On Sunday, a female bishop in the Church of England suggested that Christians should stop referring to God as “He” because it might give “subconscious messages to people.” Other pastors in England responded by defending the Bible’s masculine language for God and insisting that the Almighty be allowed to define Himself.
“No one is suggesting that God is merely a man, and no one is denying the few feminine metaphors that are used in relation to God in the Bible, but we must hold to the biblical truth that there is something crucially and uniquely revelatory about the masculine language used of God,” Matthew Firth, pastor of the Anglican churches St. Cuthbert’s and Holy Trinity, told PJ Media.
“Otherwise, we are denying the authority of Scripture on this matter and not allowing God to define himself,” Firth declared.
The issue of God’s masculinity stirred controversy after a YouGov survey found that almost half of 18-24-year-old Christians believed God to be male. “I don’t want young girls or young boys to hear us constantly refer to God as he,” the Rt. Rev. Rachel Treweek, bishop of Glouchester, told The Telegraph.
Treweek worried that non-Christians might “feel alienated from the Church” if it used solely male language to describe the Almighty.
“When I lead prayers or preach, I try to get around the problem by using both male and female imagery, and also by avoiding the need to say ‘his’ or ‘him’ too often,” the Rt. Rev. Dr. Jo Bailey Wells, bishop of Dorking, told The Telegraph.
The Rev. Sally Hitchener, an Anglican chaplain at Brunel University, said it is “heretical” to say God is only male. She praised efforts to “emphasise the feminine nature of God” in the Church of England.
Firth attacked any suggestion “that we should stop calling God ‘He'” as “majorly out of line with the biblical witness and the Church’s historic teaching.”
“The Old Testament understands God to be the Father of the nation of Israel, and the New Testament witness overwhelmingly encourages us to understand God not as Mother or as a cosmic neuter being but as Father,” the Anglican pastor told PJ Media. “When specifically asked how to relate to God in prayer, Jesus told us to say ‘Our Father’. So, the biblical witness so overwhelmingly uses masculine father-language of God that we must take it to be not merely metaphorical but revelatory about the nature of God.”
“Given all of this, no Christian pastor should be pushing a line which encourages anyone to doubt the standard understanding of God as Father,” Firth concluded.
Gavin Ashenden, a missionary bishop to England who rejected his ordination in the Church of England (and his position as honorary chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II) but kept his connection with the global Anglican Church, adopted the spirit of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” to explain this phenomenon to PJ Media.
“The Screwtape Letters” is a fictional collection of letters penned by an elderly demon to his nephew, a younger demon in training. C.S. Lewis used the letters to demonstrate Christian concepts, not to actually suggest that demons behaved in this specific manner. Similarly, Ashenden put his explanation in the mouth of a demon, to show the destructive nature of Treweek’s suggestions.
Given that our humans are essentially self-referential and narcissistic after the Fall, prone to making God in their own image, one the most effective ways we can de-rail their faith would be something like this. Let us get them pre-occupied with both sex, (they like it so much, like unrestrained children in a sweet shop) and gender (but only in terms of how it works as an instrument of power relations. Never let them remember that its essential nature is inter-dependency).
Let us mix into that a revulsion with all things and people masculine and a replacing beguilement with the feminine,” the demon suggests. “It has always been clear that the vermin we so despise are easily distracted from the fatherhood of God by an attraction to the fertility of the earth; the old sky-father/earth mother fuss. And since they value fertility, as an act of biological projection out of their own fecund experience, let us suggest to them that the fatherhood of God is equally only just a projection they have imagined, too.
Instead of discovering in a contingent humility that their experience of gender is a created projection of God onto them, they will imagine instead they have projected their experience of gender onto God – and so reject him and in rejecting Him, cease to know him. Hubris over humility. That’s our first principle!
There is no harm in them spiritually salivating over a feminine life force, since it is entirely a figment of their own metaphysical imagination; it will keep them from their real Father.
At the same time, if we suggest to all women that they can transfer their resentment of some of the most incompetent and unpleasant men they ever have met onto their mental image of God, that should be very effective in keeping them in a state of permanent referred resentment. It will keep them immune to His appallingly attractive (to them) fatherly protection and compassion.
“Despite the fact that Jesus — who as the eternal Logos through whom all things were made and have their being — told people he had come to reveal the Creator, the Father, many cool people decided this couldn’t be true; that he was instead limited in his experience of the Father and the political and metaphysical implications of gender (as they would be understood in the 21st century),” Ashenden told PJ Media.
He attacked the idea of female priests, noting that the apostles only named men to be priests and bishops. As for the women priests who spoke to The Telegraph, they have undermined the faith by filtering it “through their borrowed secular brainwashed feminism.”
An unnamed source in England directed PJ Media to a blog post from 2014, published by Joshua Jones, pastor of Therfield Chapel just south of Cambridge in England.
“God never reveals himself with a feminine title in Scripture,” Jones wrote. “Some may point out metaphors that have feminine connotations – but that is quite a different thing. Because God compares his love for Israel in the Psalms to the love of a mother hen for her chicks doesn’t mean that we should refer to God as a mother any more than we should refer to him as a chicken.”
It seems deeply ironic that, in an age where people are encouraged to choose their own gender and others must honor their “preferred pronouns,” Christians are being told they cannot refer to God Himself by the masculine pronouns constantly used throughout the Bible.
With all due respect to Treweek, Wells, and Hitchener, it is perfectly acceptable to refer to God as “He.” Indeed, He Himself — through the person of Jesus Christ — asked us to do so. We should humbly obey God Almighty in using His own pronouns, rather than pridefully suggest that His revelation of Himself as Father was culturally conditioned at the time, so that we — in our infinite wisdom — know better than God.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.