For several decades, the feminist movement has had a clear impact on the church. Most mainline denominations have eschewed biblical authority and fidelity in favor of cultural accommodation, as they now are not only ordaining women to the ministry and embracing them as pastors of their churches, but they also are debating the legitimacy of homosexual ordination and even homosexual marital union.1 Even among evangelicals the issue of the roles between men and women in the home and the church are hotly contested. But as some have been saying for years, the debates over the roles of men and women have never been solely about who is authorized to preach on Sunday morning. The debate has extended into areas such as the relationship between the members of the Godhead and the use of that relationship as a paradigm for how men and women might relate to one another. The discussion has extended into philosophies of Bible translation and how one might render the gender-related texts of the Bible in the "language of the people" without compromising the meaning of the original text. There is also debate regarding the language one should use when addressing God and whether or not God can be referred to as "mother." It is no surprise, then, to find that the use of feminine God-language has become popular in various circles.
Liberal/Moderate Southern Baptists
At a 2001 meeting/worship service of the Baptist Women in Ministry organization (an auxiliary group associated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship2), participants were encouraged to sing hymns and songs to mother God. Not only this, but at the end of the service, worshippers were asked to participate in a responsive reading that expressed the inability to refer to God as father:
To you who laid the foundations of the earth, I dare to speak.
We have called you by many names,
in many languages,
through many centuries.
Living in this transition time,
none of those names seems sufficient,
expressive, easy to speak
when I try to bring myself before you.
"Jesus," I can say, yes, and "Jesus Christ" -
Son of the Most High, Redeemer of the world,
incarnation of the divine in human form -
crucified and risen to show us the way home.
"Holy Spirit," I can say, no problem -
wind and fire anointing the Apostles,
your still voice at the center of the whirlwind,
caretaker of this strange thing we call the Church.
But what of you, O first person of the Trinity?
If I don't pay attention during church
I can roll through all those names without a hitch:
Father, Lord, King.
But when I hear myself, or focus on the words upon the page,
I falter, resisting the baggage of human fathers, lords, kings.
But human baggage cannot weigh you down.
You were enigmatic when directly asked your name; just "I AM, tell them I AM sent you."
What kind of name is that? I AM what?
Is this an elaborate game
in which the goal is to discover what is hidden?
Or do we know instinctively
that to name something is to control it
as Adam named the animals?
Is that why your name is a mystery,
must remain a mystery,
lest we imagine even for a moment
we can control your beauty and your power?
Speak my name, lover of souls,
that I may be wholly yours.
Then none of the rest will matter at all.3
As will be seen in the rest of this article, the disdain for father language and its accompanying belief that it promotes a patriarchal system that is damaging to women is at the heart of many of the efforts to rename God.
The United Methodist Church
The most recent United Methodist Hymnal supplement (2000), entitled The Faith We Sing, includes songs that address God as "Strong Mother" and "Mothering God." In this same hymnal, not only are there songs referring to God as mother, but there is one song referring to the earth as mother. The song entitled "I am Your Mother" (subtitled "The Earth Prayer") is written from the perspective of the earth:
I am your mother:
Do not neglect me!
Children, protect me
I need your trust
My breath is your breath,
My death is your death,
Ashes to ashes,
Dust into dust.4
The willingness to sing of both God and the earth interchangeably as mother should be more than troubling. Here it can be seen that there is at least an intimation of the connection between giving a feminine name to God and the necessary change in the entire way that He relates to the world.5
Country Music Industry
Recently, even the country music industry has weighed in on the discussion of God-language. In an apparent tribute from a son to his mother, well-known musician, Travis Tritt, sings that God must be a woman:
It's the way that you sneak a Kleenex to me
When a sad song gets in my eye
You say it's alright, you got no appetite
When it's down to the last piece of pie
It's the way that you never remember
The things I would rather forget
How you grin and shrug your shoulders
When it's time to start over again.
God must be a woman
You're probably a lot like her
Your grace is so amazing
An angel here on earth
You're so much like your maker
She sent you down to lay a crown on me
God must be a woman
Only mamas have a love that runs so deep
Watching out for drunks and babies and fools
And castaways like me.
Some heavenly rain must soak in your brain
And come out as the sweet things you say
You stitch me back up when life plays too rough
Give my hand a little squeeze when we pray
And the ‘I love you's' that you told me
They would probably stretch to the moon
You multiply what matters
And divide the pain by two.6
This revision of God-language is to be expected from mainline religious feminists7 who have disregarded the Bible or from denominations or affiliations of churches who have a low view of the Bible, or even a country music star who has no respect for biblical language. But the real concern is the inclination of several self-proclaimed evangelicals who are advocating the practice of referring to God as mother, signifying their willingness to succumb to the leftward pull of culture. This article documents some recent efforts by professing evangelicals to propose feminine God-language and then offers a brief critique and response.
Evangelicals and Mother God?
Several evangelicals advocate a revision of how we speak about God and claim to do so on grounds that the Bible itself warrants some kind of feminine language. All three of the individuals mentioned in this article are affiliated in some way with an organization called Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), a self-professing evangelical organization.8
While some may have reservations about referring to Campolo as an evangelical, the key issue for this paper is his formal affiliation with CBE as a Board of Reference member. In Campolo's book, Carpe Diem, he includes a puzzling chapter entitled, "Embracing the Feminine Side of God."9 Here he declares that there is a feminine aspect of God that can be seen in Jesus. In what amounts to a false dichotomy, Campolo states that "If the male side of God's character was expressed by Jesus' strong declarations of truth and pronouncements on morality, the female side of God was clear in His gentle sense of wonder while enjoying what the less perceptive would call the simple things of life."10 He goes on to note, "the masculine side of God is something to be admired. But it is the feminine side that draws love out of me. It is this feminine side of God I find in Jesus that makes me want to sing duets with him. When I think about the feminine in Him, I want to throw out my arms and be loved."11 This "discovery" of the feminine side of God has led Campolo to also affirm his own feminine side. As a result of this acknowledgement, he wants Jesus to find in him the feminine characteristics of "a gentle heart and an awareness of the goodness that lies in people around me especially my enemies."12
Granted, he has not issued a clarion call for a revision of God-language, but this kind of description about the femininity of Jesus, based on the feminine side of God, is confusing at best. And this is certainly not biblical language. Campolo himself even notes that he is appealing to characteristics that the "world" calls feminine. Further, claiming that the idea of goodness and gentleness are a reflection of the "feminine side of God" is a false categorization of the fruit of the Spirit as masculine and feminine. The Bible lists the fruit of the Spirit as desirable for all members of the body of Christ and never even hints that some are particular to, or more common in, one gender or the other. This is in fact one of the themes of the book of Galatians. In Christ, all are justified by faith and all can expect the same inheritance regardless of ethnicity, gender, or social status (Gal 3:28). Likewise, all are expected to manifest the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5). Moreover, some serious Christological problems arise with identifying Christ as the embodiment of God's feminine side.13
Catherine Kroeger is significant to this discussion because, as a founding member of CBE and current president emerita, she presumably embodies the principles and ideals of the direction of CBE. She and her husband have co-authored many publications on the issue of women in ministry. On the website of the First Presbyterian Church of Pitman, New Jersey, the Kroegers have a lengthy defense of women as elders in the church. Within this work they have a brief section that deals with images of God and gender:
So far we have referred to God as "He" and "Him" because most of us are used to employing these terms when we think of the Holy One. Indeed, it is sometimes asserted that those in holy office should be male to represent the Deity who is male. This is to ignore what the Bible has to say, for God is pictured as both male and female. Let us be clear that God does not possess sexuality-neither distinctive maleness nor femaleness; but to explain the love and work of God, both male and female imagery is used. Consider these scriptures carefully: Psalm 131:2-3; Deut. 32:18; Isa. 49:15, 66:9-13, 42:13-14; and Matthew 23:37. Among other passages is James 1:17-18, which first speaks of God as Father and then says God brought us forth as Mother. Job 38:28-29, Isa. 63:15 and Jer. 31:20 speak of the womb of God, surely a valuable image when we think of new birth. God's likeness to a mother is an important aspect of the divine nature. Can Christians neglect any aspect of God's being as it is revealed in Scripture? There is good biblical reason, then, to speak of God as both Father and Mother, both "she" and "he". This is particularly important for evangelicals to remember when they seek to witness to people turning to goddess worship in their desire for a deity with feminine attributes. It is also essential to remember when ministering to those with bad father images, who may have positive feelings about their mothers. Women as well as men are made in God's image! (Gen. 1:26-27, 5:1-2).14
Here language revision is explicitly stated. For the Kroegers, referring to God as mother is not only biblical but is also helpful for evangelism. Mother God language can, in their estimation, help overcome poor relationships with fathers and help divert those attracted to goddess worship.
