Is God more like men than like women?
Your church still only says “God-He,” though.
Is it because you think God has particular genitalia?
“The Bible says our Father, who art in heaven,” not our Mother… God is like a Father, but not a Mother? Why, though?
God is our provider, like a father, not a mother.
Would God be less of a provider if God was like a woman? Are you saying that women don’t provide as well as men? What about single mothers, or stay-at-home-dads?
Don’t back out now and say that God is not like a man or a woman, God is unlike us both, because I know you are using God-He in your church services. If you are still using God-He, and not God-She, you are saying that the metaphor of Male is more appropriate for God than the metaphor for Female. And if the male metaphor is more appropriate for God than the female one, you are saying that God is more like men. This means that you’re communicating that women share less of the image of God than men.
And whether you intend to or not, you are saying we are less.
Which is no surprise, because some of us already believe that.
In 2013, I cried on a couch at Candler School of Theology because I realized that I believed that God was more like men than women.
I realized that I thought that I was “different” from God in a way that men weren’t.
Before that day at school, the fight about the “gender” of God never really made sense to me. I was fine with “mankind” as a word for all people, and I was fine with “He” pronouns for God. I didn’t see a problem. “People get upset about everything these days!” I told people that I wasn’t a fragile woman who couldn’t understand how language worked, or I told people that the Bible revealed God as God-He so that was that.
I didn’t realize that I didn’t want God to be a woman, because I didn’t want to be a woman.
I didn’t see anything in women that I wanted to see in God. I hoped God wasn’t feminine. I didn’t realize that there was a subtle and unseen self-hatred that was working in my spiritual life – idolatry of maleness, and a desire for masculinity and maleness to stay traditionally male, and a need for God to embody male power that I was so jealous of.
I am inherently conservative, friends, and I loved the myths of gender complementarianism. I wanted the world to be structured in a certain way, with Men doing one thing and Women doing another. But I was so – bitterly – jealous that I was the one who was stuck doing the Women set of chores. I didn’t want feminism because I didn’t want women and men to be the same. I wanted the old structure to work – I just wanted to be a man in it.
I am jealous of men. They get stories about heroism and victory that are universal, while women get stories that are designated for women. Men are subjects, and act on the world. Women are objects, and are acted on by the world. Men do things. Women watch, or, at best, are “Women Leaders.”
I didn’t want to be a Woman Leader, I just wanted to be a normal leader. And because of this, I didn’t want God to be another Woman Leader. I wanted God to be the embodiment of the “One who acts on the world” (a man). I didn’t want to drag God down to my level.
I resisted female pronouns for God because I don’t like being a woman, and why would I want my God to be what I’m resentful of in myself?
It comes back to complementarianism, whether we want it to or not. And complementarianism looks so beautiful from the outside. It would work, if only men and women didn’t come out so topsy-turvy and so unique, every single one of us. It would work, if the definition of “men” and “women” wasn’t so complicated, and if biological sex wasn’t so tricky. It would work, if folks who were intersex didn’t blur all our rigid lines until theologians just erase intersex people from the Theological Gender Rules equation altogether, because anomalies don’t count, right? If there aren’t that many people that are affected, we don’t have to take them into account in our theology. But the minority deserves an answer, too.
Society has been built to accommodate the majority – buildings made for able-bodied people, movies full of white people, products marketed for middle and upper class, and theologies that only work for men and women who fit majority molds. But if there is one thing that Jesus showed us about God, it is that God sees the ones who are not in the majority. Jesus saw the ones who were bleeding, and very short, and engaged in risky sex work, and the ones being executed by the government, and who had sold out to the government, and Jesus showed us that we cannot just consult the majority when we build our theologies.
So, here we are, trans women and cis women and intersex people, women who are “masculine” and “feminine,” women who mother and women who don’t, and we are asking – when God made male and female in God’s image, is that me, too?
I hung on to God-He for a long time. That’s how Scripture describes God. That is God’s revelation of Himself. That is how God wants to be known. It’s not sexist, it doesn’t mean men are better, it just is Who God Is and the feminists need to stop making a big deal about it. I never wondered if the language of God-He in Scripture was not prescriptive, was not a “rule,” was not the only way to talk about God, but simply one way. That perhaps the Biblical writers said God-He, and it was good, but that there was nothing in Scripture that told us not to use God-She. That perhaps in metaphors of midwives, mother birds, and the Woman Wisdom, Scripture was giving us freedom to use other words for God, too. And that perhaps, God-He has become more than a metaphor, but an idol. And perhaps, God-He was suffocating our women.
So in the corner by the stairs on a green sofa in the Rita Anne Rollins Building, at 26 years old, and for the first time, I felt what it meant when I said “God, He.”
It meant that I believed that God was more like my male friends than me.
I believed that God was “other” from us all, but that God was more “other” from me than my male partner.
I believed that I was further from God than men.
I believed that I shared the image of God less meaningfully.
My afternoon weeping on the couch was the beginning of entering into the mystery of myself, of gender, of God.
It was the very beginning of reclaiming myself as woman who is assertive and aggressive and swears too much and is too loud and too much and too big – as a woman who is uncomfortable holding babies but oh-so-comfortable on a stage.
I am woman, but that woman doesn’t have to mean what America and my fairy tales and my homeschooling curriculum and the church told me it means.
I am woman, and I am not more distant than God from men.
I am woman, and I am still fully human. Not the sidekick to men who are fully human, not the power-behind-the-throne, not the prayer warrior who prayers for a powerful spouse, not the warm meal that the adventurer comes home to. These are all good, powerful, important things but essentially not me.
I am none of those things, but I am woman.
God is none of those things, and God is like me.
God is all of those things, and God is unlike me.
God is not male or female, but yet we are created in the image of God together. God is not human, but male and female, trans and intersex, all bodies in all their gender identities and gender expressions, show part of the image of God.
And believing this meant believing that God-She was not a diminishing of God.
God-She does not diminish the holy.
Or, at least, any more than God-He does. Every time we forget that the metaphors we use for God are just metaphors to speak of the unspeakable, images we see through a glass darkly, we diminish the Holy by our belief that we can explain God in a way that keeps God in our small world.
I use God/He now again sometimes. I also use God/She. I also use God/God, because it is awkward but the awkwardness reminds me that God is Other. And our trans and intersex family has a lot to teach us about gender, and I hope that we learn a lot about God from them.
But when I use God/She, as an earth-bound, body-bound woman, it unclenches something in my chest that I didn’t know was there.
It reminds me that woman is good, and it is not less than.
Sisters, both trans and cis, know that God is close to you, as close to you as a breath. That you, your female self, is created in the image of God just like the male self of your brothers. Know that whether we are nurturing women who cradle babies and keep crockpots of chili warm for when the adventurers come back, or whether we are the adventurers eating chili once we get home, that God is all of those things to us, too.
God nurtures us, and God fights for us. If you are a woman who nurtures, God is like you and unlike you. If you are a woman who fights, God is like you and unlike you. God is a Mother tending an infant, and if you are a mother, God is like you and unlike you. God is a King on a throne, and if you are a leader, God is like you and unlike you.
God has made us in Her image. Male and female, trans and intersex, all of the shades of color in between the harsh lines – God is there. And God is not there. God is bigger than, but also inside.
And you, as you are, woman, are beloved. Amen.