In church news this past week, one of the major headlines has been “Episcopal Church Votes to Stop Using Masculine Pronouns for God.” Some headlines use the word “ban” or “remove,” some say “gender references” instead of “masculine pronouns,” but they all get to the same basic point… The Episcopal Church has lost its mind! I wish that it was more of a joke than it is, but for the most part, I have read very few positive articles on the Episcopal Church’s decision. Many were quick to refer back to the Episcopal church’s decision to fully support the LGBTQ community, even electing the first openly gay bishop back in 2003. Because it’s often difficult to get to the bottom of what is going on in these quick news stories, I’m going to take a little bit of time to try to unravel some of this tangled web.
First of all, the headlines are slightly misleading. The most technically correct headline I could come up with is “An Episcopal Diocese Passed a Resolution to Avoid Using Gendered Pronouns for God in the Next Update of the Book of Common Prayer.”. It just rolls off the tongue, right? Now as someone who isn’t very familiar with the Episcopal church’s structure, I had no idea what a diocese was, but it sounds super official. To the best of my knowledge, in the Episcopal church, a diocese is something like one of our districts or annual conferences. So it’s not the entire Episcopal church. And it’s definitely not a final decision, even though it still could become an official decision by the entire denomination. But here’s what an Episcopal friend had to say about it.
"Y'all. Slow your roll. What they have done is to ask the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to consider the issue of expansive language for God as General Convention starts to think about revising the Prayer Book. It's a few steps shy of tabling the resolution entirely.
No diocese can unilaterally change the liturgy. It takes two successive votes of General Convention, six years apart, to amend the Prayer Book. Plus a study period beforehand that can go on for years and years. This is being misreported everywhere, and whether or not you think it's great or think it's terrible, it's important to understand what actually went down.”
So it’s not as bad as you might think. The Episcopal church has definitely not lost its mind. In fact, it’s very much trying to get a better image of God to come through. See, the Bible uses feminine imagery for God sometimes. In Hebrew the word for Spirit (רוה) (ruach) is feminine. But if you were to ask every kid in our church if God was a man or woman, they would almost all say man. And it seems obvious because we call him Father God and all our prayers and creeds use Father and masculine pronouns. Wait a minute... if the Bible uses several different gender connotations for God, why doesn't our prayers and liturgy do the same?
I’m not saying I agree with the diocese’s decision to update the Book of Common Prayer, but maybe they aren’t as crazy as the headlines are making them out to be. Maybe the resolution that says
is the start of some serious conversations that we all need to have about who God really is.