By Jennifer M. Phillips
I’m a veteran of the women’s movement of the 60s and 70s and the expansive language debates of that era. There were numerous conversations in which my male colleagues said, “We understand God does not have gender and that our pronouns are metaphorical.” When some of us read favorite chunks of Scripture about Christ, the Creator and the Spirit using female pronouns, those same colleagues erupted with anger, saying, “That’s a perversion. That’s a heresy.” It became obvious that the Three Persons of the Trinity are VERY gendered in their minds, because while an occasional neutral phrasing raised no complaint, using female pronouns caused visceral and loud protest.
This was heartbreaking to many of us women engaged in these conversations back then. It became clear that some gender-neutral language would be a sop to our requests for change, but any equal use of gendered language about God — even quoting Anselm or Julian — came under attack. I remember hearing a couple of my more conservative male colleagues coming right out and saying that the whole debate was valueless since God does not include the female in “Himself.” The female divine was what Egyptians and Canaanite pagans believed in, they said. No one ever suggested that it might be heretical to use language “of the people” about themselves and that God does not include and may purposefully exclude some of the people from their relationship with God and God’s relationship with us.
There has not been a single Sunday, not a single Eucharist in my life in parishes — 30 years — in which I have not felt a pang of pain at the still mostly exclusive language of the Book of Common Prayer. I have used less exclusive Bible translations, EOW as permitted, new Psalters, and gender-neutral preaching when I can, but there has not been a single service where I haven’t had to work at inserting myself and womankind mentally into the language of liturgy. Read More…