God is no longer male…if you want.

There’s usually a debate over inclusive language in the worship service, liturgy, or hymnody. In an established congregation, moving them to use an inclusive version of a hymn or the Lord’s Prayer takes a lot of time and grace. In new or planted congregations, using inclusive language from the get-go usually makes for a smooth transition as people know if they attend that congregation that this version will be used.

I do respect that for some people, using the traditional language and masculine references to God are deeply personal and comfortable. There’s also the orthodox position which holds tradition and biblical references sacrosanct so changing the gender is out of the question for them. Thus movements towards inclusive language of God and humanity have a lot of conversation partners!

To this chasm, I think the Scottish Episcopal Church has a good way of going about it: exploring non-masculine language liturgies as an option for priests who want to use them.

The new form of worship, which removes words such as “Lord, he, his, him” and “mankind” from services, has been written by the church in an attempt to acknowledge that God is “beyond human gender”.  Episcopalian bishops have approved the introduction of more “inclusive” language, which deliberately removes references suggesting that God is of male gender.

The alterations have been made to provide an alternative to the established 1982 Liturgy, which, like the Bible, refers to God as a man.  The new order of service, which can be used by priests if they have difficulties with a male God, has been produced by the church’s Liturgy Committee in consultation with the Faith & Order Board of General Synod and the College of Bishops.

There’s no top-down dictation of “this is how your service should be run.” There’s no throwing away of tradition in churches that want to hold tight to the traditional liturgy. Instead there’s official blessing for an alternative order of worship and liturgy that allow priests and worship leaders to use them if they choose.

What’s wrong with exploring the different liturgies and presenting them as options? As United Methodists, we have four version of the Word and Table: some with music, some with long liturgies. Why not one with inclusive language for those that want it?

Thoughts about alternative liturgies that you don’t HAVE to use but are made with official blessing for the diversity of the church body?

(picture credit: Womanist Musings)

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Comments

  1. johnmeunier says

    I'm curious why the only reference is to the theological difficulties the priest might have. What about any difficulties for those in the pews?

  2. Rev. Jeremy Smith says

    I would assume that even if those in the pews had theological difficulties, the priest would not do a non-traditional liturgy that would outside his/her comfort zone. This seems more like hierarchical permission to do inclusive language than responding to the desires of parishioners.

  3. Pumice says

    I can see it now:

    The text for the day includes Jesus talking to the rich young ruler. As an alternative reading the pastors are given a text which says, "And Jesus ran after the young man saying, 'I was only kidding!'"

    The problem with this approach is that you are putting yourself above the word of God. I have not problem with changing genuine difference in our language, but when it involves pronouns referring to God you cross a line. You say God was wrong when He prepared the Bible for us.

    It would be interesting though if an accurate translation came out with the feminine references to God translated properly. I have not seen them myself but I understand they exist.

    Also we should remember that in Genesis when it talks about being created in God's image it says that "male and female" was part of the mix.

    Grace and Peace

  4. Carolyn says

    @ Pumice: The fact is that the Bible's grammatical gender does not describe the non-body of our non-gendered God. Nowhere does the Bible say that God has a male body. Further, the Bible uses female and natural images for God. Just because the Bible says God is like a mother in labor or like a solid rock, that doesn't mean that God is literally a mother or a rock. Neither is God literally a warrior or a father. God is God, and those words are just feeble human attempts to understand the omni- qualities of God.

    God has no body, and it is not a male body. Show me God's penis and I will call God by "He," "Him," and "Father." But for now, I will stick to theologically correct terms like God, Savior, and Spirit.

    @ Jeremy, In my opinion, failing to "give permission" to clergy to use inclusive language is a failure of the Church to acknowledge God's God-ness. It chains our God-concept to literalism, and ultimately is idolatry of a very narrow (and skewed!) understanding of the Divine.

  5. Pumice says

    Carolyn,

    You refuse to look at facts. When in the vast majority of cases God the Father is referred to as He how can you use the term "non-gendered." Are you also going to refuse to acknowledge that Jesus was biologically a male? Do you suppose that He was missing key body parts? Do you believe in the incarnation?

    I am not trying to make a case for male dominance here I am just saying you need to be more serious about what you read into the Bible and what you can read out of it.

    Grace and Peace.

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