As the current president of CBE, Mimi Haddad recently posted a brief article on their website entitled, "What Language Shall We Use: A Look at Inclusive Language for People, Feminine Images for God, and Gender-Accurate Bible Translations."15 Here Haddad has presented a brief compilation of data that in her estimation bolsters the argument that it is proper, even biblical, to refer to God with feminine imagery, even to the extent of calling God mother. She claims that
the church today often overlooks biblical, yet feminine language for God. We rely almost exclusively on male metaphors and images for God, a departure not only from scripture but also from the historical church. Though we rarely hear references to these in churches today, they are a part of the biblical record. Given the patriarchal culture of Scripture, it is interesting that we have so many feminine metaphors for God.16
She goes on to say, " It is idolatry to make God male or female. God is no more female or goddess (as some feminists would argue) than God is male. God is beyond gender. Yet, though we may speak of God as father or as mother, God is not limited by fatherhood or motherhood."17 So here it appears that she is comfortable referring to God as mother, but wants to distance herself from feminists who are advocating goddess worship. This distancing is commendable but it is difficult to see what is governing her avoidance of the goddess connection when she has already left the pattern, and consequently the authority, of the biblical witness by using mother language in the first place.18
CBE Webstore Books
Of further concern is the presence of two particular books featured in the webstore of the CBE website. Certainly one can grant that, even in a specialized webstore, some authors are going to say some things with which not all who endorse the store would agree.19 There are always nuances of positions and explanations that require careful thought and expression. However, two books sold in the CBE webstore, God, A Word for Girls and Boys, by Jann Aldredge-Clanton20 and Is it Okay to Call God Mother? Considering the Feminine Face of God, by Paul R. Smith,21 thoroughly endorse and encourage referring to God as Mother.
Let the Children Come to Me. Aldredge-Clanton explains in her book that her purpose is to provide songs, pictures, stories, prayers and other resources that will "apply a theology of inclusiveness to concrete experiences of children."22 She argues that children "cannot grasp a theology of God as transcendent spirit if they hear trusted authority figures in the church constantly calling God, ‘he,' ‘father,' ‘king.'23 In her estimation, using feminine language for God will help boys rid themselves of arrogance (God is not a boy) and will help girls quit devaluing themselves (the supreme power of the universe is not a "he").24 She goes on to say,
Exclusively masculine images of God present problems for boys and girls. Boys have trouble developing personal, intimate relationships with a masculine God, whom they view as aloof. Girls lack a powerful role model if God is masculine. Gender-inclusive language for God will give children a more balanced view of God and of themselves. They can conceive of God as intimate as well as active; artistic as well as pragmatic; emotional, as well as rational; powerful, as well as gentle. Developing an androgynous concept of God will help children to claim their own androgyny.25
Aldredge-Clanton starts the book with a section on defining God, who in the end is the greatest lover and mother.26 The section closes with a prayer to "God, our Mother."27 Later in the book, she teaches that God is both our father and our mother. She says, "We are all daughters and sons of our Mother and Father God. At times we all waste the gifts that God gives us. And we do other wrong things and fail to do the good things that God wants us to do. But our Father and Mother God will forgive us and help us to do better."28 This section concludes with a prayer to "Mother and Father God."29 The book also includes an appendix of songs for children with inclusive language. One is entitled "Our God is a He and a She" which teaches children that God is a father, mother, sister and brother.30 Also included in this section is a song entitled, "God's Beautiful World," which refers to God, the creator, with the feminine pronoun, "she."31
A Cautionary and Revealing Word About Jann Aldredge-Clanton. In her 2002 autobiography, Breaking Free: The Story of a Feminist Baptist Minister,32 Aldredge-Clanton documents her journey from daughter of a Baptist minister to her own ordination as minister to her embrace of Christ-Sophia worship. In the fall of 1994, her book, In Search of the Christ-Sophia: An Inclusive Christology for Liberating Christians,33 was published. Her Praying With Christ-Sophia: Services for Healing and Renewal34 came out in 1996 and much of her autobiography deals with her efforts in assimilating the principles in these two books and how others were either repulsed by them or, in many cases, impressed by them. In one instance Aldredge-Clanton tells of introducing new hymns to her family at a Christmas event. One hymn, sung to the tune of "O Come All Ye Faithful," substitutes Christ-Sophia:
O Come, Christ-Sophia, full of grace and wisdom;
Come bless us, challenge us to make life anew.
Come bring us power, beauty, hope, and harmony.
