Scottish Episcopals dump gendered terms for God

As a direct result of starting to ordain female priests in 1994, the Scottish Episcopal Church has decided to get rid of gendered terms for God. This is something that some of the female priests requested, but it also sounds like the male church leadership is embracing it sincerely:

“God is above and beyond human gender,” explained Rev. Darren McFarland, convener of the church’s liturgy committee. “We are not saying God is not masculine. God is also feminine. The problem is trying to use human language to describe the indescribable.” In essence, just because sexist society used masculine terms to refer to God, the Scottish Episcopal Church doesn’t believe that they should be bound to that simple conception of God. It might be harder for some to envision a gender neutral God, but that’s no excuse for entrenched sexism.

This does not extend to altering Bible quotes that refer to God in masculine terms. Neither will priests be forced to change their language if they prefer to use sexist terminology. An example of the changes you can expect to see: “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” will now be “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.”

My interest in gender equality is not the only reason I like this. I also like it because I was raised Christian but left the church because it was clear that both God and most of His followers accepted the ideas that ranked women and children as less important than men. Women and children who suffered at the hands of men were supposed to keep silent about it, especially if those men were important in the community. I eventually became an atheist, and when people ask me why I don’t believe in God, I usually say: “Because he didn’t believe in me.”

Whether Christianity inherited sexism from the men who developed it, or whether it injected sexism into the societies it permeated, Christianity as a whole is responsible for a sick amount of not only sexism, but harm to women and children. This latest move by the Scottish Episcopal Church is subtle and may not seem terribly important. But eventually they will produce generations of Christians who were far less indoctrinated to the image of Male God than I was – than all today’s Christians are. Will that produce indirect changes in how Christianity interacts with women and children? Time will tell.


  1. sbg says

    We can only hope!

    And, actually, it’s nice to see the Episcopal church in any country being newsworthy for something other than wank about homosexual bishops, etc.

  2. Anne says

    I saw this yesterday and cheered. I left the Church at 8 years old, not because of sexism, but because my sunday school teachers told me my Jewish friends would go to hell unless they accepted Jesus into their hearts. Which was, obviously, quite traumatic and I attempted to convert them. At 8 years old. Soon after, my family stopped going to church (my dad protested an implied dress code as well, by wearing sandals and jean shorts), except for on holidays when we go to appease my grandparents since they think we’re failures as human beings ๐Ÿ˜›

    I am also an atheist, though I would certainly not dislike religion (yeah, in general) as much if more churches looked as seriously at their preachings and implications as this.

    I find it hilarious when people claim “mankind” is not gender specific, and that weird non-gender-specific movement a few years back to turn things like actress and actor into just actor, things like that. Because, you know, it’s totally promoting equality to just lump women into a word with male connotations.

    I also think some of it ties in to the implications of God creating Man in His image. Because as much as people claim “man” can also refer simply to human, it really doesn’t, and it’s lead to the thinking that women and men were not created equal (by God), and that makes men better.

  3. Jenny Islander says

    An Episcopal priest told you that your Jewish friends had to convert???

    Buh . . . wow.

    The teaching in our Anglican church is that God has plans for His chosen. Which would be the Jews. Not us. We were adopted later. Since we’re not God, the exact details of said plan are not our business. If a particular Jew wants to convert to Christianity, that’s his or her business as well. He or she is not being saved from Judaism!

    I am the Sunday school teacher in our tiny congregation and I am being very, very careful to point out that God is not a boy. Basic outline of the lesson: God is like the best dad in the world, the most noble king, etc., only better. God also talks about Himself as a woman in labor, a hen anxious for her chicks, etc. God the Holy Spirit is a she in the language the Bible was written in. It’s all metaphor because we can’t see all of God any more than we can see the whole Earth we are standing on; we have to talk about both of them using similes and metaphors. And we happen to be speaking a language in which you can’t say “it” of a person.

