Our Voices: “Speaking ‘He’”

This summer, I’ll be sharing a series of short personal stories from the Our Voices, Our Stories booklet published by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Justice for Women program.  It is available in full on the program’s website, and is described thus:

“Rooted in the gospel, truth-telling is a part of all social change, no less so when confronting patriarchy and sexism.  This booklet of true stories, written by a variety of people across the ELCA, serves to encourage listening and dialogue about tough realities surrounding gender.”

 Here is this week’s story, part of a piece contributed by an author who chose to remain anonymous:

This year we did a joint Bible school program with another Lutheran church …. It was great fun. Each day there was a theme, a Bible verse, and a song that the children learned and repeated over and over again. One day the theme was “God does what he says he will do.” The leader always and only referred to God as “he.”  The songs all referred to God as “he” and so the children constantly repeated, talked about, and sang about a God who is “he.”

As I sat there with the kids, I wondered—Am I the only one who notices this? Does this bother anyone else?

How many biblical images of God are there?  What about the deeply theological work behind expansive language for God?  We were indoctrinating children into an exclusively male image of God and it didn’t seem like anyone noticed or cared! And I did nothing about it! I didn’t know what to do.

I was afraid of any reaction I would get if I tried to change anything. People would think I was simply over-reacting or crazy. What is my problem?! So I did nothing, knowing full well that using exclusively male images of God perpetuates a sexist view of girls and women. A case in point: It is perfectly acceptable to refer to God as “he,” but if we referred to God as “she” there would be a huge uproar, even though male and female are created in God’s image. The fun and excitement of being with and teaching children about the love of God was overshadowed for me by this long, tiring journey of dealing with sexism. Maybe that is why I was so exhausted this year after Bible school.

The invitation stands to allow these stories to spark conversation and more truth-telling:

“It is the hope of the Justice for Women program that you will be able to use these stories to educate yourself and others—and to add to them.  Only by naming and looking at the problems of sexism and patriarchy are we in a place to begin to understand them.”

For more stories and the full booklet, stay tuned to this blog, or click here.

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


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