O come, thou Christ-Sophia,
O come, thou Christ-Sophia
O come, thou Christ-Sophia, wisdom and peace.35 In another instance, Aldredge-Clanton details the creation of an icon, by her friend Elizabeth, used in the worship services she and some of her friends had instituted at Royal Lane Baptist Church. Her recollection is as follows:
Elizabeth took home the Mary statue and began by painting Mary's robe a rich purple dotted with shiny gold stars. Where one hand had been, Elizabeth glued a silver styrofoam moon and in the place of the other hand, a larger golden sun. Elizabeth saved the face for last. When she rubbed off the crusted paint, Elizabeth watched, in amazement, as Mary's face shone with dark and light tones in perfect balance. At once, Elizabeth recognized Christ-Sophia, holding sun and moon, black and white, in equal balance. Elizabeth also tells of a deeper discovery of herself as she recreated this sacred image. As she restored this wounded and rejected image, Elizabeth was at the same time reclaiming her own feminine power. Slowly working for months, in the midst of chaos and questions, she touched the divinity within herself. For the first time she saw herself as fully created in the divine image … . It became harder and harder for me to conceive of any Royal Lane members' objecting to such profound spiritual discovery … .36
Later in the life of this small group of worshippers, after they were forced to change their location, Aldredge-Clanton relays part of her role in how they began their first service in their new location:
I draped a purple silk cloth over the table. On this altar I placed five votive candles, a black ceramic Madonna, and a porcelain Madonna. The room was so filled with people and pulsated with expectancy. Elizabeth entered, placing on the altar the purple-robed Christ-Sophia figure and a gloxinia plant with purple velvety blooms … Our ritual began with a litany in celebration of new beginnings. Then we stood and sang: ‘Celebrate a new day dawning, sunrise of a golden morn; Christ-Sophia dwells among us; glorious visions now are born.'37
One other occasion noted by Aldredge-Clanton was an opportunity to speak "for Sophia" at a particular conference. At the encouragement of one of her friends, Aldredge-Clanton took the opportunity and part of her account follows:
My voice started to swell as I quoted lines from one of my hymns: ‘Long we've needed Her embrace, glory and power of Her grace.' My bright flowing arms stretched wider in a circular gesture toward all the women around me on stage as I continued, ‘Now we gather up her blessings as we celebrate her many names: Ruah, Creative Spirit, Sophia, Hokmah, Wisdom, Sister, Shekinah, Mother Eagle, Friend, Black Madonna, Divine Midwife, Mother Hen, Birth-Giver, Comforting Mother, Divine Healer, Holy Mother, and so many more.' Then with even larger arms I reached up toward the eighteen-foot Lady of Guadalupe and then out toward the Women of the Cloth and all of the people in the congregation as I exclaimed: ‘Look, look, for She is here! Her wisdom words have long been near. Now, now, behold her grace, divinity in Her image.' I continued with a supplication to the ‘Great Creator of the universe, She and He, all in all' to pour out blessings of hope and healing for the new millennium. And with both arms lifted high above my head I called out in a loud voice: ‘Come, Spirit who makes all things new. Show us your wider, fuller view. Teach us your wholeness now to see. Stir us to be all we can be.'38
For CBE to present material on their website by an author who has departed so thoroughly from the biblical witness is more than problematic. There is at least the possibility that others will think that the author's other writings are to be embraced and in this case, that would be tragic.39
Is it Okay to Call God Mother? The second book of concern on the CBE website, written by Paul R. Smith, is a full argument for referring to God as mother. Since a complete review of this book is not possible here, only a few of Smith's presuppositions and conclusions will be provided. Throughout the book, Smith argues that referring to God as mother is necessary because of the enormous amount of sexism in the culture and the church today and claims that, "Many of us are so accustomed to our religious habits we do not perceive the male domination often present in our church leadership and religious language."40 He claims that the language used in doctrinal formulations such as the Council of Nicea are not helping the church today:
Languages lag and symbols slip. That is, they eventually fail to represent faithfully the reality behind them as they once did. Since all languages lag and all symbols slip, including important ones like ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,' Christians who base their faith on the authority of biblical revelation have a true dilemma. The ever-changing and evolving meanings and nuances in language mean that the common, undefined, and unqualified use of this traditional trinitarian formula by almost all evangelicals and charismatics communicates something which was never intended by the New Testament writers. It communicates something which was also not intended by those who formulated the rather precise definition of the Trinity at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. This trusted naming of God as it is commonly used, no longer defends our faith. It seriously distorts our faith in two ways:
(1) It increasingly implies today that God's image is male in some way that it is not also female, or that God is more ‘masculine' than ‘feminine' as we commonly understand those terms.
(2) Speaking of God in exclusively male terms implies that men are more like God than women are, a belief which buttresses the idea that only men should be in charge.41
Smith claims that as he has "experienced women coming into greater partnership with men in the church," that he "read[s] the Bible in a different way."42 After providing a few biblical examples of what he considers "texts of terror"43 he remarks that the New Testament is remarkably free of "texts of terror" but the system of patriarchy in which God's truth was communicated continues.44 He goes on to say
Paul could say in Galatians 3:26 (NIV), ‘You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,' because in a patriarchal society everyone knew sons had the greater value, and calling us daughters of god made little sense because it would mean we had no power, authority, inheritance, or rights. Because of my church experience with women as partners, I see that the Bible in these situations is giving a true record of a false idea-patriarchy.45
Smith agrees it is self-evident that the Bible uses predominately male metaphors for God, but claims that this is not the question. The question for him is, "Was it God's intent that we should continue to do so today?"46 For him the task is being able to separate the cultural issues from the eternal truths.
If we can recognize cultural influence in the early church practice of addressing one another with a holy kiss, why should we not also recognize cultural influence in the New Testament practice of addressing God with almost exclusively masculine imagery? One may be more important than the other, but is not the principle exactly the same? The challenge is to separate the message of God from the culturally determined linguistic systems and practices that have come to us in the Bible. Divine revelation comes to us in human packaging. We must separate the gift from the wrapping in order to understand what the Bible teaches as God's Word for us.47
A Cautionary and Revealing Word About Paul Smith.48 The most disturbing factor about the inclusion of Paul Smith's book in the CBE webstore is that he is an openly professing homosexual pastor. In a February 2003 editorial, Don Hinkle laments the invitation of Smith to come and speak at William Jewell College in Missouri.49 Hinkle notes that according to the Hilltop Monitor, "The two pro-gay-and-lesbian speakers, Rev. Paul Smith and Rev. Marsha Fleischman, were provided by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; both are on the ministerial team at Broadway Baptist Church."50 Hinkle reports that Smith "admitted to being a homosexual" and that Smith commented "he is the only openly gay Southern Baptist pastor that he knows of, and that God created him that way."51 In addition to this, Broadway Baptist Church, in Kansas City, where Paul Smith is the senior pastor, has a statement on membership found on the front page of their website. It reads, "In the spirit of Jesus Christ who welcomes all, and to celebrate the richness diversity brings, Broadway Baptist Church affirms and welcomes all persons of any sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, differing abilities, religious affiliation, socioeconomic status, or any persons who have been spiritually disenfranchised. All are welcome into the life of our church, including its membership, leadership, sacraments, and ceremonies.52
Smith has also written on the subject of homosexuality. In articulating what he considers to be the "four theological positions about homosexuality," he calls his position "full acceptance," and describes it in this way:
This … position calls both heterosexual and homosexual persons to the same gifts and responsibilities. Full acceptance does not mean anything goes. It means that homosexual behavior is accepted in the same way heterosexual behavior is accepted-neither is always good or always bad. Promiscuous, exploitative, and immoral sexual expression is always rejected, whatever one's sexual orientation. This attitude holds that it is not reasonable to place homosexuality in the same class as prostitution, pedophilia, or alcoholism because there is no evidence biblically, socially, or psychologically that homosexual orientation or same-sex partnerships are in any way more immoral, harmful, or unnatural than different same-sex partnerships … In this non-traditional position, sexual orientation, is seen as a gift from God, with homosexuality considered a naturally occurring variation. Same-sex partnerships can be a vehicle for God's caring intentions for humankind and gay and lesbian Christians are considered one of God's gifts to the church.53
In another article entitled, "The Bible and Homosexuality: Affirming All Sexual Orientations as Gifts From God,"54 he argues "The Bible has been used to defend racism, the claim that people of color are inferior to whites, therefore whites should be in charge. It has been used to defend sexism, the claim that women are inferior to men and therefore, men should be in charge. And now the Bible is being used to defend heterosexism, the claim that homosexuals are inferior to heterosexuals and therefore, heterosexuals should be in charge."55 Smith even argues that since the real "sin of Sodom" was not homosexual acts but "mistreatment of the oppressed," the real sodomites of our culture are those who "discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons … ."56 Some of Smith's other conclusions follow:57
An increasing number of us see God's spirit filling and blessing same sex individuals and relationships today … . Gays are okay as they are and do not need to be changed, ‘cured,' or act like heterosexuals!58
Paul's advice [in 1 Cor. 7:8-9] is also an answer for gay men and lesbian women and realistically points to the support and blessing of gay unions in the church … . The church must stop forbidding gay unions if we are to take Paul seriously.59
I believe that if one draws a straight line from the Bible to now, the inevitable conclusion is that all sexual orientations are a gift from God. Homosexuality, the natural ability to fall in love with a person of the same sex is a gift from God. God blesses same-sex relationships in the same way that God blesses different-sex relationships … . We must change both the internal and external messages of hate which attempt to use the Bible against homosexual persons. One friend of mine has been redeemed by God's love from self-hate about his sexual orientation and his capacity to fall in love with another man. He and his same-sex partner have been together for over twenty years now and have developed such care for one another that the love these two share is a model for covenant love for all. I like what he said when asked if he was a ‘practicing homosexual.' He responded, ‘I'm way past the practicing stage, I'm getting pretty good at it!'60
There are several areas of critique and concern that will be addressed here. In some cases, a special note will be made to the similarities between evangelical argumentation and the arguments of religious feminists.61
First, most of the evangelical attempts to rename God presented in this article rest on a faulty presupposition.62 The individuals surveyed associate the exercise of male power and authority with the use of predominate father language for God. The idea of God as exclusively father, in their understanding, is a source of the problems women have faced over the years at the hands of men. For the Kroegers, a female deity will help women overcome any abusive relationship they may have had with their father. For Paul Smith, a feminine deity will bring healing to what he considers to be rampant sexism in the church. For Aldredge-Clanton, boys will not feel superior any longer and girls will feel valued. Even Mimi Haddad mentions in her article, "Though Jesus referred to God as Father and Abba, these terms do not teach or imply the preeminence of males."63 These arguments are based on a faulty presupposition which is most clearly seen in their religious feminist counterparts.
