BINOs Ponder Gender-neutral Terms for God
It was revealed at General Synod that the bishops are to launch a project on inclusive language in worship, with a proposal that the Church of England might speak of God in a non-gendered way, to make services ‘more inclusive’.
In a written question to the Liturgical Commission, the Revd Joanna Stobart (Bath and Wells) asked if there was any update “to develop more inclusive language in our authorised liturgy”.
She also asked bishops “to provide more options for those who wish to use authorised liturgy and speak of God in a non-gendered way, particularly in authorised absolutions where many of the prayers offered for use refer to God using male pronouns”.
The vice-chairman of the Liturgical Commission, Bishop Michael Ipgrave of Lichfield replied, “We have been exploring the use of gendered language in relation to God for several years, in collaboration with the Faith and Order Commission. After some dialogue between the two commissions in this area, a new joint project on gendered language will begin this spring.”
Writing in the Church Times, Christian songwriter Professor Maggi Dawn outlined some of the issues in talking about God in this way: “To name God “Our Mother” overlooks the fact that “Our Father” is intended to describe God not as a heavenly Dad but as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” — a recurring New Testament phrase that affirms the nature of Jesus as God incarnate, born of a woman, and our adoption into Christ’s relationship with the Father.
“There are abundant scriptural passages that attribute feminine characteristics to God, but replacing “Father” with “Mother” in this particular context diminishes its Trinitarian sense.
“Is a gender-neutral solution an improvement? “Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer” is an increasingly popular substitute for Father-Son-Spirit, but, on closer examination, it is not as Trinitarian as it appears. It implies that creation belongs to the Father alone, and redemption only to the Son, in direct contradiction to the Christian teaching that these actions properly belong to God in Unity.
“Equally problematic is the way in which it describes God in terms of function rather than relationship. It is fundamental to Christian theology that God, while not a corporeal being, is not impersonal. Worship needs the language of relationship, not job descriptions.”
Synod member Revd Dr Ian Paul also issued a warning: “The use of male pronouns for God should not be understood as implying that God is male – which is a heresy. God is not sexed, unlike humanity.
“The Bible uses feminine imagery and metaphors of God, but primarily identifies God using masculine pronouns, names, and imagery. Male and female imagery is not interchangeable.
“The fact that God is called ‘Father’ can’t be substituted by ‘Mother’ without changing meaning, nor can it be gender-neutralised to ‘Parent’ without loss of meaning. Fathers and mothers are not interchangeable but relate to their offspring in different ways.
“If the Liturgical Commission seeks to change this, then in an important way they will be moving the doctrine of the Church away from being grounded in the Scriptures.”