Earlier this year, I found myself asking my friends the same question a lot.
“Do you remember the 90s fascination with the concept that God is a woman?”
They all stared at me like I was crazy, but I knew I wasn’t making this phenomenon up. Between Alanis Morissette playing God in “Dogma,” and Dishwalla begging us to tell him all our thoughts on God (because he really wants to meet her), 90s feminism was all for the inclusive idea of a vengeful She-God.
It’s unclear whether this was based on actual belief of God as a non-gendered entity, or because it was rebellious and spirited to have lead characters on “Gilmore Girls” sticking it to the Man (in the sky). But the idea is back, and not as a go-to pop culture reference to make a female character seem quirky. Advocates within the Church of England (CoE) are petitioning for dual pronouns to be used when referring to God.
Invigorated by society’s new wave of feminism, the push is coming after the CoE named its first female bishop after pressure from a group called Women and the Church (WATCH). Women have been ordained as Anglican priests for up to 40 years in places such as Canada, while other locations and dioceses still resist a co-ed clergy. Thus, the landmark decision to name Rev. Libby Lane (and two more subsequent women) to the bishophood has reinvigorated proponents of feminism within the CoE.
To be clear, WATCH is not calling for non-gendered language; they are simply asking that both male and female pronouns be used interchangeably, as the situation fits.
The arguments in favor of the pronoun shift are simple: Scripture says that man is created in the image of God. And while scripture is not meant to be taken 100-percent literally, it would be safe to insinuate that women were created in God’s image as well, which enforces the idea of a non-gendered deity—or at the very least, an entity in the sky who does not strictly subscribe to one biological sex.
According to Rev. Judy Stowell, “He is both male and female and beyond male and female. So when we only speak of God in the male form, that’s actually giving us a deficient understanding of who God is.”
Now that women are allowed to stand on the altar within the CoE and act as the human representation of God on Earth, it seems a little outdated to stick with the traditional idea of the old man in the sky. Especially, as WATCH points out, since there is literally no proof or evidence of what God looks like. Unfortunately, we do not have a photo to consult, so it sort of has to be left to our imaginations.
If such a change was to be officially made, it would require formally changing scripture, liturgy and much more. And as you might expect, there are many pushing back against the notion, for reasons ranging from tradition to heresy.
However, the movement does speak to an increasing trend with religious bodies. Across the world, Churches are looking around and realizing that they must adapt to the times in order to keep their congregations. Pope Francis has notably made large steps for the Catholic Church in the past few years, gaining attention and renewing interest among younger members.
Ireland, renowned for its strong ties to Catholicism, recently voted overwhelmingly in favor of the same-sex marriage referendum. The decision was a bit of an unexpected shake up for the clergy of the country, prompting Dublin’s Catholic archbishop Diarmuid Martin to say that the result was a “wake up call for the Church.”
And yet the Irish vote was not a dismissal of their belief—on the contrary, many said they felt called to vote because of their strong Catholic morals.
“Anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God,” Martin said before the referendum. “They are not just homophobic if they do that—they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people.”
Slowly, under the guidance of a new pope, Catholics around the world are taking agency of their faith and pulling it into the new millenia. Considering that the CoE is far more amenable to change than Catholicism, the idea of a female God could become Orthodox sooner than we think.
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