Most religious feminists also presuppose that use of predominately male imagery and language for God leads to, or is at least connected to, oppression and hierarchy under the rule of males. For instance, as far back as 1973 Mary Daly explains that,
The biblical and popular image of God as a great Patriarch in heaven, rewarding and punishing according to his mysterious and seemingly arbitrary will, has dominated the imagination of millions over thousands of years. The symbol of the father God, spawned in the human imagination and sustained as plausible by patriarchy, has in turn rendered service to this type of society by making its mechanisms for the oppression of women appear right and fitting. If God in ‘his' heaven is a father ruling ‘his' people, then it is in the ‘nature' of things and according to divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male-dominated… within this context a mystification of roles takes place: the husband dominating his wife represents God ‘himself.'64
It is this type of thinking that characterizes much of religious feminism today. The use of masculine language conjures up certain cultural understandings which are then attributed to God. This view of God in turn reinforces a hierarchical view of men and women. Daly goes on to say that the "widespread conception of the ‘Supreme Being' as an entity distinct from this world but controlling it according to plan and keeping human beings in an infantile state of subjection has been a not too subtle mask of the divine patriarch."65 Fellow feminist Carol Christ remarks that, "a serious response to Daly's criticism of the core symbolism of Christianity either will have to show that the core symbolism of Father and Son does not have the effect of reinforcing and legitimizing male power and female submission, or will have to transform Christian imagery at its very core."66
In a similar vein, Rosemary Ruether comments that, "traditional theological images of God as father have been the sanctification of sexism and hierarchalism precisely by defining this relationship of God as father to humanity in a domination-subordination model and by allowing ruling-class males to identify themselves with this divine fatherhood in such a way as to establish themselves in the same kind of hierarchial relationship to women and lower classes."67 In addition, Anna Case-Winters argues that the traditional conceptions of God have focused on a particular type of power that is on one hand a stereotypical male preoccupation, and on the other a result of a male bias. Both of these conditions have had a negative affect on human affairs.68 She goes on to say,
The ramifications of ascribing power to God and especially power in this mode are an admission that we prize power highly and that this is the kind of power that we prize. Moreover, as this notion becomes divinized the exercise of this kind of power in the realm of human affairs is legitimated and promoted-with obvious disastrous results in the form of oppression, exploitation, and violence.69
Sally McFague, contends that not only does the patriarchal metaphor promote oppression, it could end life on the whole planet. She explains,
I have come to see patriarchal as well as imperialistic, triumphalistic metaphors for God in an increasingly grim light: this language is not only idolatrous and irrelevant-besides being oppressive to many who do not identify with it-but also may work against the continuation of life on our planet.70
Finally, Daphne Hampson laments that God is always conceived in patriarchal terms. Her problem is that, "the dominant God, whose behavior seems so male and is conceived in imagery which is male, corresponds to nothing in which feminist women believe."71
Both religious feminists and evangelical feminists are united in the sense that they see patriarchy as oppressive to women. For them, part of the problem is centered on the fact that religious language has been predominately masculine. The understanding of kingly and monarchical images of a God who keeps human beings in subjection serves as a cover for the perpetration of patriarchy. This presupposition, however, is unfounded. To say that God is an omnipotent Father says nothing about how He chooses to exercise that power. The mere statement that God has power does not state His intentions.
Peter Byrne has pointed out that there are no easy comparisons between human power and God's power.72 His exercise of power is coupled with His mercy, love, goodness, as well as all of His other attributes and characteristics. The faulty exercise of power by men should never be extrapolated and projected onto God. In fact far from exposing anything about God, this kind of reasoning really only says something about the men who are abusing their position. Byrne rightly states,
All too often the powerful people that run this world are driven by and exemplify [abusive power]. But the divine power cannot be at all similar to it. The bad, degenerate dependence on others such power hides cannot characterize a perfect being. It is the merest superficial caricature to display an omnipotent God in such terms. If men have been moved to hold the doctrine of omnipotence out of a subconscious desire to project this kind of power, then they are doubly confused. Their double confusion tells us nothing about the notion of an omnipotent God per se, but remains just a fact about them.73
It is not tenable that father-language for God should be jettisoned or revised, or even supplemented with terms like "mother," simply because human beings have falsely perverted their own power. Further, the men who have perpetrated harmful actions against women, have no warrant to do so based on the manner in which God exercises His power.
The hostility toward the masculine language and imagery in the Bible, and the belief that masculine metaphors reflect a hierarchical and oppressive God, are the result of a prior commitment to what Garrett Green calls role model theology.74 He contends that this reveals a major flaw in the whole program of metaphorical theology. His argument follows:
If religion functions by constructing divine models to be emulated by humans, a tradition that imagines God as heavenly Father must surely serve to legitimate patriarchy … but at this point a Christian metaphorical theology finds itself caught up in contradiction. If metaphors are uniquely informative – if they enable insights that are unobtainable from any other source – then changing religious metaphors means changing religions. Furthermore, any religion that projects images of God that are as destructive as metaphorical theology contends surely deserves to be replaced. Now the only way that the metaphorical theologian can escape the implication that the religion itself-Christianity in this case-is at fault is to claim that Christians have some other, non-metaphorical information about God against which to measure the adequacy of the metaphors. But that is precisely the move precluded by modern metaphor theory, for it returns to a view of metaphor as mere vehicle, a rhetorical ornament, an optional means of expression that may in principle be replaced by another … at the heart of the theology that calls itself metaphorical, is a failure to take metaphor seriously: the metaphorical theologian already knows what God is like from other-presumably non-metaphorical-experience and merely makes use of metaphors as vehicles to express that experience. If one vehicle seems to convey the wrong message, it is changed for a more suitable one.75
The presupposition that faulty metaphors reflect an oppressive God, betrays the fundamentals of metaphorical theology itself. The ease with which they are changed reveals that they are not to be taken seriously in the first place.76
The Confusion of Name and Metaphor
In their effort to rename God, the evangelical feminists mentioned in this article have confused the concepts of name and metaphor. There are approximately twenty-seven biblical references to God that utilize feminine imagery in some sense.77 Further, it is clear that when these images are used, they are most certainly figures of speech: similes, metaphors, analogies, or personification.78 There are no cases in which feminine terms are used as names, titles, or invocations of God. There are no instances where God is directly identified by a feminine term.79 In other words, "God is never directly said to be a mother, mistress, or female bird in the way he is said to be a father, king, judge, or shepherd."80
With only twenty-seven possibilities, it appears a little sensational for Haddad to be puzzled that feminine imagery is not used more in churches today since there are "so many feminine metaphors for God." She overstates her case when she argues that it is a departure from scripture and the historical church to use predominately male language for God, when in fact, this is exactly how the Bible and the historical church handle the issue. The Bible rarely uses any female imagery, and the historical church minimally uses the same types of references.81 It is more faithful, then, for the church today to use the biblically given, predominate masculine language.
