That seems like a simple enough statement to make.
Yet, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and many other self-professed moderate and progressive Christians say that they support women in ministry but persist is using only masculine language for God. As long as God is viewed male, the stated desire that many have to support and promote women in ministry can never be more than lip-service.
There is no question that patriarchal, gender-based views of God flow directly into individuals, churches, and organizations equating men with God and women with something less than God. That is, our conceptions of God inform our conceptions of God’s (rightful) representatives. Thus, continuing to equate God with one gender over another necessitates that our views of God’s proper representatives be equated with one gender over another.
For some reason, though, people understand what a metaphor is until it comes to language about God. For many, God as male is no longer a metaphor but a statement of fact. The text of the Bible, though, uses numerous metaphors when referring to God.
- Rock (Psalm 18:2): The text does not mean to say that God is actually a mineral
- Moth; Rottenness (Hosea 5:12): God is not a small winged insect that flies toward light, nor is God decomposing
- King (Psalm 10:16): The text does not mean to imply that God is literally ruling a county, but instead that God is in control
- Father (Luke 11:2): God is not ontologically male, nor is God ontologically female, though God as mother is another metaphor used (Hosea 11)
Hopefully you get the idea. All of this language is metaphorical language and is never meant to speak ontological truths about God.
We will never see God’s people completely support women in ministry as long as we allow maleness to be tethered to our understandings of God. God as father is meant to help us understand some characteristics of God through that with which we are familiar just as God as mother, God as rock, God as a moth, God as dry rot, and God as spirit are meant to; it is not meant to be our only understanding of God. No one metaphor should be put on a pedestal as “right,” for it is all symbolic language making attempts to explain, describe, and define a God that we have not seen, do not understand, and cannot grasp.
So, if the CBF is serious about promoting women in ministry and, in a broader sense, the priesthood of all believers, then they must cease using gender-specific pronouns to refer to God. Yet, the usage persists. I heard it countless times this past week at the General Assembly and countless times this morning in my church. There is no adequate excuse for maintaining our use of this type of language if we truly believe, generally, in the equality of all people and, specifically, in the equality of men and women.
To say that we are use masculine language for God only because the Bible does it is a cop-out. By now we should all be painfully aware of the grave patriarchy of the various societies from which the various texts of the Bible have come and we are all smart enough to know that since God does not have a penis then it is wholly unacceptable to speak of God as He, Him, etc. Using this language only works to preserve a patriarchal world-view.
To say that we do it out of habit is even worse. We know the harm that a God-is-male view has caused men and women all around the world and still refuse to be intentional about not perpetuating this harmful view. We know better and we can do better. Our casual and lazy use of this metaphor exclusively offers, at its best, tacit acceptance of the view that men are better or more accurate representatives for God and an outright denial of the equality of the people of God at its worst.
I am not advocating simply substituting She for He or Her for Him, when referencing God; rather I am hoping for a day when God is in our minds, as I believe God is in reality, gender-less. We necessarily speak of God in metaphors, but we can and should add variety to our metaphors so that no one metaphor becomes idolized in our churches and by our fellow Christians and then used to discriminate against anyone else.
We know better and we can do better.