Jun 14, 2015 by



Christian feminists in the United Kingdom are pushing for the Church of England to begin referring to God as “she,” arguing that women should feel more included during worship and that God shouldn’t be bound to one gender.

According to the Huffington Post, members of the UK-based Christian group Women and the Church (WATCH), an advocacy organization that successfully helped pressure the Church of England to begin ordaining female bishops last year, launched a media campaign over the weekend, pushing church leaders to use feminine language when describing the Supreme Being and reject “the notion that God is some kind of old man in the sky.”

“Orthodox theology says all human beings are made in the image of God, that God does not have a gender,” Rev. Jody Stowell, an Anglican priest and member of WATCH, told the Guardian. “So when we only speak of God in the male form, that’s actually giving us a deficient understanding of who God is.”

The overarching idea, according to comments collected on WATCH’s website, is to expand the use of female pronouns in official Anglican rites and liturgies, which currently almost exclusively refer to God as “Lord” or “he.”

“When we use only male language for God we reinforce the idea that God is like a man and, in doing so, suggest that men are therefore more like God than women,” Rev. Emma Percy, chaplain of Trinity College, Oxford, told the Sunday Times. “If we take seriously the idea that men and women are made in the image of God, both male and female language should be used.”

Advocates admit that while some clergy members already drop a “she” or two in their Sunday sermons, changing official church language would require clearing a number of bureaucratic hurdles. In addition to discussions with various church committees, inserting “she” into rites would merit formal votes during the Church of England’s General Synod, which convenes two to three times throughout the year. The next scheduled meeting of the Church, which began ordaining women priests in in 1994, is July 10-14 in York, England.

Still, the advocates — including some newly-ordained female bishops — insist the semantic change is worth the effort.

“What difference would it make if we regularly — in our worship, our preaching, and our everyday conversation — talked about God as ‘she’?” Hillary Cotton, Chair of WATCH, wrote in a March blog post. “Centuries of keeping women linguistically out of the picture has helped keep them out of the picture politically, financially and legally – what the tongue doesn’t mention, the eye needn’t see.”

“To talk about God as ‘her’ — not all the time, but often — widens our concept of the divine,” Cotton wrote.

Although controversial in some theologically conservative circles, the shift away from a masculine vision of the Christian God is anything but new. Several American Mainline Protestant traditions have opted for “inclusive language” in official church documents for years, which usually means avoiding gender-specific pronouns altogether, and the Scottish Episcopal Church made waves in 2010 when it produced a new order of service that replaced the word “mankind” with “world.” Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is well-known for its rigid enforcement of an all-male priesthood, rejects the idea that God is male in any literal sense, perplexingly using masculine language to nonetheless assert “He is neither man nor woman … God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes.”

To be sure, the charge to refer to God as “she” is slightly different than removing all gendered language from spiritual documents. But WATCH members point out that there is ample Christian precedent for a woman deity. Female images for the divine appear regularly in the Bible, as God is likened to a mother bear in Hosea 13:8, a mother eagle in Deuteronomy 32:11-12, and a woman giving birth in Deuteronomy 32:18, among other references. Jesus Christ even describes himself as a mother hen in Matthew 23:37, saying “Jerusalem, Jerusalem … How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” There have also been longstanding theological disagreements in Christianity over whether or not to refer to the Holy Spirit, a key component of the Holy Trinity (a historic Christian concept of God), with feminine phrasing.

Not everyone supports the women’s initiative, however. Ann Widdecombe, a former Member of Parliament who converted to Catholicism after the Anglican Church decided to ordain female bishops, called the effort “the work of lunatics.”

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