Many of the individuals represented in this article are mistaken when they assume that all references to God are metaphors.82 This confuses the whole concept of a name.83 Early in her article, Haddad notes that the Bible "uses a rich variety of images, names, and metaphors for God. The many images enhance the usual names for God-such as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."84 The rest of Haddad's article focuses on metaphors that utilize birthing imagery (especially with the Holy Spirit), and maternal activities, and she is not careful to note the very crucial distinctions between names, similes and metaphors. Haddad, Paul Smith, and other feminist revisionists, by transforming figures of speech into titles and names, have attributed feminine characteristics to God, and by reducing titles and names to metaphors, have denied masculine characteristics to God. Neither of these revisions is warranted by biblical language. When comparing metaphors and appellative predicate nouns,85 Cooper argues:
My students might complain that ‘Professor Cooper is a real bear.' I might lament that ‘I brought forth a stillborn child' if I ‘labor hard' on this book but no one reads it. But these figures of speech are not and do not generate appellatives. They do not name me by classifying me as a hairy mammal who hibernates or by identifying me as mother. In the same way, birth images and other feminine figures of speech simply are not and do not generate appellatives for God as a mother or any female person.86
In other words, the Bible never extends metaphors into titles or appellatives. For instance, the fact that God gives birth to the waters in Job 38 certainly does not make "Rain Mother" a divine name.87 The attempt to rename God violates the basic understanding of a metaphor. Haddad's confusion on this point can be seen in her explanation of the meaning of a metaphor. "A metaphor says something that can be said in no other way. Metaphors retain the tension of the ‘is and is not.' God is our rock; yet God is not a physical rock. God is our father; yet is not our biological father."88 Earlier in her article Haddad claimed that metaphors are used to enhance the "usual names" for God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but here she collapses everything into a metaphor.
Just as it is improper to take a metaphor and make it a proper name, it is also inappropriate to take a proper name and make it a metaphor. The revisionists, by accepting the concept of turning metaphors into titles, have, by virtue of their understanding of metaphor treated all language for God as equivalent to figures of speech. They confuse the fact that in some sense all language about God is figurative because of the limitations of human language. In other words, human language does not have the exact meaning when referring to God as when referring to humans. In this sense it is always figurative. Cooper notes:
Inclusivism holds that all terms for God are equally figures of speech or metaphors for God: God is Light and God is our Father are both metaphors. Thus inclusivism implicitly means two things when it asserts that all language for God is figurative or metaphorical. It means both that all terms for God are figures of speech or metaphors and that all language for God is figurative or metaphorical due to divine transcendence. Because they fail to appreciate the difference between these two meanings of figurative/metaphorical language, inclusivists overlook the fact that masculine divine names and titles, though figurative in the sense that all language for God is figurative, are not figures of speech.89
A Warning About Religious Feminism and its Departure From Biblical Authority
For religious feminists, the use of feminine language for God is necessary if the understanding of God is to be commensurate with their agenda. Because of their agenda, which involves, among other things, eliminating patriarchy and its attendant oppression of women in the church, these feminists have tried to find creative ways to let the Bible have some place in their revision of God. This leads to multiple views of how the Bible should be interpreted and how much authority, if any, it should have.90 For many, the Bible becomes an obstacle to be overcome or revised since it was written by men, interpreted by men, and, they claim, used by the church to subordinate women to men.
One of the more common feminist approaches to interpreting scripture is advocated by Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza. She argues for seeing the Bible through the lense of women's experience.91 This is also the case for Rosemary Ruether. She contends, "Whatever diminishes or denies the full humanity of women must be presumed not to reflect the divine or authentic relation to the divine, or to reflect the authentic nature of things, or to be the message or work of an authentic redeemer."92 Any texts that promote patriarchy or supposed sexism, under this system, should be thrown out and not used in Christian worship or teaching.93 This has led one author to conclude that, "feminists have handed us, without even a trace of a blush, not only a new ‘canon' but also specific directions regarding how it should be read. And this new canon is not a new authoritative guide for Christian faith and action but a tool for use in promoting the feminist agenda."94
While most of the evangelicals mentioned in this article have not embraced this method of achieving their purposes, the presence of Jann Adredge-Clanton's book on the CBE website and the revelations in her biography of her full embrace of Christ-Sophia worship, should give pause to all evangelicals concerned about the authority of scripture. Aldredge-Clanton's detailed stories about worshipping around a revised statue of Mary demonstrate a connection between a desire to make God appealing to women and the next step of a complete revision of biblical Christianity. Further, the willingness of evangelical feminists to refer to God as mother without any biblical precedent is another large step in the direction away from biblical authority. Once this occurs, the structure is removed that prohibits further biblical revisions. This is clearly what has happened in the lives of many religious feminists.
The Danger in Changing Biblical Language and Symbols
As mentioned earlier, the disdain for masculine imagery for God and the belief that it has caused the subordination of women to men has driven religious feminists to use new, feminine imagery to describe God. This is a fundamental strategy for religious feminists. At the heart of this strategy is the assertion that all symbols for God should continually be replaced. As Anne Carr has noted, "each symbol is partial, embedded in a cluster of symbols and a network of myths out of which its meaning arises … thus symbols for God, whether mother or father, king or servant, warrior God or God of slaves, intrinsically demand their own negation."95 She continues by noting about feminist theology that "its further task is to search out a doctrine of God which is related to the intellectual, practical and ethical concerns of the present situation of women and which suggests transformative or emancipative possibilities for the future."96 Indeed, Carr is emphatic that "the most important symbols to reinvent, because of their centrality to Christianity and the issue of maleness, are the doctrines of God."97
This is also true for Daphne Hampson. She contends that, "We need to conceive of God in such a way that we shall be girded into action … Father-language at least has too often served to make Christians think that all was right with the world because big Daddy God was in his heaven. This is not the religion we need in our world at the present time. We need rather one which empowers us."98
The efforts to rename God are numerous.99 Virginia Mollenkott, in her proposal to affirm feminine language for God, argues that the Bible depicts God as a woman giving birth, a mother nursing, a mother bear, a midwife, a mother hen, and a bakerwoman.100 She claims, "it is important to reclaim the biblical images of God as female to protect us from the idiocy that God is literally masculine."101 Sally McFague contends that one should use the language of "mother, lover, and friend."102 Hampson prefers "God-self"103 and Winters has settled on "mother."104 These efforts to neuter God or to reassign God's gender in order to make him accessible to all people, as will be seen in the next section, have consequences that will ultimately change the nature of the relationship between God and the world.105 Nothing less than the Christian view of God is at stake.
The Identification of God with the World
There is a danger in using mother-language for God because there is a strong possibility that it could lead wrongly to an identification of God with the world. Many religious feminists have already embraced this idea. Anna Case-Winters has adopted a process-feminist model that utilizes the principles of process theology. Winters' revision culminates in the presentation of a female image of God which is the image of God as mother.106 Her reason for doing this centers on the concept of mother and child-the life giving and world generating aspects of this key realm of motherhood.107 She has a particular understanding in mind and goes on to explain that,
a panentheism (the world in God) is being proposed with this image rather than a pantheism (which completely identifies the world and God) … While there is clear implication of dependence of the world upon the divine, it is not to be assumed that the divine is independent, in the traditional sense of separate from and unaffected by the world … In a very real sense, God's well-being depends upon the well-being of the world.108
Sallie McFague has developed a model based on the relational and personal characteristics of God as mother, lover, and friend. Since monarchical language, depicting God as king, ruler and patriarch, is oppressive and hierarchical, she advocates the cessation of referring to the world as a king's realm and proposes that the world be referred to as God's body.109 When she claims that God is mother and the world is part of the womb of God, she, by virtue of the birthing imagery, has set up a model that has construed the world as part of the divine nature.
