(LifeSiteNews) — The Church of England has announced the launch of a new commission to look into the use of gender-neutral terms when referring to God.
The Anglican bishop Michael Ipgrave, vice-chair of the responsible liturgical commission, stated during the Church of England’s General Synod this week that the institution had been “exploring the use of gendered language in relation to God for several years,” according to a report in The Guardian.
“After some dialogue between the two commissions in this area, a new joint project on gendered language will begin this spring,” Ipgrave said. “In common with other potential changes to authorised liturgical provision, changing the wording and number of authorised forms of absolution would require a full synodical process for approval.”
British newspaper The Telegraph reported that a Church of England spokesperson claimed that the discussion “is nothing new” since “Christians have recognised since ancient times that God is neither male nor female, yet the variety of ways of addressing and describing God found in scripture has not always been reflected in our worship.”
Specific questions regarding the Church of England’s “inclusive language” project remain unanswered, for instance, if and how the Our Father prayer would be rewritten.
The Anglican writer and theologian Rev. Dr. Ian Paul criticized the project. He told The Telegraph that “[t]he Bible uses feminine imagery and metaphors of God, but primarily identifies God using masculine pronouns, names, and imagery. Male and female imagery is not interchangeable.”
“The fact that God is called ‘Father’ can’t be substituted by ‘Mother’ without changing meaning, nor can it be gender-neutralised to ‘Parent’ without loss of meaning. Fathers and mothers are not interchangeable but relate to their offspring in different ways.”
While it is true that the triune God is neither male nor female in the way humans are, God is always referred to with masculine pronouns and titles in Holy Scripture and the Tradition of the Catholic Church. Christ himself called God his Father, including in the Our Father, the prayer that Jesus himself taught his followers.
Catholic apologist Mark Brumley noted in an article on the nature of God’s fatherhood that people who want to refer to God as “mother” or in gender-neutral terms argue that Jesus only referred to God as Father because his view of God was “historically conditioned.”
However, Brumley objected, Jesus went against many “religio-cultural norms” of his time, especially in regard to the role of women.
“He had women disciples, for example,” Brumley continued. “He spoke with women in public. He even allowed women to be the first witnesses of His resurrection. How, then, on this most central point – the nature and identity of God – are we to suppose He was either unable, due to His own sexism and spiritual blindness, or unwilling, to set people straight about God as Father? Even if you deny Jesus’ divinity or hold to a watered-down notion of it, such a view remains impossible to maintain.”
Brumley went on to explain that if God “wants to be understood primarily in masculine terms, then that is how we should speak of Him. To do otherwise, is tantamount to idolatry – fashioning God in our image, rather than receiving from Him His self-disclosure as the Father.”