Over at the Sojourners blog, Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber meditates on inclusive language for God, and in the process strongly implies that Jesus got it wrong:
There has been a fair amount of conversation at House for All Sinners and Saints recently about the use of inclusive language for God. Now in all fairness I should say that I have really no problem with using “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen” in liturgy. It feels solid and ancient and beautiful. I use “Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer” as well, but it kind of clumsily reduces God to a job description.
Having said that, I must admit that I do, however, have a problem with the exclusive use of the male pronoun when speaking of the Almighty. I have the same problem with the exclusive use of the female pronoun when speaking of the Almighty. Here’s why: while we as humans are limited in our ability to understand and speak of God, I think we might do well to admit that how we speak of God impacts how we speak of each other. In other words, we naturally are going to use anthropomorphized images; it’s almost unavoidable to conceive of God as having human attributes.
But there are several dangers with this. One, we tend to make God in our own image by projecting human attributes like control, vengeance, and power-over onto God and then we worship our projection. Pete Rollins in his book How (Not) To Speak Of God puts a fine point on this by calling it “conceptual idolatry.” By taking some aspects of being human, blowing them up really big, and calling that God, we in turn attribute Godlikeness to humans with those same characteristics. I believe it was Mary Daly who said, “If God is male then male is God.”
Mary Daly was an apostate, but leave that aside. The danger of idolatry is real, of course, and Bolz-Weber is right to guard against it. By far the best way to do so, however, is not to utilize theological concepts that are novel and recent in origin, and have their basis more in political and sexual ideology than Christian faith. Rather, the best way to guard against idolatry is to use God’s own ways of referring to Himself, ways which are found in Scripture.
This is all pretty boiler-plate feminism and not in any way original to me (and honestly I’m kind of a lousy feminist). But here’s what really got me thinking recently — in certain Christian circles prayers so often go like this, “Father God, we just praise you for being our Father. We just thank you for being such an awesome Father God …” So in effect we are attributing to God a human trait (in this case, maleness).
Right. That’s what anthropomorphizing, which she has just gotten through saying is “almost unavoidable,” is all about.
The problem is that we are attributing to God a human characteristic that only half of us share. So growing up, I basically heard “God is male, but you are not. But little Jimmy over here is!” So humans who have the trait “male” are made in the image of God. Humans who do not have the trait “male” are not. It’s like if a little blonde child heard prayers like this for their whole lives: “Dear red-headed God, we just want to praise you for being such an awesome red-headed God …” “Dear able-bodied God, Dear North-American God, Dear (enter something human that only some of us share here) God.”
It makes you realize why the Hebrew people called God, Ha-Shem, meaning, “The Name.” Anything else is fraught with danger. [Emphasis added.]
The “Hebrew people” called God a lot more than just Ha-Shem, and didn’t think that doing so was “fraught with danger.” But of course the real problem here is that Bolz-Weber is claiming, in essence, that Jesus screwed up by calling God “Father,” and even teaching His disciples to call God “Father” when they prayed. He apparently didn’t know that He was denying women the image of God by calling God Father. He apparently didn’t know that He was encouraging idolatry by calling God Father. He apparently didn’t know that calling God anything other than Ha-Shem is “fraught with danger.” He apparently was a bit of an insensitive clod compared to us moderns.
I’m glad that Bolz-Weber gladly uses biblical language (“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”) in liturgy. I’m glad she has “no problem” doing so. But that doesn’t make her linguistic observations any less wrong-headed.