We are pretty clear in the United Church of Christ that God is beyond gender. Yet despite our acceptance (since the 1860s) of women’s ordination and countless attempts to update our language to be more “inclusive”, we still tend to refer to God has “He” or “Him”. How come?
We may groan at the political correctness of “inclusive language” but it has its value. I’m all in favor of eliminating anything that might inhibit someone’s connection to God. If someone finds a barrier with words like “father” and “him”, then I believe it is less important to maintain those words than it is to bring that person into a closer relationship with God.
Also, if you start using “she” and “her” to refer to God, it opens up a lot of new characteristics for God. For example, we start to see that compassion and tenderness are vital characteristics of God and that strength and power are not exclusively male.
The main reason we are reluctant to embrace alternative language and images for God is, of course, the bible. While the bible does occasionally refer to God as having the attributes of a woman, God is never referred to as a woman or “Mother God” per se. The reason is that the bible was written by men in a patriarchal time and culture where women had almost no leadership roles.
When it comes to the bible, however, it is important to remember that we are created in the image of God, not the other way around. To get the final word on God’s gender, all you have to do is look around: we humans are both male and female. That’s because God is.
Consequently, when we change up the pronouns we use for God, we not only see God in new ways, but we see ourselves in new ways too. If God is both male and female, then we cannot pigeonhole any human attribute, characteristic or behavior as “male” or “female”. Apart from physically, all of us are “both/and” just like God. When we start thinking this way, even more barriers start to come down.
Scripture aside, for ease of being understood, I try not refer to God with either masculine or feminine words in worship but instead use simply “God”. It may be a bit too gender-neutral; I get that. But the alternatives are either delightfully complex at best or heavily loaded at worst.
All of that said, Mother’s Day is a great opportunity to consider the ways in which God is our Mother–the one who birthed creation and each one of us. She is one who longs for us to know Her and Her heart of limitless love.
See you in church,