Saturday, January 17, 2015

Re-Post- God, Gender & Pronouns

Someone told me yesterday that they wish when the Psalms were read in church, that they would replace "He" with "God". I understand the impulse towards this. The desire is to stop prejudicing one particular encounter with the divine. Women and men experience life differently. Which means they experience God differently. The real miracle of Biblical religion is the conviction that God, who is beyond all experience, reveals Himself in and through human experience. God impinges on the human encounter with the world. Unfortunately, most of the Bible was written by men, and expresses God using male pronouns. It is unfortunate because half of the human encounter with God is literally cut out of our scripture. It is hard for me to imagine God as a woman. That is because my own encounter with personhood, my only unmediated human experience is my own, which is male. That is not evil, it is just a consequence of finiteness.

But we do not solve this problem by seeking gender-neutral pronouns. For the record, "God" is not a gender-neutral pronoun anyways, since the feminine is actually goddess. But even assuming we can get to gender neutrality this misses the point. Of course God is beyond gender. Every thinking person of faith knows this. However, that God is a person and indeed is encountered in and through our own personhood is one of the brilliant and necessary insights of Biblical religion. How to talk about God in a personal but not anthropomorphic way is one of the top challenges of theology. But reducing God to an 'it' is not striking the right balance.

No, re-translating the Bible in this way will not do. What we need to do is first face up to the misogyny in the text so that we can fully recognize the need to move past it. We must realize that it is to US to do the work of overcoming this Biblical gap. This has the added bonus of respecting scripture (by seeking the purest translation possible) while avoiding and indeed tacitly condemning bibliolatry (by pointing out that indeed the Bible gets some things wrong). We need liturgies and prayers that acknowledge God as 'she' as well as 'he', and focus on those Biblical texts that hold up womanhood, women, and that are written from a female perspective. If we are not plenary inerrantists then there is no reason why we can't value some parts of the Bible more than others, and putting a special value on texts that do capture a feminine encounter with God is a deliberate way of acknowledging there is a problem and beginning an outline of a solution.

I think it is also important to emphasize the image of Wisdom as an extension of the Holy Spirit and to talk about God as 'she' when talking about the Spirit. There is a rising group that sees the Holy Spirit in feminine terms and I think this is a right and good move. Lets not seek depersonalizing gender-neutral pronouns but inclusive gender pronouns that help us imagine God as what He is: trans personal. There is a definite Trinitarian streak in this type of thinking. Focusing on the female mystics, who often used gender pronouns interchangeably, is also important.

God enters into the human experience...ALL human experience both male and female. We do not need to run away from the maleness we need to embrace the feminine, both men and women created in the image of God and thus revealing in some small way two sides of that Great All that is beyond all distinctions and all the models we build to express it.

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