[Religion News Service] More than three years after Beth Allison Barr moved to a small Texas church where her husband is pastor, a Baylor University historian was warned of one word in a statement of the church’s belief, posted on her website: “God alone” – try, apparently inserted with the blessing of one of Bara’s husband’s predecessors, to portray the Almighty as out of kind, neither “himself” nor “himself.”
Barr, author of the recent bestseller “The Making of Biblical Womanhood,” was aware of the deputy’s appearance only after the Council for Biblical Masculinity and Femininity, a conservative group, sent a fundraising email on “Godself,” criticizing Barr for denying it. God’s revelation. “
(A related article written by the group’s CEO is linked to an earlier pair of Religion News Service columnist Mark Silk’s column that argues that God’s substitute should be “they.”)
The council’s gambit failed: The church received more than $ 26,000 in donations to support Barr, if not the deputy, whom the church has since changed to “He Himself.” And the e-mail only fueled a somewhat dormant, though sometimes disjointed, debate on the issue of God’s gender.
In some seminaries and university religious departments, “God’s,” though somewhat clumsily, has become second nature; It is even known that professors combine points from works that use “he” for God.
At Spelman College in Atlanta, the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies has been implementing an inclusive language policy since 2007 that, among other things, instructs students to avoid gender-specific language when talking about non-native deities (I mean: Shiva). The Rev. Rosetta Ross, a professor of religious studies at Spelman and an original policy author, said inclusive language is part of her grading section for class assignments.
“My rationale is that the use of inclusive language expands the possibility of thinking about women’s roles and status beyond that subordinate to men,” Ross said.
The Presbyterian Church’s (USA) language guide for 2021 recommends titles such as “Mother,” “I Am,” “Chicken,” and “Woman.” In 2018, the Episcopal Church decided to revise the 1979 Book of Common Prayers to replace the pronouns “he” and “he” with a gender-neutral language for God, although the changes are unlikely to take effect until at least 2030. it is unusual to hear God, and especially the Holy Spirit, who is called “she.”
In Catholic and conservative evangelical churches, such circumventions of traditional language are rare, however, showing how volatile, and often disturbing, ideas about God’s race can be in practice.
Mark Miller, a composer, professor of church music at Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey, and lecturer at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, heard only masculine pronouns for God growing up in the United Methodist Church. But he said that many in the denomination have become more comfortable calling God something other than “he”.
Miller is part of this shift. His performance of “The Lord’s Prayer” from 2005, which begins with “Our God in Heaven” instead of “Our Father in Heaven” and changes the language of “Kingdom” to “Kin-dom” to describe God’s community, is one of many songs that he wrote composed and sung throughout the country, depicting God in a relationship rather than in a patriarchal sense. Despite that, Miller said that he was called because of the use of the word “Lord”, a word that some see as a native word, in relation to “Father”.
The language we use when we sing about God is essential, Miller said, because “it forms us in the earliest years, in the sense that we understand the higher force that inhabits creation.” How we learn about God, Miller said, also shapes the way we treat each other.
Such language, he said, is not always appropriate. “I played at the funeral of a 108-year-old woman on Saturday,” Miller said. “She and her family chose anthems without the obligatory inclusive language, and I didn’t want to change their songs, which may have been very close to their hearts.”
Reverend Wil Gafney, a Hebrew scholar and episcopal priest at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, has published a reading book for the holidays and Sunday services dedicated to inclusive thinking. The “Church-wide female textbook” avoids the word “LORD,” which is often capitalized to denote God’s name YHWH, because Gafney sees “the Lord” as “the ordinary male title of slaveholding title”.
Her lectors also use mostly feminine and, rarely, non-binary pronouns to refer to God in the Psalms, and consistently use feminine pronouns for the Holy Spirit.
“The only reproductive organs attributed to God are the female,” Gafney said, pointing to descriptions of God having a uterus or giving birth. “God is greater than grammatical categories, even in the biblical text. So what I’m doing is relying heavily on the diversity and language of Scripture, deliberately focusing on female language, and potentially secondarily, non-binary language. ”
Gafney says the textbook, which includes entirely new readings aimed at women, is already being used in major major denominations and by Catholic groups in study and piety. It is dedicated to “those who sought themselves in the Scriptures but did not find themselves in masculine pronouns.”
Even those who insist that Scripture represents God as “he,” “the Lord,” or “the Father” see room for other views.
In his classroom at Grove City College, a conservative Christian school in Grove City, Pennsylvania, Bible and religious studies professor Carl Trueman has no guidelines on how his students should speak or write about God, although personally, he has strong beliefs.
“I usually declare my classes zones of free speech,” Trueman said. “I could imagine a situation where a student sends me an essay using pronouns for God that I don’t approve of, but as long as they give me a good argument, I would be willing to listen to them.”
Trueman, who belongs to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is open to thinking about any image of God in the Bible, including the female language. The problem, he believes, arises when Christians impose human concepts of gender, motherhood, or fatherhood on God. Instead, he believes that God’s fatherhood is an archetype, whose human fatherhood is an imperfect reflection. “If you see God as an archetype, then the language used in the paternity Bible and the language ‘he’ has enormous authority,” he said.
Looking at God as a set of human masculine or feminine qualities and allowing them to determine our language risks making God a function of the contemporary gender struggle, Trueman said.
Tim O’Malley, academic director of the Center for Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame, noted that Catholic liturgies do not often rely on pronouns for God – although they are masculine, when present – and often implement the trinity language Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In 2008, the Catholic Church declared invalid baptisms naming the Trinity in non-native terms such as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. O’Malley agrees that attempts to eliminate the gender of the Triune God confuse the roles of each person. “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are all involved in creation, redemption and sanctification,” he said.
Catholics, he added, have a pious relationship with Mary, the mother of Jesus and other saints, and noted that the rich church tradition of mysticism is filled with images of a female God. This legacy, he said, can be a great source for private prayer, when Catholics can talk to God however they want.
“I think it’s important that we restore the mystical tradition and that the Trinitarian language doesn’t become so calcified that it doesn’t allow different ways of communicating with God, as a loved one, as a mother hen,” he said.
Gafney also distinguishes between speaking of God in public worship and addressing God in personal prayer.
“When I lead the ministry, I am the pastor of the community. Not everyone is a woman or a feminist, and maybe they are not where I am when it comes to language, ”said Gafney. “As a pastor, in a way I entertain the community in the presence of God. So it has to be available to as many people as possible. ”
In practice, this means that Gafney often uses a mixture of gender and non-gender language in a church setting. And since the inclusive language of God is still not widely accepted in the Episcopal Church, she said, she asks to be called “Father Gafney”.
“We have a tradition of using the title‘ Father ’for God and the male clergy, and then we call women differently,” Gafney said. “And so I told them, when you understand how to articulate God in different gender terms, then you can talk about calling me something else.”