Achtemeier has noted that, "if God is identified with his creation, we finally make ourselves gods and goddesses-the ultimate and primeval sin."110 She asserts that until human beings are clear on their place in the universe, they can never fully understand themselves and the Bible will never allow for any language that blurs the distinction between God and his creatures.111 Anything that identifies the creation with the creator must be rejected.
While the evangelicals mentioned in this article have not indicated this leap, it seems that there is a connection with the language used for God and the way in which he relates to his creation. The two religious feminists mentioned above are counting on it. It would appear from their examples that female language for God brings about a change in the relationship of God with the world. He is no longer Lord over the world, but a mother birthing it. He is no longer king over his realm, but the world is actually part of his (her?) body. It seems that the evangelicals who wish to simply add mother to the list of names for God in the Scriptures, have no way of preventing this kind of revision of the way in which God relates to the world. Once the authority of scripture is given up with regard to the name (mother), there is no authority to which they may appeal to argue against the natural revisions of the God-world relationship associated with feminine language. This potential identification of God with the world poses at least two significant problems.112
First, the Bible is clear about the otherness of God and demonstrates that before there was a creation God existed (John 1:1). It further points out that the world will pass away but God will not since the world and God are not one (Ps. 46:1-2, Is. 51:6, Mark 13:31). Of course, there is no better place to see this than Genesis 1 where it is certain that God is above, prior to, and separate from, His creation. Achtemeier asserts:
God, the biblical writers are saying, is in no way contained in or bound up with or dependent on or revealed through His creation. God creates the world outside of himself, by the instrument of his Word. Between God and his world stands the Word of God (cf. John 1:2), which always addresses the creation as an object of the divine speech (cf. Isa. 1:2; 40:22, 26; Mic 6:2 et al.) The world does not emanate out of the being of God or contain some part of him within it. He has not implanted divinity within any part of the creation, not even in human beings, and therefore no created thing or person can be claimed to be divine.113
Second, the language of father should not be understood apart from the act of creation and is an indicator of God's separateness from His creation. This can be seen in Deut. 32 as Moses extols the greatness of God when he asks about God, "Is he not your father, who created you, who made you and established you?" This is why Mankowski argues that, "YHWH's fatherhood is seen by the Old Testament as a pure and sovereign act of divine will, divorced from any external limitation or constraint."114 Mankowski goes on to say "YHWH' activity … is masculine because it is fatherly; it is fatherly because the initiative , the prerogative, and the motive power of creation are his and his alone."115 Therefore, the separateness of God from creation, contra the revisionists, is directly connected with the masculine understanding of God as father. Their departure from the biblical, masculine references to God has led to an understanding of God that is far from the God who is revealed in the Scriptures.116
Not only does the biblical record preclude an identification of God with the world, but the very identification of God as father is connected to his role as Creator who is other than his creation. Evangelical feminists should see this as a caution. Revising language used for God results in drastic changes in the doctrine of God. While the motives of evangelical feminists may not be to purposefully revise biblical Christianity (as in the case of the religious feminists) the results, tragically, are likely to be the same.
In 1979, Naomi Goldenberg argued that if women succeeded in changing the Christian tradition with regard to the roles of men and women, this major departure would radically alter Christianity by virtue of a complete revision of God.117
Her contention is that if and when feminists change the understanding of the roles women, Christianity will "be shaken at its roots."118 She says that in time, "sizable numbers of women ministers will graduate from Protestant seminaries and will take charge of parishes throughout the Western world. Liberal Catholics will eventually win their fight to have women ordained as priests" and that "there will be the recognition of large numbers of women as spiritual leaders."119 "Yet" she says, "very few of the women and men now working for sexual equality within Christianity and Judaism realize the extent of their heresy."120 But in her estimation, the truth remains that "The feminist movement in Western culture is engaged in the slow execution of Christ and Yahweh."121
Because evangelical feminists have not yet written extensively on the subject of calling God mother, much of this article has been a warning based on the path that has been followed by religious feminists. This may very well be a path that is unavoidable when the first step of language revision is taken.
It would appear that evangelical feminists have not thought through all of the inconsistencies and consequences of making what they would possibly consider minor changes. Most of the evangelicals in this article most likely have the best of motives and intentions. However, when they attempt to revise God-language, they involve themselves in a system that does not allow for indiscriminate picking and choosing. This system does not have minor revisions in mind, nor is it content to merely have equity in pulpits on Sunday mornings. The changes being proposed are significant, and as the evidence has hopefully shown, there is an entire theological system that follows the embrace of feminine God-language. This has the potential to revise the doctrine of God to the extent that it is unrecognizable to biblical Christianity, and as Goldenberg eerily predicted in 1979, "New gods are coming."122
1 I am more convinced than ever that there is a natural (although not requisite) connection between all of these issues. For an excellent presentation on the connection between egalitarianism and homosexuality, see the article by David Jones in this issue of JBMW.
2 The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) is an affiliation of churches that formed in opposition to the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Along with their rejection of the general direction of the SBC, this group has made their egalitarian view of men and women in the church and home a key doctrinal commitment. Baptist Women in Ministry is not a formal ministry of the CBF but does receive annual funding from the CBF.
3 The print in bold was read by the leader.
4 Shirley Erenna Murray, "I am Your Mother," in The Faith We Sing (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000) hymn number 2059. Although the final stanza references God as "our maker," the willingness to refer to God and the earth interchangeably as "our mother" is really what is at issue.
5 I will develop this further later in the article.
6 Travis Tritt, "God Must Be a Woman," from the Album, Strong Enough, written by Vernon Rust.
7 I use the phrase "mainline religious feminist" to refer to those feminists in mainline denominations who reject the verbal, plenary inspiration of scripture while opting to retain at least some minimal use of the Bible in their religious expression.
8 Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) is the counterpoint organization of CBMW. CBMW affirms that there is equality between men and women in the home and church but there is also a God-created and God-designed difference in role and function. CBE espouses the view that the equality of men and women dictates that there be no functional differences. They argue that role relationships between men and women that involve authority and submission based on gender are a result of the Fall in Genesis 3.
9 Anthony Campolo, Carpe Diem (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1994) 85.
11 Ibid. 86.
12 Ibid. 87.
13 See Bruce A. Ware, "Could Our Savior have Been a Woman: The Relevance of Jesus' Gender for His Incarnational Mission," Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 8:1 (Spring 2003) 31-38.
14 Richard and Katherine Kroeger, "Women Elders . . . Sinners or Servants?" (First Presbyterian Church, Pittman, NJ Accessed 20 September 2003); available from http://firstpresby.org/womenelders.htm#Unit1; Internet. Emphasis mine. Interaction with their argumentation will appear later in this article.
15 Mimi Haddad, "What Language Shall We Use: A Look at Inclusive Language for People, Feminine Images for God, and Gender-Accurate Bible Translations," (Christians For Biblical Equality Accessed 29 September 2003); available from http://www.cbeinternational.org/new/free_articles/what_language_shall_we_use.htm; Internet.
