Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thinking about the Gender of God at Synod Assembly

Maybe it was because I spent the week writing this Living Lutheran post on Biblical matriarchs and the female face of God.  Maybe it was because I had just gotten back from the Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge.  Maybe it was because I've been sleep deprived.  Whatever the case, I found myself seriously crabby at the decidedly non-gender-neutral God language at the Florida-Bahamas Synod Assembly.

Go ahead, roll your eyes now.  I'll wait.  I used to be the same way.  Before some of my best friends in college sensitized me, I would have wondered what the big deal was.  Then the scales fell off my eyes, and I was insufferable for a few years.  Through the years, many of our liturgies changed, and our hymns changed, and I could be in church without that feeling of being under constant assault from the male bias.  We changed our language when we talked about humanity, and many of us made similar changes when we talked about God.

No longer do many of us refer to God as a father.  Some of us have expanded our language to talk about God as mother along with God as father.  Some of us, realizing how many of us have damaged relationships with our parents, have gotten rid of parental images altogether.  We talk about God the Creator when we talk about that aspect of the triune God.  We try to not use pronouns when we refer to God, even if it sounds awkward and repetitive to use the word "God" so much.

Some of us have not gotten the gender-neutral message.  At Synod Assembly, it was like we'd fallen through a hole in time, back to 1962 or so.  God was clearly male during Synod Assembly:  lots of references to God the Father.  I have a good relationship with my dad, and have been blessed to have had one through most years of my life.  But when you say God the Father, my brain fills in with a picture of a patriarch, like the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, only with a long beard and a stern frown, like those pictures of fiery abolitionists.  I bet I'm not the only one.

We recognized various pastors for years of service.  I know that we've only been ordaining women for almost 40 years, but the absence of women being recognized grated at me.  Would it have grated at me if I hadn't already been chafing at the male God talk?  Probably.

I know that we've made great strides.  I know that in terms of graduate degrees, we're almost at the point where more of them go to females than males.  I know that it takes time for those changes to filter through, and that's why I'm still not seeing many females at the upper levels of power.  I've been patient for many decades now.  But it bugs me.

I looked out across the Assembly and I noticed how, based on Synod Assembly, we're not a very diverse group.  I know that the Assembly skews older and whiter for a variety of reasons, chief among them because we met over a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, which meant that many working age people couldn't come.  I'm lucky to have some vacation days that I have to use before June 30; if I didn't have them, I couldn't have come either.  There's a reason why retirees are overrepresented at Assembly, and it's not simply because Florida is retiree-land.  Those are the people who have time to participate. 

I know that the Assembly doesn't represent my home church, which is very diverse in terms of race and class and gender and sexual preference.  That's important to me.  I wish that diversity found its way to Assembly, both on the Synod and National level.

It would be interesting to attend the national gathering, Churchwide Assembly, to see if gender-neutral language has made inroads.  Surely we don't have so many appearances of God the Father at Churchwide, do we?

My fear is that we're sliding backwards, and I've written about this issue before (go here).  There are many reasons why we don't have as many female pastors as male pastors, and one of those reasons has to do with our patriarchal language.  Having a god who is so clearly male and never, ever female gives a clear message to us.  That message may be subliminal, but we do perceive it.  It's the reason why we lose so many talented females to other professions.  It's the reason why many females leave church and never come back--many churches are not female-friendly places. 

The exodus of women from churches, both at the local and leadership levels, is reason enough to pay attention to our language and to continue to strive to be ever more inclusive.  We're not there yet.  The job is not yet done.

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