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“To refer to God purely as male is just unhelpful to many people now”

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 06/01/15

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My blog neighbor Fr. Dwight Longenecker called attention yesterday to this item in The Telegraph, which notes a persistent trend among some in the Church of England to refer to God as a female:

Support is growing within the Church of England to rewrite its official liturgy to refer to God as female following the selection of the first women bishops.

Growing numbers of priests already insert words such as “she” and “mother” informally into traditional service texts as part of a move to make the language of worship more inclusive, it has been claimed.

But calls for a full overhaul of liturgy to recognise the equal status of women have already been discussed informally at a senior level.

It comes after the “Transformations Steering Group”, a body which meets in Lambeth Palace to examine the impact of women in ministry on the Church of England, issued a public call to the bishops to encourage more “expansive language and imagery about God”. Hilary Cotton, chair of Women And The Church (Watch), the group which led the campaign for female bishops, said the shift away from the traditional patriarchal language of the Book of Common Prayer in already at an “advanced” stage in some quarters. …“There is a thin thread of this throughout history but having women bishops makes it particularly obvious that … to continue to refer to God purely as male is just unhelpful to many people now,” [Mrs. Cotton] said.

Fr. Longenecker notes: 

Over twenty years ago when I was a minister in the Church of England they were already insinuating newly written feminist “canticles” and “psalms” into the worship books. Already at that time trendy vicars were referring to God as “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” to avoid patriarchal language. Already at that time we had feminist liturgies being foisted upon us. The only thing new about this is that the feminists are flexing their muscles even more now that they have finally got women bishops.

It might be useful to understand what the Catholic Church teaches on this subject.

From the Catechism:

370 In no way is God in man’s image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective “perfections” of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband.

And there is this:

238 Many religions invoke God as “Father”. The deity is often considered the “father of gods and of men”. In Israel, God is called “Father” inasmuch as he is Creator of the world. Even more, God is Father because of the covenant and the gift of the law to Israel, “his first-born son”. God is also called the Father of the king of Israel. Most especially he is “the Father of the poor”, of the orphaned and the widowed, who are under his loving protection. 239By calling God “Father”, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.

Catholic News Agency summed it up well, in this posting from A Catholic Response:

In the Bible the title “Mother” is never used for God. In the Old Testament (OT), God does use the title “Father” for Himself, but only rarely: He (King David) shall cry to Me (God), “Thou art my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.” [Psalm 89:26; RSV; cf. 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 68:6] The OT titles for God are mainly political (Lord, King, Master) or military (Fortress, Rock, Shield). It was Christ who first fully developed the title “Abba” for the God of Israel. “Abba” is Aramaic for father and not mother or parent (Mark 14:36). Jesus in the Gospel refers to the God of Israel as “my Father” [Luke 2:49] and “Our Father” as in the Lord’s Prayer [Matt. 6:9; 23:9]. In the New Testament (NT) Epistles, the titles “God the Father” [Gal. 1:1; Eph. 5:20] and “God our Father” [Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3] are frequently used. God may at times describe His actions in terms of motherhood, but Moses and St. Paul liken themselves as mothers too (Num. 11:12; Gal. 4:19). In the Bible, God is described by many metaphors including that of motherhood (Deut. 32:18; Matt. 23:37), but never called “Mother” per se. In describing God, we must recognize the problems of our language. Even though our language is inadequate to describe God, it does influence our behavior and how we think of Him; therefore, it must be as correct and precise as possible. We may never find the exact words, but we must avoid using the wrong words. As Christians, we do not have the right to personally change God’s title to fit our whims.
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