Do we need to remake God to keep the trans activists happy?
Here is a truth you can take to the bank: every stupid and idiotic idea, trend, fashion and ideology that the world is pushing will eventually find its way into the Christian church. Happens all the time. Take the issue of human sexuality: if easy divorce is pushed in the world, the churches will soon buy into it.
If homosexuality is pushed big time in the world, sure enough, plenty of churches will soon push it big time as well. If the radical trans agenda is being championed all over the West, then you know Western churches will hop on board as well. Instead of the church leading the world, it merely slavishly follows the world.
So it is no surprise that so many “churches” and so many “Christian leaders” are now fully into things like trans activism. And it is always the same old lame excuse: ‘Well, we have trans people in our congregations and we must support them and affirm them and celebrate them. We dare not call out their lifestyle – that would be unloving. Jesus accepts them just as they are, and so should we.’
Thus it was only a matter of time before major church bodies started saying we must be inclusive and accepting of such folks, and if need be, we must change our millennia-old theology to accommodate them. So we now must ask if God is a he or a she – or something else.
Of course, this discussion has been around for a while. As feminism came to the fore in the West, the churches bent over backwards to accommodate, so they too asked about God and gender. But with the trans revolution sweeping the West and so much of the church, that debate has been reignited.
We are again having church enquiries about if the Christian God is inclusive enough, or if we need to change things to make people feel more comfortable. To be “compassionate” we need to push for gender-neutral language and the like. Many churches are now heading in this direction, including the Church of England. Consider one recent news item on this:
The Church of England is considering alternatives to referring to God as “he” after priests asked to be allowed to use gender-neutral terms instead. The Church said it would launch a new project on the matter in the spring to decide whether to propose changes or not. Any potential alterations, which would mark a departure from traditional Jewish and Christian teachings dating back millennia, would have to be approved by synod, the Church’s decision-making body.
The Rt Rev Dr Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield and vice-chair of the liturgical commission responsible for the matter, said the Church had been “exploring the use of gendered language in relation to God for several years”. “After some dialogue between the two Commissions in this area, a new joint project on gendered language will begin this spring,” he said. “In common with other potential changes to authorised liturgical provision, changing the wording and number of authorised forms of absolution would require a full Synodical process for approval.”
The specifics of the project are as yet unclear. The bishop’s comments came in response to a question asked at synod by the Rev Joanna Stobart, vicar of Ilminster and Whitelackington in Somerset, about the progress on developing “more inclusive language” in services.
It is currently unclear what would replace the term Our Father in the Lord’s Prayer, the central Christian prayer which Jesus Christ is said to have instructed his followers to say together down the generations. Conservative critics have hit back at the possibility of changes, with the Rev Dr Ian Paul telling the Telegraph that they would represent an abandonment of the Church’s own doctrine. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/church-of-england-god-gender-neutral-b2277911.html
As mentioned, this idea of reassessing who God is in regards to the issue of gender has been around for a while, so I have dealt with it before. Eight years ago for example I wrote a piece on this very matter, with a female bishop – also from the CofE – raising the matter.
What I said there in response to her remarks seems to be fully relevant to the current form of the debate, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I will simply post here part of what I wrote back in 2015. All that follows here is from that earlier piece:
The short answer is that God is not gendered, nor a sexual being. God is a spirit, as we are told by Jesus himself in John 4:24: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” Divine beings are not male nor female. But, God is also a personal being. God is not a human being but is nonetheless personal.
God is an individual being, with a self-consciousness, volition, a mind, the ability to feel, and the ability to enter into personal relationships with others. He is not just an object or a force. And in the Trinity, we have three persons. The emphasis is on social relationships. God has relationships among himself, and we can have a personal relationship with God.
However, that is not the end of the matter. How has God chosen to reveal himself to us? That is the critical issue here. And simply put, overwhelmingly in the self-revelation of God we find him being revealed in masculine terms with masculine names and with masculine imagery.
The fact is, the names for God as found in both the Old and the New Testaments are all masculine in gender. Significantly, God is never addressed as Mother in Scripture. A constant theme is the fatherhood of God, and – in the NT – the sonship of Christ.
In addition to all the passages referring to God’s various roles or activities in male terminology (king, warrior, groom, prince, priest, etc), there are plenty of passages that clearly refer to him as a father. The following is just a very small sampling:
- Deuteronomy 32:6 Is this the way you repay the LORD, you foolish and unwise people?
- Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?
- Jeremiah 3:4 Have you not just called to me: ‘My Father, my friend from my youth.’
- Psalm 89:26 He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’
- Psalm 103:13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.
- Matthew 6:9 This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
- Matthew 23:9 And do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
- Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
- 1 Corinthians 8:6 For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist.
All up we have hundreds of times in the Bible where God is mentioned with masculine names and with masculine pronouns. That is how God chose to reveal himself to us, and we should take this seriously. But it is also true that we sometimes have feminine imagery used in the Bible to describe God. For example:
- Isaiah 42:14 “I cry out like a travailing woman…”
- Isaiah 66:12-13 For this is what the LORD says: “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”
- Hosea 11:1-4 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.
- Matthew 23:37 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
So God can be seen as having feminine characteristics at times, but overwhelmingly the masculine presentation is given to us. As I said, God as such is genderless, but when he wants to convey real information about who he is, the masculine is the predominant theme.
Critics might argue that this is just a reflection of the patriarchal culture in which Scripture was written. While a major discussion on the nature of Scripture cannot here be entered into, our doctrine of inspiration is that the Bible has divine and human authors.
But the truths that God has wanted to convey come forth in the totality of Scripture, and that includes all the masculine imagery and names of God. The emphasis on these descriptions and titles for God are part of what God chose to reveal to us, and are not just some artificial cultural construct.
While God is never described with sexual characteristics in the Bible, he is consistently described in the masculine gender, both by himself and by others. We must defer to God’s chosen self-revelation, and resist the temptation to follow instead modern secular trends and agendas.
Obviously much more could be said about all this, but let me wrap things up. Systematic Theology professor Simon Chan of Trinity Theological College in Singapore finishes his article on this topic as follows:
Avoiding the use of personal pronouns for God unwittingly downplays God’s personal nature. This might not seem like a major concession in the West, where a “Christian” discourse is still assumed. When God is mentioned, people generally assume that it’s the Christian God. But in Asia, where there are “gods many, and lords many” (1 Cor. 8:5, KJV), and where the ultimate reality may not be personal at all, we need to speak of God in personal terms. Not to do so, for fear of offending weak consciences, is simply disastrous.
Christians have good reasons to insist on addressing God as Father, especially in the liturgy, where the Christian story is reenacted. Father is not a culturally conditioned term but the proper name of God given by divine revelation. It is how God is primarily identified or named in relation to his Son. At stake is the Trinitarian identity, which inevitably affects the church’s identity. Playing the inclusive language game has a high theological cost that far outweighs any gains.
Let me finish with some remarks by C. S. Lewis. In 1948 he wrote an essay entitled “Priestesses in the Church?” which can be found in God in the Dock. While my article is not discussing that particular subject, what he said is worth thinking about:
Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity.