People of faith are meant to care for those around them. Love of God and others tends to be a recurring theme in many sermons. While there are many ways churches can show love through service and sacrifice, sometimes the simplest ways, such as how their leaders and members talk about God, can elude them.

Recently, the Church of England announced that it is organizing a commission to look into the use of gender-neutral terms for God. Many other denominations have expressed similar intentions. There are several reasons why many churches are committed to incorporating more inclusive images and language about God into their materials and worship services.

It Is Inclusive

Love is shown in language that does not shut people out. Inclusive language involves using neutral terms, particularly when the gender of the person referenced is unknown or unknowable. For example, instead of using the "he" series of pronouns when talking about spiritual leaders in general, it is better to refer to the person as "they" or to use plural terms, which tend to be neutral in English, to speak about them in a group.

When it comes to talking about God, using inclusive terms accomplishes another goal. It helps all people see themselves as created in God's image. When all the terms women and nonbinary folks hear for God are masculine, it sends the message that they have less in common with God than their fellow worshippers who are men. However, watch what happens when a pastor speaks about God as a parent, sibling, friend or another term that most people can relate to. You may be surprised at how easy it is to get people to engage in the life of the church just by making an effort to include them.

It Is Restorative

Male-dominated language for God is a reflection of patriarchal values that are still heavily embedded in the church as a whole. These values often result in women being seen as second-class citizens or becoming the recipients of outright abuse and have placed many men in roles they may not be well suited to, thus setting them up to feel like failures. Making the language for God more inclusive not only opens the door for all to enjoy a sense of belonging but also paves the path for healing the damage done by traditional gender roles and expectations.

When religious leaders and texts focus on speaking of God in gender-neutral terms, a more natural balance can occur. For example, those who cannot relate to a loving father because they have neither had one nor been one may find peace with a God who is described in other meaningful ways that are already found in scripture:

  • Counselor
  • Comforter
  • Guide
  • Advocate

It only takes a little extra attention to talk about God in ways that are helpful rather than a hindrance.

It Is Accurate

Beyond the masculine terms that for many centuries served as the default, there is not a lot of evidence that scriptural scholars actually view God as male. In fact, most religious texts, despite their overall patriarchal structure, still include a number of feminine metaphors and terms for God and talk about the ways that God transcends gender altogether. Many leaders also seek to portray God in more expansive terms to convey a more accurate picture. Therefore, using gender-neutral terms not only expresses the love God has for all of humanity but also is simply a more precise description of who God really is.

It is easy to divide, but one of the main purposes of the church is to welcome. Gender-neutral language, especially when referring to God, can be a powerful way to extend an invitation to those who may not know how much God loves them.

Category: Religion

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