16 Ibid. 2.
17 Ibid. 4. Emphasis in original.
18 I hope to show in other places in this article that this is a very real danger.
19 CBE has a disclaimer on their site regarding the contents of the store. It says, "This bookstore is a branch of Christians for Biblical Equality's ministry. For this reason, its purpose can be found in CBE's Core Purpose: ‘To broadly communicate the biblical truth that men and women are equally responsible to use their God-given gifts to further Christ's kingdom.'" It goes on to give a summary of the evaluation process: "Resource Criteria: Each resource we carry has first been evaluated by our team of reviewers to ensure that it furthers CBE's mission and vision. Each resource is chosen on its own merit. (CBE does not necessarily endorse an author's entire body of work.) If you would like to see the criteria our reviewers use, please read our evaluation criteria for CBE resources." See, http://www.cbeinternational.org/new/bookstore.htm (Christians for Biblical Equality Accessed 2 October 2003); Internet. Issue-oriented organizations like CBMW or CBE of course do not endorse the entire body of work of any author, even those formally associated with their organizations. However, this disclaimer does not seem to distance CBE enough from the individuals that will be mentioned in this section of the article.
20 Jann Aldredge-Clanton, God, A Word for Girls and Boys (Louisville, KY: Glad River Productions, 1993).
21 Paul R. Smith, Is It Okay to Call God "Mother" Considering the Feminine Face of God (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993).
22 Aldredge-Clanton, God, A Word for Girls and Boys 14.
23 Ibid. 9.
24 Ibid. 11.
25 Ibid. 13.
26 Ibid. 19-20.
27 Ibid. 23.
28 Ibid. 55.
29 Ibid. 55. For other places where prayers to mother God or mother and father God are listed, see pages 98, 121, 129.
30 Ibid. 141.
31 Ibid. 153.
32 Jann Aldredge-Clanton, Breaking Free: The Story of a Feminist Baptist Minister (Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 2002).
33 Jann Aldredge-Clanton, In Search of the Christ-Sophia: An Inclusive Christology for Liberating Christians (Mystic, CT: Twenty Third Publications, 1995).
34. Jann Aldredge-Clanton, Praying With Christ-Sophia: Services for Healing and Renewal (Mystic, CT: Twenty Third Publications, 1996). Neither of these two books is included in the CBE webstore. The point I am trying to make here is that there is a danger that those reading the book that is in the webstore will look for other works by Aldredge-Clanton. Also of concern is Aldredge-Clanton's general direction and the implicit endorsement of CBE by carrying her products. CBMW would never carry the product of an author, no matter how eloquently he may present the complementarian position, if in their personal life, he was a polygamist, homosexual, or had some other lifestyle that was antithetical to the mission and vision of CBMW.
35 Jann Aldredge-Clanton, Breaking Free 224.
36 Ibid. 231. Emphasis mine
37 Ibid. 243.
38 Ibid. 278.
39 There are many problems presented by Aldredge-Clanton's Christ-Sophia worship but they will not be dealt with in this article.
40 Paul R. Smith 13. The key here is that he is connecting equity of women in ministry with equity in God-language.
41 Ibid. 24.
42 Ibid. 44.
43 He gets this term from Phyllis Trible. By this term he means the types of texts (all in the OT) that portray a woman being gang-raped as less significant that a man being sexually abused, the fact that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and his understanding of Exodus 20:17 that teaches that women were considered property along with a man's house, slaves, and donkeys.
45 Paul R. Smith 44.
46 Ibid. 49.
48 I want to be clear that I am not claiming that CBE is endorsing homosexuality or that they are endorsing the homosexual writings of Paul Smith. None of the homosexual publications of Paul Smith appear on the CBE website. However, the willingness of CBE to promote the works of an openly homosexual pastor is very troubling to me.
49 Don Hinkle, "Jewell's Apparent Flirtation with Homosexuality," (The Pathway, Missouri Baptist Convention Accessed 20 September 2003); available from http://www.mbcpathway.com/text%20Files/Jewell'sApparentFlirtationWith Homosexuality.doc; Internet.
52 Broadway Baptist Church, (Accessed 30 September 2003); available at http://www.broadwaychurch-kc.org; Internet. Emphasis mine.
53 Paul Smith, "Four Theological Positions About Homosexuality," in Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (Charlotte: Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, 2000) 77.
54 Paul Smith, "The Bible and Homosexuality: Affirming all Sexual Orientations as Gifts from God," in Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (Charlotte: Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, 2000) 37-53.
55 Ibid. 37. I again refer you to the article in this issue of JBMW by Dave Jones, to see how others also make the connection between egalitarianism and homosexuality.
56 Ibid. 39.
57 Smith's attempts at biblical argumentation are not the immediate concern of this article. One particularly troubling example, however is his understanding of the healing of the centurion's servant: "The story of Jesus healing the centurion's ‘slave' is one of the many stories that shows Jesus' mercy and justice at work. The slave is referred to as the centurion's ‘boy' (Luke 7:7) and one who was ‘dear to him' (7:2). ‘Boy' was the common term for the homosexual lover that Roman soldiers often lived with. Jesus would have certainly been quite aware of this as he praised this soldier and exclaimed , ‘Not even in Israel have I found such faith,' and then healed the soldier's gay lover!" (Exclamation his)
58 Ibid. 50. Exclamation his.
59 Ibid. 51.
60 Ibid. 52. Exclamation his.
61 In my estimation, this is a very real and crucial connection. Religious feminism and its expression in the mainline denominations should be seen as a warning that when one gives up the biblical position on the basic roles between men and women in the home and the church, there is usually an entire (though gradual) theological shift that in many cases ends up with a religious system that bears almost no resemblance to biblical Christianity. This is dealt with minimally in the critique section of this article.
62 Some of the available material was not extensive enough to ascertain the presuppositions of every author. It is my hope that evangelicals associated with CBE, or otherwise, will go ahead and write more on this subject so that we all can see clearly just exactly what they intend to do with their plan to rename God.
63 Haddad 4.
64 Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973) 13.
65 Ibid., 18. Note Daly's connection between the use of father language for God and a particular way that he relates to His creation. Many religious feminists have already realized that changing the name of God will necessitate a change in the way we understand his relationship to his creation.
66 Carol Christ, "New Feminist Theology," Religious Studies Review 3 (October 1977) 211.
67 Rosemary Radford Ruether, New Woman New Earth (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995) 65.
68 Anna Case-Winters, God's Power: Traditional Understandings and Contemporary Challenges (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990) 19.
70 Sally McFague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987) ix.
71 Daphne Hampson, "The Challenge of Feminism to Christianity," Theology 90 (May 1987) 47.
72 Peter Byrne, "Omnipotence, Feminism, and God," International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 37 (1995) 149.
73 Ibid. 150.
74 Garrett Green, "The Gender of God and Metaphorical Theology," in Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism, ed. Alvin Kimel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) 52.
76 The evangelicals in this article have not adopted anything formal with regard to metaphorical theology, but this is partially my point. I do not believe that they have thought through their position with any clear structure in mind.
77 John Cooper, Our Father in Heaven: Christian Faith and Inclusive Language for God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 89. See Num. 11:12; Deut. 32:18; Job 38:8, 29; Ps. 90:2; 123:2; 131:2; Prov. 8:1, 22-25; Is. 31:5; 42:14; 45:10; 49:15; 66:13; Hos. 13:8; Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34; 15:8-10; John 3:3-8; 1 Pet. 2:2-3; Ruth 2:12; Ps. 17:8; 91:14; 22:9-10; Is. 46:3; 66:9-7. Some of these are clear and for others only a semi-reasonable argument can be posited. This list is meant to display the most generosity and to show that even when generous this list is very small.
78 For an explanation of these see Cooper, Our Father in Heaven 65-91. See also Roland Frye, "Language for God and Feminist Language: Problems and Principles," Scottish Journal of Theology 41 (1988) 36-43.
