The work and wisdom of women has been the backbone of our Christian churches, and the same can be said of most of the world’s religious communities. It is interesting in light of this reality that most of our God-talk has been gendered masculine. This is probably because while the work and wisdom of women has been the sustaining and advancing of our Christian communities, all too often the great majority of leadership in those same communities has been vested in the hands of men. And I know my Biblical literalist siblings will attribute this to God’s mandated male leadership, but that is a conversation that overlooks some real Biblical truths in favor of one Biblical interpretation. The literalist assertion of univocity between human language about God and God fails to appreciate and see the nuance of the most basic characteristic of religious and theological language: It’s iconoclastic character. All language about God is a human construction and therefore misses the mark of all that God is. I would like to lift some truths and raise some questions because as the father of an amazing and gifted daughter, I am acutely aware that she matters.
The Christian Bible teaches that God is spirit. Spirit is a disembodied reality; therefore God is neither male nor female. The Bible also teaches that we are all made in the image of God, therefore both men and women are equally created in God’s image. If these things be true then God is neither male nor female. This spirit, which is beyond gender binaries, is the creative source of all and is diminished in our mind by our propensity to gender our references to God. God is neither male nor female; rather God is both male and female and beyond. If we use pronouns which are exclusively male or female we fall into idolatry forgetting that God is beyond either (McFague 1987). Since God has no biological realities, when we speak of God as beyond male and female, we are really speaking specifically about the characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity. Since God has no material embodiment it becomes important to say that God is spirit. Spirit is life or intelligence, conceived of entirely apart from physical embodiment. It is vital essence, force, energy, as distinct from matter (Holmes, The Science of Mind 1997). My distinct theology says that God is beyond gender and yet present in every point of the gender continuum. This God force or Allness is manifested in human genders in all the beautiful arrays of gender identities that manifest themselves, in that all are created in the imago dei. Using images of God in our theology and liturgical moments that are rooted in masculine antiquity tends to speak to a cultural understanding that no longer exists (James 1996).
Names matter because how we name something is to a great extent what it is to us. When we gender God as male, we move in our minds from metaphorical language about God to concretizing God as a man, forgetting that this merely anthropomorphic language. We are preeminent creatures of language, and though language does not exhaust human reality, it qualifies it in profound ways (McFague 1987). It follows then that if naming can be hurtful, it can also be helpful. Names mean that we see and are seen. The sin of naming God only in the masculine is we do not see our sisters and we ask them not to see themselves in the Divine. Our God-talk then becomes a subordination and oppression of women and their embodiment and lived realities.
In solidarity with my sisters, I would like to invite the whole church to live into an ethic of liberation which arises out of a new sense of love, for ourselves and for all humanity (Williams 1993). I would like to invite us to image the femininity of the Divine in ways we lift the feminine character of God in all of our liturgical moments. In this we will ensure that everyone has a seat at the table.
Holmes, Ernest. 1997. The Science of Mind. New York: G.P. Putnums Sons.
James, David C. 1996. What Are They Saying About Masculine Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press.
McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Williams, Delores S. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness . Maryknoll: Orbis.