Tuesday, January 30, 2007

God Gender and Language, Part I

Sunday there were conversations about gendered language for God, and problems surrounding calling God “he”, “Father” and “Lord”. What follows are my own reflections stemming from those conversations though they do not reflect those conversations.

I remember in seminary when in a course on reconciliation and conflict and community building the professor challenged my attempt to opt out of the category “white male”, because I don't so identify. She simply responded with but Larry you are a white male. We went back and forth on this issue for a while with other students chiming in. I asserted that her insistence on my “owning” the label simply reinforced a system of categorization that was not only arbitrary but oppressive to her (as Black and female). She pointed out though that my lack of identification did not change how the system we were both in categorized me and thus that I benefited from this system of categorization since there is privileged status in so being labeled. I admitted that yes that was true but then I was a "white male" who did not identify as such. My professor did not argue with that distinction. I still believe that "white male" is empty when it comes to who I am, and I also admit my professors point, as long as I am part of a system like ours I need to admit how that system classifies me and the benefits I receive because of the system of classification. I have begun here because issue is not only of how language effects ones experience of God but the suggestion, at least in the conversations, was that most peoples experience of God is currently not only gendered but gendered by for and in the image of the "white male." Based on self-examination I find this experience and notion of God as male as Incomprehensible. I want to claim that my understanding has little if anything to do with a "white male" conception of God or the image of god as a "white male." Yet at the same time I want to take seriously what was being communicated in our conversation and that is that in one way or another most of the other people in the conversation in the least struggle with having an image of God as male or masculine. In this I think we all can agree the image God as male is problematic especially for women but also for men.

I have no image or concept of God, gendered or other wise that I am attached to exclusively. Though I have always encountered God by the Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the revelation of God in Scripture, and in the Word made flesh Jesus Christ. None of these things has ever been taken by me as giving us a male or masculine notion of God. I have addressed God as "He", as "Father", as "Son", but never pictured a man nor imagined I was encountering someone of the same gender as I. I have also (for as long as I can remember) read and known of scriptures that describe God as responding to God's people in maternal ways, but never imagined God as feminine, or female or as a woman. I believe this is because I was taught that God has no gender, or more to the point is beyond our categories of gender and sex, and thus God is not even androgynous. God is not even some mixture or male and female. So it was surprising and a little disturbing to hear people say they had an image of God as male or masculine and that this had been inculcated to them in childhood by those who were to teach them the Faith.

Given the above it is perhaps not surprising that I wonder if replacing "She" for "He" or even alternating between "He" and "She" in our address of God in public would actually get at the problem. For if we see a woman or conceptualize God as female when we say "She" we have the same problem just matriarchal or matrilocal rather than patriarchal or patrilocal. We still are carrying an image and concept of God that is not God. We have the same problem if we were somehow able to conjure up a concept of God as androgynous. God is not gendered or sexed and this does not mean that God is both genders or both sexes. Rather it means God is beyond our concepts of Gender and sex. Thus a mystic may describe Jesus as mother, this is saying something other than gender or ability to give birth etc. Though the claim is that something about motherhood is appropriate to the person of Jesus Christ even though he is male. this should alert us to a greater complexity of the language of the Church than our current understanding and struggle are willing to admit. We want a solution but the tradition of the church actually hands us back a problem, our problem. I will say that problem is idolatry.
(continue reading Part II, LEK 2/02/07)