Thursday, September 01, 2005

Why Call God Father? 

Ok, I can get one of these out of the way fairly quickly, though not because the subject is of a lesser importance. Quite the contrary. But I want to do less talking on my own here and instead, point you to another blogger. The topic of masculine language for God is one that comes up regularly at Seabury, usually in the sense of "if you're still calling God "Father" all the time, you're behind the times, my friend". Intellectually, it makes about as much sense to me to call God "father" as it does "mother". The deity which we Christians worship as One in Three seems to me to be beyond what we know as gender. But, and I'll just go ahead and say this, to call God "Mother" sounds about as strange to me as calling God "Toyota". That's the effect of years of experiences, services, prayers, and practices. Because of this, to call God "Mother" is not an aid to my prayer life or my devotional practices. In fact, it is now a hindrance, because, among other things, it calls to mind all the bickering and arguing that has gone on at Seabury on the subject. However, I don't discount the idea for the piety of others. It does not seem to me to be heresy, in other words.

However, when we are referring to the deity that we worship as Three in One, and are referring specifically to the first person of that Blessed Trinity, it is a necessity to say "God the Father". Though I'm not likely inclined to agree with all of the man's theological beliefs, this is one point where I think the Very Rev. Robert Munday, Dean of Nashotah House Seminary, has some helpful things to say. You can read his remarks on his blog site, here. It appears that this is just part one and the other parts seem to be forthcoming. In any event, I submit this all to you for your consideration.



I'd like to know how making God a female is any more credible than cautiously using traditional masculine language with the constant assumption that God doesn't have gender at all. Calling God "She" seems to simply confuse the matter more and throws out the benefits brought by continuity with tradition. Call it misogyny or gender oppression or even some sort of Oedipal fixation, but I doubt I could keep a straight face praying a female "Our Mother."

By Blogger BrotherBeal, at 8:47 AM  

It sounds like, at least in your experience, the matter has not been framed in the most helpful terms. If choices concerning speech about God is about "keeping up with the times," and is an occasion for "bickering" (or "liberal" condescension toward a "conservative" minority faction) then the best ideas on the topic are clearly not being shared. I would argue, e.g., that feminine language for God is not less biblical than is masculine language, but I would also acknowledge that this is an argument that has to be made!

By Blogger G. Brooke, at 9:17 AM  

Well my personal preference is to refer to God as "God" (not "Father" or "Mother").

Referring to God, either in the masculine or feminine seems to me to be equally reverent or appropriate.

I also have no trouble with using the traditional "father" in the traditional forms of the Eucharist.

I guess my whole take on it is: It really doesn't matter how I address God, for God knows who God is better than I do.

By Blogger K, at 1:37 PM  

Using the masculine pronoun as a convenience seems to be an example of "masculine privilege", with the "male" term being the default. Some use "Mother" and "Father" interchangeably, or in specific circumstances. I wish there was a convenient set of singular, genderless personal pronouns to complement him/her, he/she. Without those, the "inclusive language" efforts eventually encounter situations that are awkward.

I think another issue is those who say that God is masculine, period, as in the "old man in the sky" image. Like Ryan, I see God as beyond and not limited by the concept of gender. It's not that I think those who see God as exclusively masculine are behind the times, it's that I can't see limiting God in that way. I also see this interpretation devaluing women in the church, and a source of misogyny.

Unfortunately, those who see God as masculine, and those who simply use masculine terms for God are often lumped together in this discussion, and tarred with the same brush.

If I remember correctly (I don't have access to the book at the moment) Marcus Borg, in The God We Never Knew has a good exposition on this subject.

By Blogger Dawgdays, at 3:08 PM  

In response to K, I want to say that it does matter how I address God-publicly and privately. For the time being let us deal only with the public. The critique of theology coming from the feminist tradition states that the test of a doctrine is in the effect it has on people's lives. This conversation usually starts with the doctrine of sacrificial atonement. It is equally relevent to god-language. If I say that at certain "special" moments god can be addressed only as "Father" what happens in people's lives? For a tradition that has been extremely patriarchal, limiting this language is dangerous. What are the effects in lives of my sisters? Do any of them find themselves in a community forced to choose between the absurd: submission or exclusion? And so in response to brother beal I state we do not "make" god anythin with our language. Rather, our god-language has a more positive effect or negative effect. How many people cannot refer to a feminine divinity? How many females feel excluded by a god-language which is set on default: masculine? Perhaps the truth of it is that when it comes to gender, god is confused and ambiguous. Perhaps confusion and ambiguity are closer to reality. As far as continuity with the tradition goes-to any misogynist patriarchal tradition I give the not so provebial finger.

By Anonymous Jeff, at 7:17 PM  

I am not certain of the gender of all of the responders to this thread, but I think we're all guys. I'm interested to see what women have to say about this.

By Blogger Dawgdays, at 11:59 PM  

A couple of points, here:

1. I have not had problems in referring to God in the masculine. However, I also believe that putting a dent in the exclusivity of the human mindset by consciously using the feminine imagery to which Brooke refers is both legitimate and healthy. Being reminded that both male and female are created in God's image is important. God-- as our loving father, as the mother hen who would shelter us under her wings-- transcends gender, and trying to place human limits on that seems to me to be nothing more than human arrogance.

2. There is a difference between honoring "continuity and tradition" has to teach us, and sticking with something because deviating from "the way we've always done it" makes us uncomfortable. If you find yourself smirking about the idea of worshipping a God who can be found in "feminine" ideals and images as well as "masculine," then I would respectfully suggest you ask yourself why you find that so ludicrous.

2. The "bickering" you refer to, Ryan, is often just as catty on the conservative side, and is not limited to Seabury's hallowed halls. I once referred to "God's infinite wisdom" in the feminine, during a sermon (entirely biblical, as Wisdom is exclusively feminine in the OT - check Proverbs sometime), and got roundly and sarcastically chewed out for it.

By Blogger Jane Ellen+, at 8:12 AM  

I don't have a huge problem with exploring alternative ways of framing God. In my private prayer, I just use 'God.' But in prayer book services, I prefer to use Father when it's asked for.

What bothers me is when a church has a particular convention for changing the language of the prayer book but doesn't bother to mention this anywhere. It's just something they do, but it can be significantly confusing for visitors (especially those who already have to figure out how to juggle 3 or more books).

I think because of my experience in different languages I just tend to look on all of this as part of the limitations of our human linguistic forms and conventions, rather than something that limits God.

By Blogger Jennifer, at 7:43 AM  

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