Gender Inclusive Language and God

I wonder whether you’ve read the recent news about those within the Church of England who wish to begin addressing God as ‘She’? Of course, this is no new idea; the femininity of God is suggested in a small number of places in scripture, and occasionally, cults have arisen which emphasise God’s feminine nature. (1) In this case, a group which meets at Lambeth Palace with the snazzy name of the “Transformations Steering Group”, is calling for a rethink on language about God and is seeking to have changes made to the liturgy; changes which are, in some places, already taking place on an informal basis, with ‘He’ being changed to ‘She’ for example, when talking of, or addressing, God. The Daily Telegraph on 31st May, 2015 notes that ‘Hilary Cotton, chair of Women And The Church (WATCH), the group which led the campaign for female bishops, said the shift away from the traditional patriarchal language of the Book of Common Prayer is already at an “advanced” stage in some quarters.’ (2)

One member of WATCH, the Rev Emma Percy (chaplain of Trinity College, Oxford) believes that the dominance of male language within the church, makes women feel ‘less holy’, and that referring to God as ‘She’ would be more inclusive (3). Oh dear! What can be said in reply to such a silly comment? Although terms such as ‘he’, ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ were once naturally assumed simply to refer to a ‘person’ or ‘people’ – human beings in general, the pronoun ‘She’ leaves no such option, but rules men out altogether! On Ms Percy’s other point, it should be noted that any true believer is ‘holy’ simply by virtue of the fact that they are Christians; the word simply means ‘set apart’ by and for God.

Of course, with the advent of ‘women bishops’ and the possibility in the not-too-distant future of female Archbishops of Canterbury and York, moves to accentuate the feminine when speaking of God were probably to be expected, especially within a denomination which seems to grow more and more free with its interpretation of the bible and ever more desirous to be ‘relevant’ to the surrounding culture. But at a time when it is being widely publicised that the Anglican Church is sinking at an alarming rate, this kind of publicity and silliness can only add to its decline.

Those of us involved in theology will agree that God is neither male nor female in the human, material sense of such terms. But we would also want to say that to refer to God as a genderless ‘it’ would seem blasphemous. We therefore have to use the personal pronoun ‘He’.(4) To do otherwise would be to go against the bible, against almost all Christian tradition, and against plain common sense. God so loved the world that he sent his Son (if you think God should have sent a daughter, you’d better take that up with him when you have to face him), and that Son taught us to pray ‘Our Father‘. If we are to follow Jesus, and be obedient to our heavenly Father (which is what Christians are supposed to be doing) we must listen to him, and ignore people like Ms Percy at all costs.

1. For example, Christian Science (founded in the 19th century by Mary Baker Eddy) placed greater emphasis on God’s feminine side.
3. Quoted from the Daily Mail, June 1, 2015.
4. Or re-write the bible, giving he/she in the relevant places when referring to God or Jesus!

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