she could have done for all the above reasons) it would have alienated people, right? But then the use of He alienates people nowadays- it really, really really does, people.

I am going to go down the road of just trying to leave gender specific language out completely. So, if you notice me blogging about a He God, let me know!