According to the Church of England’s first female diocesan bishop and other leading Church figures, the tendency to describe God as “he” is a growing problem-some even going so far as to argue that calling God a man is heresy.
Rt. Rev. Rachel Treweek, bishop of Gloucester told The Telegraph, “I don’t want young girls or young boys to hear us constantly refer to God as he,” pointing out that the leadership needs to be more “mindful of our language.”
Treweek raised concerns that non-Christians may feel alienated from the Church if its public pronouncements used solely male language to describe God, reported The Telegraph.
“For me particularly in a bigger context, in all things, whether it’s that you go to a website and you see pictures of all white people, or whether you go to a website and see the use of ‘he’ when we could use ‘god’, all of those things are giving subconscious messages to people, so I am very hot about saying can we always look at what we are communicating,” Treweek said.
In 2015 The Telegraph reported that the Church of England was considering rewriting its official liturgy altogether to refer to God as female after the selection of the first women bishops, with a growing number of priests inserting words such as “mother” and “she” informally into traditional service texts to make the language of worship more inclusive.
A YouGov. poll of self-identified Christians in Britain found that 41% believed God doesn’t have a gender at all, with 36% saying God is male and only 1% polled believe God to be female.
Bishop of Dorking, Rt. Rev. Dr. Jo Bailey Wells told The Telegraph that she tries to avoid using language that references God as male.
“When I lead prayers or preach, I try to get around the problem by using both male and female imagery, and also by avoiding the need to say ‘his’ or ‘him’ too often,” she said, clarifying that she doesn’t “avoid male language altogether.”
U.S. theologian John Piper has maintained that God’s intent for Christianity was for it to have a “masculine feel.”
In 2012, Piper stated,”God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother.”
“Second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son, not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male.”
He continued, “God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head.”
“Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And being God, a God of love, He has done that for our maximum flourishing both male and female.”
In June of 2004, when this issue was impacting Bible translations, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association posted a question and answer forum about the issue on their website.
“The answer to the question about why God is referred to in masculine terms in the Bible really has only one answer: This is the way God has chosen to reveal Himself to us,” the answer said. “God is never described with sexual characteristics in the Scriptures, but He does consistently describe Himself in the masculine gender.
“While God contains all the qualities of both male and female genders, He has chosen to present Himself with an emphasis on masculine qualities of fatherhood, protection, direction, strength, etc. Metaphors used to describe Him in the Bible include: King, Father, Judge, Husband, Master, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association concluded: “[I]t is very dangerous to tamper with the way God has chosen to reveal Himself. He most certainly does not intend to minimize women, since men and women are revealed as being made in His image and are of equal value to Him. But it remains that He is Father, not Mother, and even in the Incarnation chose to come to us as a man, Jesus Christ.”
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