Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Alternative Pronominal Referents to Deity or ‘Why we should call God She

Granted I’m a white American male, I have been pondering for some time now the discussion about calling God (=deity) “she”, now likely “old” by normal standards, but now that I voice my thoughts in the blogosphere I think its time I said something about this issue. As the first statement highlighted, as a male I can neither be a “feminist” theologian nor (in lieu of my ‘Caucasianaity’) a “womanist” theologian (is there such a thing as a ‘former-heroin-addict-theologian’?). However, as a follower of Jesus and a theologian I do have an opinion on the matter. And I think if anyone is honest with themselves and does their historiographical homework, it is difficult to deny that the Ancient Near East devalued, subjected, oppressed, silenced, and ridiculed women. Further, Judaism itself (as far as I have studied) is a deeply patriarchal tradition.

Now, it is true that one could read the Jewish scriptures and note a distinct bestowal of honor upon women in a completely egalitarian light, especially in the creation motif of the Imago Dei. Yet, the beauty of this created order of divinely instilled unity and equality is fundamentally shifted as the story proceeds through the marring of the Imago Dei through the so-called “fall” narrative. I do not buy into the conservative argument for so-called complementarianism (maybe better called “patriarchal capitulationism”). As I read the creation narratives, I think whatever one asserts from the stories, the principle regarding gender relations seem to be that through the “fall” event that the “seeds” of antipathy and active antagonism characterize the reciprocal relationships between the genders. Moreover, I am also compelled by my reading of Galatians 3:28, that indeed, there is no more slave or free, male nor female because of the reconciliation of Christ (There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female–for all of you are one in Christ Jesus [Gal 3:28; NET]). However, I think if there is a conflictual theology in the New Testament or one that is problematic for that matter, it is Paul’s. But the evidence is far from conclusive on the inclusion of the deutero-Pauline corpus (so if you are wanting to wallop someone with the Pastorals, not me!). Indeed, my reading of the gospels and the message of restoration is one of complete restoration, equality included! And please don’t respond to this with some kind of “functional” justification.

Having then established in brief my reading of that conflict, underscoring my own egalitarian reading of Jesus and the New Testament (granted I did little to argue my case, because, well, that is not he primary thrust of my post). Thus, the Kingdom of God, whatever else it may be, is God’s restorative kingdom characterized by peace, reconciliation, and equality. And recognizing that patriarchalism has dominated the Jewish tradition and by and large the Christian tradition from virtually its inception, I think merely as a socio-religious corrective to in some sense push the pendulum back to the egalitarian middle that for several decades or a century we should refer to the trinity (Jesus excluded) as she. I do not believe godself has ontological gender, neither male nor female. And yet for better than two millennia God has been referred to as “he, him, father” etc. I realize there are many times in the biblical narratives in which God is described as “father.” Conversely, there are also passages that imply feminine characteristics to God and regardless, even the male references are just that, references or anthropomorphisms (or possibly we should call the gynepomorphisms!) Since ontology is never on the table, besides offending the King James only folks and the ultraconservatives who subjugate their own women (in theory more than practice [follow some of them home at night and see who really “rules the roost”]), is there really any harm in employing the feminine pronominal when referring to deity? I think not, in fact, I think a healthy corrective to the complicity of Christianity and the empire it has been co-opted by, exploited by, and ultimately subsumed (e.g. “Christendom”) and reproduced would be to call god “she” instead of “he.” This would likely be the most deeply felt at the pew-level, inspiring “shock and awe”, causing alarm, and indeed capturing the attention of humanity within the sphere of Christian influence that a transformation of the destructive and repressionistic modes of praxis are being shed as the people of God are working out practical ways of showing greater fidelity to the true Jesus and the message he heralded.

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