The Daily Telegraph
God could go gender-neutral if bishops cast out Our Father
The pronouns He and Him could be scrapped as project attempts to boost inclusivity in the Church
BISHOPS are starting a project that could sweep away centuries of tradition by scrapping the male pronouns He and Him when referring to God and instead using either gender neutral or female alternatives. For decades, the gender of God has prompted division and debate within the Church, with many calling for the male pronouns, as well as references to “Our Father”, to be dropped.
The “gendered language” project has been criticised by conservatives who have warned that “male and female imagery is not interchangeable”, while liberal Christians welcomed the move, claiming that “a theological misreading of God as exclusively male is a driver of much continuing discrimination and sexism against women”.
Details of the plans emerged in a written question to the Liturgical Commission, which prepares forms of service and religious worship in the Church, at the General Synod, the Church’s lawmaking body, which is sitting this week.
However, any permanent changes or rewriting of scriptures regarding gendered language would have to be agreed at a future meeting. The precise details of the project remain unknown, with the Bishop of Lichfield declining to comment further.
Responding to the announcement of the language project, Prof Helen King, vice-chair of the Synod’s gender and sexuality group and professor emerita of classical studies at the Open University, said: “For some, God as father is helpful because of their own experiences of a loving parent. For others, God as father may reinforce a bad experience of a strict disciplinarian as their father. If we dig deeper, clearly God is not gendered, so why do we restrict our language for God in gendered ways?”
A spokesman for Women and the Church, the campaign group for gender equality in the Church, also welcomed the move to boost “inclusive language”.
However, Rev Dr Ian Paul, a member of the General Synod and the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, warned against any departure from the original scriptures. He said: “The use of male pronouns for God should not be understood as implying that God is male – which is a heresy. God is not sexed, unlike humanity.”
Meanwhile, vicars who bless samesex couples in church could be taken to court, a group of lawyers warned the General Synod.
Today the Synod will discuss plans by bishops to allow services of blessing after same-sex weddings. But a group of six barristers and solicitors who sit on the Synod have warned that the legal basis for the blessings is flawed and could lead to priests who offer them being sued. The bishops proposed the same-sex blessings, known as Prayers of Love and Faith, last month. Accompanying guidance from the Church’s legal team argues that blessing married same-sex couples does not contradict the doctrine that marriage is only between man and woman. However, lawyers say this interpretation implies that heterosexual couples who marry in a town hall rather than their parish church must also now be seen as effectively unmarried in the eyes of God.
The Church has affirmed that heterosexual couples who marry civilly are truly married and refuses to offer its own separate marriage service to them.
In a document seen by The Daily Telegraph, the group argue there is a “strong possibility [the bishops] are legally mistaken” and this would “expose the clergy to the risk of litigation”.
A spokesman for the Church of England declined to comment.