79 Cooper, Our Father in Heaven 89.
81 Haddad depends on Carol Walker Bynum to present some in the historical church who discuss Christ using various kinds of maternal imagery. A more thorough critique of these references will have to be given in another place. However, even Bynum notes, "In general the Greek fathers, particularly those influenced by Gnosticism, seem to have been more at home with maternal metaphors." See Carol Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother (Berkley: University of California Press, 1982) 126. The appeal to these early church teachers also raises the question of theological method in this whole discussion. How much authority is Haddad willing to give to tradition? The fact that there are only a handful of references in the first place demonstrates very shaky ground.
82 For others who do this see, Aida Besancon Spencer, "Father-Ruler: The Meaning of the Metaphor ‘Father' for God in the Bible," The Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society 39 (1996) 433-42; and Ruth C. Duck, "Praising the Triune God: Beyond Gender?" Christian Century 110 (1993) 553-56.
83 Cooper has identified that the name of God could only mean: 1) a proper name in distinction from all other references, including titles, 2) a proper designation whether name, title, or epithet; 3) a general noun, appellative, or description designating who or what God is; and 4) any verbal reference to God. See p. 122.
84 Haddad 1.
85 An appellative is a general noun designating who or what God is. Words like shepherd or warrior are common nouns for human position or vocation that are predicated of God.
86 Cooper 123.
87 Ibid. 124.
88 Haddad 4. I would of course agree that God is not a "biological father" in the sense that He has a body or created man in some sexual manner. This does not eliminate the idea that father is a name for God, not a metaphor.
89 Cooper. 178.
90 See, Letty M. Rusell, ed., Feminist Interpretations of the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985); Letty M. Russell, Household of Freedom: Authority in Feminist Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1987); Mary Ann Tolbert, ed., The Bible and Feminist Hermeneutics (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983); Adel Yarbrough Collins, ed., Feminist Perspectives on Biblical Scholarship (Chico, CA: Scholar's Press, 1983); Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, "Feminist Perspectives on Bible and Theology: An Introduction to Selected Issues and Literature," Interpretation 42 (1988) 5-18.
91 Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Bread Not Stone: The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984) vii.
92 Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Feminist Interpretation: A Method of Correlation," in Feminist Interpretation of the Bible 115.
93 Fiorenza, Bread Not Stone 18.
94 Leslie Zeigler, "Christianity or Feminism?" in Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism, ed. Alvin Kimel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) 322. Several Evangelical authors have critiqued various types of feminist hermeneutics. See Jack Cottrell, Gender Roles and the Bible; Paul W. Felix, Sr., "The Hermeneutics of Evangelical Feminism," in The Master's Perspective on Contemporary Issues, Robert Thomas, ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998) 129-55; Andreas Kostenberger, "Gender Passages in the NT: Hermeneutical Fallacies Critiqued," Westminster Theological Journal 56 (1994) 259-83; David S. Dockery, "The Role of Women in Worship and Ministry: Some Hermeneutical Questions," Criswell Theological Review 1:2 (1987) 363-86.
95 Anne Carr, "Is Christian Feminist Theology Possible?" Theological Studies 43 (June 1982) 293.
97 Ibid. 291.
98 Hampson, "The Challenge of Feminism to Christianity," 347. Her concept of empowerment will be addressed in a later section.
99 Aside from the efforts of feminists in their specific works, see An Inclusive Language Lectionary, prepared by a committee appointed by the National Council of Churches (Atlanta: John Knox, 1983); The Inclusive New Testament (Hyattsville, MD: Priests for Equality, 1994); The New Testament of the Inclusive Language Bible (Notre Dame: Cross Cultural, 1994); and The New Century Hymnal (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 1995). Each of these publications either neuters the language for God or specifically uses feminine language.
100 Virginia Mollenkott, The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing, 1983). She lists several other images as well.
101 Ibid. 13. Neither would I assert that God is literally masculine in the sense that He is male or is somehow a sexual being. However, there is something about the consistent way in which God is referred to with masculine names and pronouns that reflects something ontologically about Him.
102 McFague, Models of God 87.
103 Daphne Hampson, Theology and Feminism (Basil: Blackwell, 1990) 172.
104 Winters, God's Power 220. See also, Rita Gross, "Female God Language in a Jewish Context" in Womanspring Rising, Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow, eds. (New York: Harper & Row, 1979) 173, who advocates using "God-she," and Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983) 211, who proposes "God/ess," and Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: Readings for a Year (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1986) 88 who uses "Sophia-God."
105 Some have suggested that this is similar to the work of the reformers in the sixteenth century. See Marjorie Suchoki, "The Unmale God: Reconsidering the Trinity," Quarterly Review 3 (1983) 48.
106 Anna Case-Winters, "What Do We Mean When We Affirm That God is All-Powerful?" Encounter 57:3 (Summer 1996) 220. The motivation for Winters' proposal centers on her contention that the classic doctrine of the omnipotence of God is deficient especially when trying to address issues of theodicy. She is reacting to the inability of the classic model to deal with the often-asked question, "If God is all powerful, why is there evil?" See God's Power 17-35.
107 Ibid. Winters credits Sally McFague with this idea of God as mother. McFague was one of Winters' committee members for her Ph. D. supervision at Vanderbilt University. McFague develops her concept of God as mother from an ecological standpoint. To be fair, Winters notes some problems with the image of God as mother. First this image may produce and excessive sense of sentimentality or romanticism. Second, it may falsely communicate that God unconsciously provides for the world in the same way a woman unconsciously provides for the child in her womb. Third, it may miscommunicate an excessive emphasis on the reproductive role of women. See pp. 222-23.
108 Ibid. 221, 225.
109 Sallie McFague, "The World as God's Body," The Christian Century 671.
110 Elizabeth Achtemeier, "Exchanging God for ‘No Gods:' A Discussion of Female Language for God," in Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism, ed. Alvin Kimel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) 9. She interacts with the biblical text and also shows how this will not work internally because it ultimately leads to meaninglessness. She is sympathetic with the feminist movement in general and believes that the prohibition against ordaining women in ministry is oppressive and constitutes an abuse of the biblical text.
111 Ibid. Others have noted the problems with the identification of God with the world as seen in the process model of God. They deal with this by critiquing the panentheism of process thought. Many of the same problems are present in the feminist models presented her in this paper in as much as they are appealing to some sort of panentheism. See, F. Duane Lindsey, "An Evangelical Overview of Process Theology," Bibliotheca Sacra 134 (January-March 1977) 28-31; Carl F. H. Henry, "The Reality and Identity of God," Christianity Today (March 28, 1969) 12-16; and Ronald Nash, ed., Process Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987).
112 In spite of my strong belief that there seems to be a requisite connection between referring to God as mother and advocating some sort of panentheistic view of the God-world relationship, I am willing to say "potential identification" with the hope that evangelical feminists will clarify their view and its perceived implications in print so that these issues can be debated.
113 Ibid. 10.
114 Paul Mankowski, "The Gender of Israel's God," in This is My Name Forever: The Trinity & Gender Language for God, ed. Alvin Kimel (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001) 40.
115 Ibid., 41. Stephen T. Franklin also agrees that the transcendence of God is centered on the doctrine of God the creator. He is critiquing the process view of the identification of God with the world in, "Process Thought From an Evangelical Perspective: An Appreciation and Critique," Christian Scholar's Review 28 (1998) 85-87.
116 See Ronald Nash, "Process Theology and Classical Theism," in Process Theology, ed. Ronald Nash, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987) 27. He says, "A being who is not essentially omnipotent or omniscient, who is not the sovereign and independent Creator, is neither worthy to receive our worship nor to bear the title, ‘God.'"
117 Naomi R. Goldenberg, Changing of the Gods: Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions (Boston: Beacon Press, 1979) 7.
118 Ibid. 5.
119 Ibid. 7.
120 Ibid. 4.
122 Ibid. 8.