“Thank you for your sermon,” said the young man to my wife. “I just have one question. I see women are allowed to preach in this church. How then do you protect the congregation from the Jezebel spirit?”
Such offensive conversations are common for women. It is common for a woman’s right to leadership of any kind to be questioned. It is common for women to be told they are somehow less than men.
- They are to be submissive, compliant, and keep to their lower place on the social ladder.
- Strong women are accused of being bossy.
- Women with opinions are called arrogant.
- If a woman is too sexy she’s a slut.
- If she’s not sexy enough she’s frigid.
Taylor Swift sums this up so pointedly in her amazing song “The Man”.
These ideas about women did not just appear. The same can be said for narratives around:
- Black people
- LGBTQIA+ people
- Poor people
- Muslim people
- Anyone who does not fit the ‘normalised’ white, male, cisgendered, Protestant, wealthy image.
So where did these oppressive narratives come from? For many of us, these narratives are shaped by the language we are taught to use—and especially our language around God.
For many people of faith God’s gender is decided. God is a man. I’ve actually heard people say, “Jesus called God Father and that’s good enough for me!” When we create God in our own image, it is a very short step to view those who do not fit our image as less. When God is a man, women don’t matter. When God is white, black lives don’t matter.When we create God in our own image, it is a very short step to view those who do not fit our image as less. When God is a man, women don’t matter. When God is white, black lives don’t matter. Click To Tweet
Over the last few weeks we have explored a number of different ways that God can be understood and experienced. In each case, the language we have used for God has changed. That’s because all language about God is metaphor. Words are not reality. They are symbols that point to a reality that is beyond words. A colleague and friend of mine once illustrated this in a comment on the Christian concept of the Trinity saying, “God has to be more than two men and a bird!”
WORDS AND OUR WORLD
What this means is that as our understanding of God changes, so too must our language. Unfortunately religious language has changed very little even as we have discovered wonderful new insights into our universe. Many churches still pray that the Holy Spirit would come, even though they know that Spirit is always everywhere. We still look up when we speak of God, even though we know that up is meaningless in space, and that God isn’t “up there.” And we still speak of God as ‘He’, ‘Him’, and ‘His’ even though we know that God is not a man (As Gungor expressed in their provocative song).
The other side of this equation is that as our language changes, so too does our understanding and experience of God—which may be why some people are so resistant to changing their language. New words open up new insights, new questions, new realities, and new experiences. Which means that one simple way to deepen our spirituality is to become more intentional and more careful in the words we use about ourselves, other people, God, and our universe. You may want to explore, for example, using feminine language for God rather than masculine. Or try imagining God as a black person, a child, someone with a disability, or from a different religion or culture than your own. It’s a simple thing to do, but I dare you to try it and see what a difference it makes to your life.New words open up new insights, new questions, new realities, and new experiences. Which means that one simple way to deepen our spirituality is to become more intentional and more careful in the words we use... Click To Tweet
- How has your language about God changed?
- What words are most helpful for you in your spirituality?
- What words are becoming unhelpful and need to be changed?
Let’s chat more about this in the comments, shall we?
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Love this post. It is very, very important.
I don’t want to move off how this affects women in the church. Still, it affects the words people use to each other, even men to men. I’ve heard men threaten each other with violence in a church council meeting.
I have heard someone threaten a Minister’s life in a church meeting.
Words matter. And vioent words, “raka” are like murder.
For women it must be impossible in the church. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be constantly told “you are lesser”. I cannot think that Jesus held this view. In fact, he depended on women to announce his resurrection.
Patriarchy should just die right here in 2020.
Thank you for your thoughts here, Craig. I agree 100% with everything you’re saying. If only this could be the year patriarchy sees its demise…
I absolutely love this! This is why representation matters; not just in the media but in the Church. My idea of the Holy Spirit has always encompassed a feminine element due to the words used: passionate flame, a comforter, an advocate, a guide, intercessor and helper. Perhaps it is because I have often experienced women to hold these roles, although in no means do I ascribe them to women alone. Another term, ‘mother nature’ is helpful to me.
Thank you for these thoughts, Tanya. What a beautiful way to engage the feminine divine!
Basically the theme of my sermon last week – in two parts: “Who do you say I am?” and “Who does God say you are?” Firstly what language and images do we use for God and then what are the implications for us? God who is Lord implies we are serfs and bonded labour, God who is father implies we are children etc – so how do we find images that have us as loved and mature people created in the image of God?
This is wonderful. I really believe we need new metaphors for God and ways to address to God in order to open our understand and experience of God and to make space for a variety of experiences of the divine without judging those who are different from us in their spirituality.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts!