Paul L. Caron

Sunday, March 26, 2023

WSJ: Should We Use Gender-Neutral Pronouns For God?

Wall Street Journal, Must God Have a Gender in Our Prayers?:

A bishop of the Church of England said last month that it has been studying whether to allow the use of non-gendered language for God in worship, a practice that a growing number of other churches have adopted over the last several decades. The question is part of a larger debate over how far religious traditions should adapt to the changing values of the wider culture.

“There are two religions within the Church of England vying for supremacy…two fundamentally opposed conceptions of God,” said the Rev. Lee Gatiss, director of the Church Society, a group that promotes traditional teaching. “One is the God of the Bible, as traditionally understood by believers throughout the centuries and all over the world. The other is a flexible God who changes depending on the spirit of the age.”

Bridget Nichols, a consultant to the Church of England’s liturgical commission, says that the church has no plans to abolish traditional language in worship, but that some are seeking to “widen the repertoire” of ways to talk about God, in order to welcome a wider range of believers.

“If the imagery that surrounds God always seems to be male, and always seems to be at least by implication white, and always seems to suggest complete physical and cognitive perfection, where are the spaces for people who come more hesitantly to church, perhaps struggling with their own gender identity?” Ms. Nichols said.

Feminist theologians have called for replacing traditional masculine terms and images for God since at least the 1960s, on the grounds that exclusively male language reinforces patriarchy and the oppression of women. “If God is male, then the male is God,” wrote the American Mary Daly in her 1973 book, “Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation.”

Some clergy have responded with such substitutions as “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier” for the traditional formula for the Trinity of “Father, Son, Holy Spirit.” For similar reasons, many churches have adopted inclusive language for describing the community, avoiding the generic use of masculine words and pronouns. The United Church of Christ changed the words of a 19th-century hymn, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” to “Dear God, Embracing Humankind.”

A comparable movement has occurred in liberal Judaism. 

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