It’s remarkable how long it took the church to realise that all those masculine pronouns used in the Scriptures to refer to God – He and Him – are merely arbitrary, and really the biblical writers could have gone either way with the Hes and Shes, Hims and Hers. What is all the more staggering is that you would have thought that some of the giants of church history – Ignatius, Polycarp, Origen, Athanasius, Tertullian, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, for instance – at least one of them would have picked up on it. But oddly enough we had to wait for centuries to pass, until the after the feminist revolution in fact, before the church actually came to see what had been staring it in the face all along.
As for all that “Our Father” business and those funny notions that Jesus seemed to have that “I and my Father” not “I and my Mother” are one, well once again we have the feminist giants of the faith in the late 20th / early 21st century to thank for correcting His false notions and setting Him straight. I mean He was only the eternal Son of God. What would He know about it.
Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester and newly seated in the House of Lords, is one of the latest to come along and correct the errors of 2,000 years of church history, not to mention the teachings of the entire Old and New Testaments (By the way, House of Lords? Do I hear the beginnings of a campaign to correct this glaring anachronism? House of Gender-Neutral Peers anyone?). In an interview with the Observer last weekend she (I assume I’m allowed to assign a feminine pronoun for her) made the following observations:
While acknowledging that many Anglicans would profoundly disagree, Treweek said the Church of England should use both male and female pronouns when referring to God. She personally prefers to say neither “he” nor “she”, but “God”. “Sometimes I lapse, but I try not to,” the bishop told the Observer. “God is not to be seen as male. God is God.”
Let me begin by saying that she is partially correct, but at the same time very, very wrong. When she says that “God is not to be seen as male,” she is absolutely right. God is a Spirit and therefore He is no more “male” than he is “female”. However, when she infers from this that the Church of England should use both masculine and feminine pronouns when referring to God, she moves deftly from truth to patent falsehood. The problem is that the Scriptures always use masculine pronouns when referring to God, and they always use the masculine form when referring to the titles of God. Always and without exception. Period.
But if God isn’t male, how do we account for this? The distinction of being “male” or “female” is a physical distinction and requires a physical body, which God does not possess. Therefore He is neither male nor female, as Rachel Treweek rightly states. However, the terms male and female are by no means the same as the terms “masculine” and “feminine”, which are words that describe attributes, traits and characteristics. So when the Bible uses the terms He and Him – which it does without exception – it is not asking us to think of God as male as opposed to female, but rather to think of Him as masculine as opposed to feminine.
However, this is not to say that God doesn’t possess what we ordinarily assume to be feminine traits as well. If God is God, and even Rachel Treweek asserts that He is, all good human traits – whether masculine or feminine – must have their origin in Him. So for example, the Holy Spirit is called “the Comforter” and comfort is – usually – seen more as a “feminine” characteristic. Nevertheless, we are explicitly told by the biblical writers and by Jesus Himself to refer to God as He, Him and Father, not She, Her and Mother. Why? Not because He is male rather than female, or because He possesses none of what we might ordinarily consider “feminine” characteristics, but because first and foremost He wants us to think of Him as Provider, Protector, Sovereign King and Eternal Father.
And here we get to the nub of why the likes of Rachel Treweek want Christians to either start mixing up their pronouns, gender-neutralising them, or ditching them altogether. They have, through their commitment to dogmatic feminist utopianism, already rejected the notion of provision and protection being primarily masculine traits. The idea that God is to be thought of as He and not She, Him and not Her, King and not Queen, Father and not Mother, challenges every notion they hold dear. To accept the masculine pronouns that every single biblical writer used to refer to God would leave them with the somewhat disconcerting feeling that the entire house of cards they have built for themselves could come crashing down at any moment.
What is really interesting about this particular heresy, and indeed many modern heresies, is how those perpetrating it really understand the power of language as a tool to fundamentally change the way people think. Ms Treweek clearly understands this better than an awful lot of Christians:
“I am not in the business of wanting to offend anyone, but I do want to gently challenge people.” Language, she said, was “very powerful in shaping people’s views and shaping our culture”.
She’s dead right. Her massacre of the pronouns is not quite what you might call old school heresy where you just denied Jesus’ divinity or the Trinity. Rather, it is a far more subtle twisting of language straight from the Ministry of Truth, but which has enormous power to shape and change the thinking not just in the church, but also in the wider culture. When He morphs into She, Him becomes Her, and Our Father is transformed into Our Mother, suddenly the Paternal Provider, Protector, Sovereign King and Eternal Father is become Mother Feminism, Justifier of Egalitarianism and Defender of Tolerance’n’Diversity. God has become Goddess, and we’re on our way back to out and out paganism with Jesus as Gaia.
We Christians have lost ground because we no longer control the language. We have ceded control to people like Rachel Treweek, and they are hugely successful at what they do. Our challenge is to see ourselves once more as people of the Word, and as people of the Word we must recognise the power of words and of language to shape the church and to change the culture. We should strive to reclaim the language, insisting in He and not She, Him and not Her, Father and not Mother, and we should do so confident that even if these attacks faze us, our Paternal Provider, Protector, Sovereign King and Eternal Father is fazed by none of this. On the contrary, though the attacks come thick and fast from both church and culture, “He (not She) who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:4).