    • Jenny Islander says

      Sorry, can’t brain today, forgot closing argument. My point was that scrubbing gendered pronouns in the name of avoiding misogyny is commendable, but the Bible does use a lot of gendered language to describe God and kids are able to grasp considerable complexity. Teaching the similes and metaphors does not have to mean teaching that God is a boy, Eve spoiled everything, etc.

      And I agree that the use of “man” to mean “person” is dangerously obsolete. “Let us make humankind in our image” is better.

      • Anne says

        No, it was a Catholic Sunday School teacher. And she said they had to convert to avoid Hell, not that they had to convert. But for my child-self she was telling me that in eternity we would be separated for no good reason.

        There’s plenty beyond gendered language that informs even more than the words themselves–Jesus, the earthly embodiment of God, was a man. God impregnated a woman. That’s pretty telling, as well.

        Though I’d also find it interesting that you can’t use “it” to describe a person. Typically, people think of persons as human, so why not use it to describe a deity? (Just questions in curiosity, not dissent :))

        What also doesn’t help are the overwhelming imagery of God as a great bearded father-man-human. Alanis Morrisette was cooler, IMO.

        And I am just not together enough of a person to have closing arguments. Haha, I think it’s also a rebellion from academia after more than seventeen years of school XD

  4. DSimon says

    Third atheist chiming in: I’m glad they’re doing this. I don’t much like religion, but all other things being equal I much prefer religions (and philosophies in general) that fight sexism over those that are apathetic about it.

  5. The Other Patrick says

    I’m also glad they’re doing this, but to be fair, there have always been more progressive sects around, only in earlier times they were then declared heretics. Once the Catholic church, or for you US-ians the larger evangelical communities, follow suit, I’ll be there to celebrate.

    • Patrick McGraw says

      You’ll also find plenty of Quakers and Unitarians that have adopted such terminology, but they are somewhat fringe* and are more loose associations that structured churches, so there’s no “official policy.”

      * I have had more than one person, upon learning that I am a Quaker, express shock that we still exist. Apparently we died out in the early nineteenth century, but no one ever told us.

      • Anne says

        Bahahaha, it’s awesome when people forget whole portions of society…and by awesome I mean very sad, and by very sad I mean why on earth would they think that? It’s not like schools teach: “and then they all died out.”

        Though, I’m pretty sure a lot of people only think of Quakers in terms of cereal and oatmeal. Which is…actually even more sad.

        • Patrick McGraw says

          Yes, especially because the Quaker Oats Company was only named that in order to give it a semblance of honesty and trustworthiness – traits that an examination of its practices will show it most certainly does not posses.

    • Anne says

      Yeah, like the Alliance of Baptists, and the UCC? I often (and by often I mean, like, twice total, though those were in the last couple days) wonder whether I would have my stance on religion had I been raised in a progressive church versus the one I had, and the ones I’ve been to. But I haven’t, so whatever. I like my beliefs. Or lack thereof XD. Though I’d also be interested in living in a country with a majority of atheists/agnostics/and other non-theisms, like I think Japan and a few Scandinavian countries. It’s weird to see how much God-speak there is in just everyday life here (money, things like that), I wonder if I’d notice a change or not.

  6. Towanda says

    I used to have this exchange with my Christian relatives before I became agnostic:

    “Isn’t it kind of sexist to always say that God is male?”
    “He’s not male; he’s both masculine and feminine.”
    “Then why don’t we say ‘She?'”
    *eyeroll* “Well, we know that He’s not really a He, but we don’t have to say it every time.”

    Uh, yes. Yes we do. Language matters. And this was a pet peeve of mine that really never expected to change, ever. It’s very, very cool for me to see what the Scottish Episcopal Church is doing, even though I know I’ll never see it spread to any of the churches I used to go to.

    • Ace says

      I also get the argument from my dad that “God is a masculine, daddy sky God, not feminine!”


