by Rev. Brendan Curran, Assoc. Minister         –          Oct. 15, 2018

Every Thursday afternoon, I host community coffee hours at the Coffee Depot in Warren from 3-5pm. Our time together is always exciting as the conversations range from personal updates to faith, spirituality, and even global commentary from lively sojourners! A couple weeks ago, the conversation we were having about toxic expressions of masculinity spilled into a conversation about the importance of using gender inclusive language for God. One of our congregation members, a wealth of information on the history of the United Church of Christ, reminded me of our denomination’s pioneering use of “gender-inclusive” language for God in worship. Here are some insights we came up with in our conversation together…

Using exclusively masculine pro-nouns limits our understanding of God. In one aspect, for instance, God is creator, and source of life. In another aspect we understand God as Spirit, energy, and breathe of life. In these respects, God goes beyond gender. To refer to the eternal as male limits the grandeur and mystery of the eternal divine presence. Exclusively male language for God turns “man,” into a false idol. The theologian Mary Daly summed up this point when she said, “If God is male then the male is God.” “The male,” of course, is not God, although we forget this sometimes after 2000 years of the exclusive use of “Heavenly Father” language. Using gender inclusive language for God is our effort in the UCC to correct this limiting tendency.

Unfortunately, our way of implementing inclusive language seems to have jumped from exclusively male language to exclusively gender-NEUTRAL language for God. For example, in our New Century Hymnal, you might notice the effort to use no gendered pro-nouns for God at all. I would like to suggest this might be as much a fallacy as using exclusively male language. God is not gender-neutral. God is Gender-full! Our faith tradition points to how God is experienced in a deeply personal way. We experience God in relationship. Yes we experience God as brother, teacher, friend, and Heavenly Father in the person of Christ. We also experience God in all persons. That includes women and people of many gender expressions!

Our faith teaches how God holds all persons within God’s self. St. Benedict encouraged Christians to, “seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Christ, as a principle, is the wisdom of God made flesh, the embodied, relational, personal aspect of God. If we serve Christ in all persons then we must see and love God in all gender expressions. The sacred three-in-one inhabits the spectrum of possible gender expressions and possibilities. God is gender-full!

It might be indicative of the level of misogyny in our society that we jump from exclusively using male pro-nouns for God to exclusively using gender-neutral language. It’s almost as though we have been conditioned to think God can be ANYTHING but female. But female language and imagery for God is interwoven throughout the Bible from start to finish. In Genesis Chapter 17, God tells Abraham, “I am El Shaddai,” which translates to, “I am the God with breasts!” In the wisdom book of Proverbs, we meet her again as Sophia, as the holy woman of wisdom crying out at the gates of the city and at the crossroads. These are just two examples among others of how the female aspect of God appears in the Bible.

Instead of using only gender neutral language, how about we try learning to address God in many ways, including as our, “Heavenly Mother” for a little while? I wonder how our faith and our spiritual lives would be impacted if we tried referring to God as Mother, or seeing God as woman, as much as we see God as male. I wonder what would happen if we prayed to God as a woman until we became as comfortable as we are praying to God as a man. I imagine we would become more capable of respecting women as a society. I imagine we would listen better when women raise their voices. God is gender-full so it’s time we learned to respect her. It’s time we honored the woman of wisdom. It’s time we listened to her. It’s time we give her praise. Let’s try it out!

In her love, power, and glory,

Brendan