Thursday, June 27, 2013

What's Wrong With a Feminine God?: Some Quotations

In an earlier post, I raised the challenge of progressive Christians wanting to de-emphasize masculine language and names of God in Scripture (like Father and King) and replace it with feminine imagery of God in Scripture. To read how Dr. Bruce Ware responded to such trends you can click here. In this post, I want to highlight a number of the voices that made such an argument.

Brian McLaren

Secondly, Alice struggles with referring to God as ‘he.’  She is not alone: Many women, and men as well, resist (with good reasons, in my opinion) the idea of God as an ‘alpha male’ on whom one must depend.  That kind of dependence, they fear, only serves to reinforce a kind of weakness and ugly dependence in believers, while bolstering a chauvinistic worldview that places maleness on top of the ‘great chain of being.’  This is a huge subject, easily deserving a book in itself.  (I devoted a single chapter to it in Finding Faith, but apparently that chapter did not help her a great deal . . .)  But the very least a spiritual friend can do for someone like Alice is to understand the reason for her struggle, and assure her that there were good reasons for biblical language using predominantly, though not exclusively, male imagery for God (I mention some of these in Finding Faith), and assure her that God’s true essence both comprises and transcends the virtues we associate with both maleness and femaleness. -More Ready Than You Realize, 50-51

This is as good a place as any to apologize for my use of masculine pronouns for God in the previous sentence. You’ll notice that wherever I can, I avoid the use of masculine pronouns for God because they can give the false impression to many people today that the Christian God is a male deity. God Is not a male. Instead God is personal (we might say super-personal) in a way that human maleness and femaleness together image better than either can alone. Maleness and femaleness are biological categories, and God is Life beyond biological categories. -A Generous Orthodoxy, 74.

The masculine biblical imagery of “Father” and “Son” also contributes to the patriarchalism or chauvinism that has too often characterized Christianity, maybe even more significantly than the pronoun problem . . .

Significantly, seeing Jesus as the “Son of God” can actually help remove the macho-power and patriarchal dominance ideas often associated with God. Jesus comes not as a loud, bullying macho general but as a vulnerable baby.  Jesus lives as a poor Jew without ecclesiastical or political power and models not a conquering arrogance but a filial submission, not rugged independence but courageous obedience, not angry dominance that threatens with suffering but loving faithfulness that suffers instead.  If Jesus truly reveals and images God, this vision of God is vastly different from the tough, macho judge and angry male potentate that many people think of when they think of God. -A Generous Orthodoxy, 83-84.

But here is where our problem moves beyond the semantic to the practical. Along with our language limitations, through the centuries we humans have had - and still have - some very restrictive views on the females of our species  . . . These restrictive views have varied form culture to culture, finding expression n everything from forced female circumcision to excluding women from democratic processes, from considering them as uneducable to counting them as property. 

And no doubt, wherever languages like English lead people to refer to God with masculine pronouns, there has been the temptation to assume that god is actually masculine . .  . thus implying that man is more godlike, and woman less so - and thus justifying and perhaps even encouraging all kinds of oppression and subjugation and mistreatment of women. To remedy this situation, some have tried to balance "he" and "she" references to God . . . Others have tried to avoid using pronouns for God altogether . . . Still others have hoped that by capitalizing the first letter (e.g., "He" or "Him"), they would be showing that God has category of His (or God's?) own . . . thus transcending the merely human categories of gender; and others still continue to use standard English practice with masculine pronouns, keeping in mind their belief that God is not a male. -Finding Faith, 156-157 (see his broader discussion n 155-159)

Rob Bell

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William Paul Young

[Papa says] “I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature.  If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you.  For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me ‘Papa’ is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.”

[Papa says] “To reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure with flowing beard, like Gandalf, would simply reinforce your religious stereotypes.” -The Shack, 95.

Tony Campolo

God is greater than any theology or system of ideas we come up with about God.  God is not defined by our systems, by our theologies – not even by our firm convictions about him or her.  Yes, or her – for God also transcends anything we think we know about masculinity and femininity.  Check your New Testament Greek: against the masculine God the Father and Son, the Holy Spirit is referred to in the feminine gender.  Even the Trinity defies the systematic packaging that theologies try to give it. -Adventures in Missing the Point, 34 (See also his chapter "Does God Have a Feminine Side?" in his book Is Jesus a republican or a Democrat?)

More examples could be given. These are not scholars, but popular progressive Christians who have written best-selling books and worked with the rich and powerful.

For more:
What's Wrong With a Feminine God?: Two Points from Bruce Ware
Ware on the Trinity & Relationships 
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