Monday, February 5, 2018

2018.02.05 Official Good News On Gendered Language for God

Now here’s something to crow, or grouse, about. 

The Convention of Episcopal Diocese of Washington D.C. has submitted a resolution to memorialize, that is request that, the General Convention, the legislative body of the Episcopal Church, to consider “Gendered Language for God” in its deliberations about possible revisions to the Book of Common Prayer. The General Convention will meet July 5-13, 2018, in Austin Texas.

Here is the wording of the resolution:
Resolution #3 – On the Gendered Language for God

Submitted by: The Rev. Sam Dessordi Peres Leite, St. Stephen and the Incarnation, Washington, DC; the Rev. Alex Dyer, St. Thomas’ Parish, Washington, DC; the Rev. Kate Heichler; the Rev. Kimberly Lucas, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Washington, DC; The Rev. Beth OCallaghan, St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, Germantown, MD.

Resolved, the Convention of the Diocese of Washington submits to the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church the following resolution:

Resolved, the House of ____________ concurring, that the 79th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, if revision of the Book of Common Prayer is authorized, to utilize expansive language for God from the rich sources of feminine, masculine, and non-binary imagery for God found in Scripture and tradition and, when possible, to avoid the use of gendered pronouns for God.

Those who know me and my passion about the injustice of exclusive theological language will not be surprised to know I am thrilled—over-the-top delighted at this development. I’ve been crowing and writing about this for years, and now my institutional Church is catching up:0) I'm proud, yet if this is taken seriously it will cause many to sorrow and many to rejoice.

This process will be agonizingly slow. Many fine and faithful people do not agree that our seemingly forever set-in-stone language, needs to change. Nevertheless, change is written into the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer. Check it out: Written in 1789, no less.

The present proposed change, I know, is contingent on whether prayer book revisions will be undertaken at this time at all, and I know people I care about will be horrified. I also know that we are Anglicans—nothing if not measured and moderate, providing alternative for the alternatives. AND spiritually, we all live in the love and life of God—no matter what.

That said, please forgive me that I can’t help but jump for joy, as if I were Eve and had just seen a chance to break out of the interminable perfectly permanent boredom of the Garden of Eden.

A recent Arlo and Janis comic strip showed a couple debating the wisdom of selling their house and moving to a smaller dwelling. She laments:I always thought this one would be permanent. He: Nothing is permanent. She: I know, but it’s so important to feel permanent.

If the above resolution passes muster and the convention authorizes revision, our Church will not feel so permanent. Know this: God’s Love IS permanent—no matter what.  

A little background from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) on gender-neutral language in the creation of a revised Book of Common Prayer. The 1979 book retained masculine pronouns for people in Rite I but added gender-neutral language in other liturgies and scripture references. God, however is denoted as masculine throughout.

What about God? Does God have gender? If humankind is made male and female in God’s image, as the Creation narrative in Genesis indicates, then what does that mean—really? If Jesus was indeed a remarkably divine man of Nazareth, does that mean that the Risen Christ also must carry the masculine gender? If so, how can we seek and serve Christ in all persons—in all flesh?  

I am not alone in raising questions. Many theologians and liturgists from many denominations, including The Rev. Dr Clayton L. Morris, a liturgical officer for the Episcopal Church, have raised such questions.

And it’s not new. Christian men and women, have been praying and studying divinity and language for years. El Shaddai, for a small example, is a name for God used forty-eight times in the Bible. It’s traditionally translated “the Almighty”— God of the mountain. But shad is also a Hebrew word for breast. And the feminine ending -ai, is well, feminine. Also the root of the word used for divine compassion is rachuwm in Hebrew and splanchnisomai in Greek. They both mean "womb". These are biblical words. I didn’t learn this until seminary, but the Bible is pretty old, friends. Will we reclaim some of this in our contemporary language?

The SCLM over a year ago invited some clergy to participate in giving critical feedback to some of their proposed liturgical language changes. I felt honored to be invited and sent my responses.

The Episcopal Church’s official position on inclusive language has been rooted in a theological understanding that God transcends masculinity and femininity. “God is neither male nor female. Both women and men are equally loved and included by God and should be valued and shown respect in the church's language.” 


Now are we ready to legislate? I believe we are. My hope of course is that authorization will happen in time for me to see it, use it without fear, and celebrate the liberation of my God— this Godde in whose life and love I have lived since early childhood, this Divinity whose image has been stunted over the centuries.