Divine Gender: The Long-ish Explanation

A short defense of why I have no tolerance for gender-exclusive language in reference to God:

The most popular gendered name for God is “our Father”.

This term (perhaps unintentionally) makes God seem male.

This is problematic because sexism exists.

First, there are historical consequences which show that use of this language parallels cultures which do not treat women with equal respect or value. The presumption of God’s maleness has been yoked with two thousand years of church history where for the most part women could not be ordained.  Culturally, sexism has been prevalent in the western cultures who happened to also be predominantly Christian; therefore, I believe it is fair to say that for at least a thousand years Christianity at the very least did not prevent or sufficiently rebuke systemic gender-hierarchy. I personally would defend this statement as well: for too long, Christian theology and practice have propagated and encouraged sexism in this world.  Because this history continues to shape our personal identities, relationships and cultural values, I do believe there is great need to use feminine language for God.  Basically, I’m saying that history has shown that people are willing to use a grammatical construct to under-gird the sin of sexism, and we now know better so we must do better.

Secondly, I believe that to limit our images of God to one gender is to ignore mystery of God.  It is too easy to call God “father” as a name, thus lazily putting God into a box or easy label. At that point we have stopped effectively contemplating how much God is unlike, greater than, bigger than and holier/stranger than we are. We must embrace the distraction that comes when we call God by the uncomfortable, the unknown, the opposite-of-what-I’ve-come-to expect. This jarring moment of “wtf?” is an invitation from God. We are called to notice that God never intended to be identified as one gender, but that God created humanity to reveal God’s image. And humanity is many things, so God has many characteristics (but one substance!).  Three-in-one is not simple, nor should it be; if one thinks (s)he can comprehend all of God, that one is ignoring a lot of truth.   Finally, we are reminded of the Jewish practice of never saying the name of God for even God’s name is beyond anything that a human mouth could ever articulate.

But to acknowledge the sad consequences of sexism, the limitation of lazy-labeling is still not enough. We MUST confront the cissexism within ourselves that rejects the idea of a person who is both male and female at the same time, or not quite either, or maybe one and then the other, or neither, or who us some other option. There is this great passage in Job where God says “‘Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoar-frost of heaven?” (Job 38:28-29).  In two verses, one breath, God self-describes as being Father, with the parts to beget (a working penis), the-one-who-gives-birth, AND with a womb. This passage is no anomaly: God self-describes as drawing Israel to her breast numerous times in the Old Testament; Jesus cries out that he longs to “gather you up like a mother hen gathers her chicks” (luke 13:34).   The limitation of God as being (1) only one gender or sex or (2) reinforcing the existence of a gender binary is just not Biblical. God is clearly many genders. If God has parts, zie has all the parts.  Or, in the parlance of the twenty-first century: God is obviously trans.

Listen, ultimately, why does this matter?  I’d argue it matters because how a person understands God shapes the way that person relates to other human beings (who, in Biblical language are created in the image of God).  And we continue to live in a world where the Pope has to be a man. Women are less likely to be serving as the pastors of Christian churches.  80% of elected congressional representatives in the U.S.A. are men. Where boys are bullied if they act feminine, or just express emotions (because that’s coded as feminine behavior).  Oh yeah, and where just walking around not conforming sufficiently to other people’s expectations of your gender performance is likely to get you killed. 

Basically, it’s time to make it clear that – Humans are created in the image of God, no matter the gender (or lack thereof), because God’s image is multigendered and complex and unified in love and compassion, but not unified by having to reflect our earthly understanding of authority.

One thought on “Divine Gender: The Long-ish Explanation

  1. Pingback: A New Translation of the Lord’s Prayer | Audrey Has Ideas

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