      I really think a lot of it is just some Christian men being crybabies and not wanting to admit that women or anything feminine could possibly have signficance in their own right beyond just being “helpmeet” for their own use and abuse. They want the uncreated, infinate to be exclusively male, thus raising themselves to the divine, while all those wimmins are part of the finite, the created, and thus lesser or unimportant.

      Sheer ego, basically. And completely antithetical to the teachings of Christ, but hey who’s counting?

  7. Shre says

    I was raised Hindu and most our main deities are fierce female gods – Durga, the goddess of strength, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and Saraswati, goddess of knowledge. And Shiva is often worshiped in his androgynous form – half man, half woman.
    I’ve always been frustrated by Indian society’s double standard though – we’re happy to deify strength, knowledge and wealth as female, and we’ve managed to elect a couple of very powerful women as heads of state – you’d think this would have permeated down into society and made people less patriarchal and sexist, but I don’t think its working.

    • Aconite says

      Ha! You know what’s helping with that though? Ekta Kapoor serials and their descendants! XD Some excerpts from the article:

      … increase in exposure to television in general, and its effects on the rural population of India, has been documented. Kirk Johnson’s ethnographic fieldwork (2001) in two remote villages in the mountains of western Maharashtra, Danawli and Raj Puri, quotes respondents in his study saying that since television had come to their village, they were having to help their wives with the household chores. Similarly, Timothy Scrase (2002) reports that several of his respondents in West Bengal thought that television might help the cause of women’s advancement by making them question their social position.

      Jensen and Oster’s findings show that “after cable is introduced to a village, women are less likely to report that domestic violence towards women is acceptable. They also report increased autonomy (for example, the ability to go out without permission and to participate in household decision-making). Women are less likely to report son preference (the desire to give birth to a boy rather than a girl). Turning to behaviors, we find increases in school enrollment for girls (but not for boys), and decreases in fertility (which is often linked to female autonomy)” (Jensen and Oster 2007: 3).34

      Well… One person’s poison is another one’s bread, I suppose? Or in this case, one person’s bafflingly insipid inanity* is another person’s first step on the path to the realisation of their own personhood. That’s pretty powerful stuff. One more quote that struck me:

      Writing in a different context on south Indian folktales, A. K. Ramanujan defines “women’s tales” as tales recounted by and focused on women. This does not, in any way, exclude men’s exposure to them. Ramanujan’s analysis (1991: 33-55) is about the theme of separation and suffering, in which the heroine is made a person through the recounting of her tale. He argues, “the whole tale is of her acquiring her story, making a person of her, making a silent person a speaking womanโ€ (ibid.: 42).

      This. Exactly this. Finally, those women get to see that they are real people too.

      Language that assures everyone that they are in fact legitimate human beings whose existence is acknowledged is so important. This is a great step by the Scottish Episcopalan Church. And it would be even more awesome if they started using “xe” and “hir” in their sermons. ๐Ÿ˜€

      * [Now all that certainly has tremendous import, but the insipid inanity comment still stands because omigod just watch that stuff! Frakking ridiculous crap!

      I also have the wonderful personal experience of practically getting flashbacks of the emotional abuse I’d suffered because of these. People in my house just HAD to watch their damn serial with the long suffering woman crying and crying and crying while the kingly husband dude did to her *every goddamn thing* my abuser did or threatened to do and worse. DAMMIT!

      Was it even shown to be abuse and bad and that she should get out or fight it? NO. Everybody *understood* why he acted that way – so did she! And of course, not a goddamn person came to help or say anthing against it. That was the POINT of the whole thing. See? She’s such a GOOD, CARING AND KIND SOUL. We ALL should be like her! Then one day, our husbands too will turn a new leaf and treat us with the tiniest nanodrop of decency that we deserve after twisting ourselves in knots trying to appease their abusive asses. (No I am not exxagerating.)

      I wanted to put a brick through the screen! So, no, Indian soap operas. No defense for you! >:|]

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