The Episcopal Church formed a committee Wednesday to “provide a pathway” toward revising the Book of Common Prayer to include gender-neutral language.
“Church leaders called for immediate revisions to correct the ‘overwhelming use of masculine language’ throughout the book, arguing that the language is now a hindrance to spiritual inclusion, according to the Episcopal Church website.
“’As long as ‘men’ and ‘God’ are in the same category, our work toward equity will not just be incomplete. I honestly think it won’t matter in some ways,’ Wil Gafney, a professor of the Hebrew Bible and strong advocate for the edit, told the Washington Post.”
This is old news for me, in some ways; they were talking in the same terms at Vanderbilt Divinity School back in the mid-90s. I stopped attending chapel there when a lesbian trio sung a “Doxology” to “the Mother, and the Daughter, and the Holy Spirit.”
The problem is, as C.S. Lewis pointed out in “Priestesses in the Church,” when you remove that “masculine language” and replace it with either feminized language or, as is the fad these days, “gender-neutral” language, you change not only the language but the content of the faith.
“Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential.“
Change the language with which we speak of God, and we end up with something quite different from Christianity – or at least, quite different from orthodox Christianity. Of course, for many of these neo-reformers, that’s the point…
In His ultimate essence, of course, God far-and-away transcends human gender. The problem is, by trying to make God “gender-neutral,” we also end up making Him neuter, and therefore impersonal (we are also, as Lewis points out above, challenging the inspired and therefore authoritative character of the Holy Scriptures – placing our contemporary social views and mores above the given-ness of revelation: in effect, creating God in our own image).
We can have a personal relationship – whether for good or ill – with a Father. We can’t have a personal relationship with an amorphous blob! I’m reminded of another Lewis quote, in which he commented,
“A girl I knew was brought up by ‘higher thinking’ parents to regard God as a perfect ‘substance’; in later life she realised that this had actually led her to think of Him as something like a vast tapioca pudding. (To make matters worse, she disliked tapioca).”
While that may elicit a wry smile, it also makes a very good point! It is a short step from non-gendered to “nothing in particular.”
There are other Biblical metaphors for God that can be used, of course, that don’t have specifically gender-oriented connotations – “Vine” and “Rock” are two that come immediately to mind – but there is a reason that the more traditional, masculine images of God are vastly more common: they tell us things about God, and about our relationship with Him, that the less-commonly-used ones do not.
Besides that, and perhaps even more importantly, our Lord Jesus Christ called God “Father,” and instructed us to do so as well (“When you pray, say ‘Our Father…'”). We can call God other things in addition to Father, of course, as I commented above; but we cannot fail to call Him “Father” and make any kind of claim that we are obeying our Lord’s teachings. And while God transcends human biology, of course, fathers are biologically male. It does violence to biology, language, and theology alike to pretend otherwise!
The Fatherhood of God – unavoidably masculine though it be – is an essential component of Christianity. Remove it, and you have a different faith.
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