Femsculine Christianity

Michael Hidalgo, at Denver Community Church, posts about what he calls “femsculine” Christianity.

All people, regardless of gender, have an equal place at God’s table. This demands that everyone be given an equal voice. When we only hear from the voice of men or the voice of women we only see one side of God. This is why any claim that Christianity is either masculine or feminine falls short. Neither by itself paints a complete picture of God.

When we are able to hear from both men and women equally we gain a perspective of God that is far more complete. We can have confidence in this, for as it turns out, God is not only a masculine father, but also a feminine mother. This is something that I have found to be deeply comforting.

Several years ago my family and I were playing in a park. My son, who has a nut allergy, took a bite of a friend’s cookie and ingested a walnut. We gave him some medication immediately and within minutes he started to feel better.

For almost an hour my wife and him sat on a bench in the park. She held him, and he snuggled close to her. At one point I asked if he was feeling okay. My wife smiled and said with deep love and compassion, “He’s fine. Sometimes little boys just need their Mommy to hold them.” In that moment I saw, in my wife’s mothering, affectionate embrace of my son, a beautiful picture of God. It’s a picture that we see throughout Scripture.

God is frequently spoken of as a loving mother, and God speaks of nursing her children at her breast, and giving birth to her people. This is why St. Clement of Alexandria wrote, “In His ineffable essence God is Father; in His compassion to us He became Mother.” (These references can be found in Numbers 11, Isaiah 42, 46, 49, 66, Jeremiah 31 … to name a few).

When we allow ourselves to consider this side of God we gain a clearer and more beautiful picture of God. He is for all of us father and mother – masculine and feminine. When the voice of our sisters is heard, we have the can finally learn about the feminine side of God that has been silenced for too long. Through this, we will gain a more beautiful and complete picture of God.

As we learn more about God, we can live out a Christianity that is both uncompromisingly feminine and genuinely masculine. In the end, we will all find our differences and sameness, rooted in God.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.emergingmummy.com Sarah@EmergingMummy

    Truly beautiful.

  • http://childreninthemarketplace.wordpress.com Pete Garcia

    I was just musing on another blog whether I thought that my use of “God” instead of gendered pronouns avoids the problem of our masculine God-talk by not embracing the feminine and masculine simultaneously.

    This is beautiful.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I don’t remember where, but I was reading about a man who was going through a difficult time (I can identify with that) and he was praying. In his prayers he was not asking god to make all of his problems go away, instead he was praying how great god was and praying for the poor etc.

    The wife asked him if he thought that any father would want his kids to not ask him to make them better if they were hurting. I would call this mothering. And it has given me a new way to pray, to ask for Mothering, to ask for comfort.

  • http://sarahoverthemoon.com Sarah Moon

    I love passages where God is described as a mother. I’ve been trying to watch the gender pronouns that I use to describe God and to find ways to view God as both male and female. It’s tough because I’ve been so conditioned to see God as a bearded old man.

  • http://Whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog Andrew Wilson

    Excellent. This is the sort of picture complementarians and egalitarians should be able to agree on! The Is 49 passage is particularly important here, methinks.

  • http://www.southmoon.me Gary Cleveland

    I have often been asked to preach or teach about the appointment of shepherds/elders from the texts of 1 Timothy and Titus. I always point out the inclusion in both lists that the shepherd is described as married. I’ll be the first to observe that these lists are not all-inclusive and unfortunately become a tool to further marginalize….but my observation is this….Paul includes the idea of a married man in both these lists. My further observation is that a shepherd (if indeed a male) cannot possibly view the church with as much discernment if he does not have the trusted viewpoint from a female perspective. In other words, a church elder without a trusted female perspective is not going to be in a position to provide effective shepherd’s care unless he has a wife, who can help him see through her eyes, what is going on around the flock……male and female sheep alike.

    Oh, and another thing….Paul was also fond of the term “bride” to describe the church. A very female metaphor indeed. And who better understands a female (bride) better than another female? Bottom line for me is this. If we are attempting to lead, serve, and minister in our churches without male and female inclusiveness, we are destined to mediocrity.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    This is a good piece not because everyone gets equal time and/or equal seats around the postmodern table. This is a good piece because we see the divine feminine within scripture as well as the divine masculine. Overall, God is Spirit and trancends our gender issues.

  • http://p31community.blogspot.com Jenny

    I think this is great and certainly I think we do well to let God mother us. I just think we need to be careful that we don’t make the mistake of rectifying ‘masculine’ Christianity by ascribing two genders to God. God is not masculine and feminine. He is above gender.
    My understanding is that God chooses to reveal himself in this way in Scripture because these are symbols and metaphors we understand.
    It is also interesting to note the range of metaphors in the Bible that use female images. Not all of them portray a nurturing and caring God. (For example, God is described as a mother bear robed of her cubs, and Luke has many parables that use stories of women); and I would add many of the male metaphors used to describe God are nurturing.
    It is my belief that the Bible beautifully affirms the diversity of male and female experience while simultaneously challenging stereotypes.

  • AJ

    6-Gary,

    I totally agree. But what about the all-male elder boards who are instructed by the senior pastor to NOT keep their wives informed or ask their opinions about issues in the church? Apparently these people do not think that the instruction to have married elders has anything to do with seeking their wives’ perspectives.

  • Wyatt

    # 6 and 9,

    Complete agreement. I was a member of all male elder boards more than once and in every cse I was instructed not to speak with my wife or consult her.

    I thought, what a crock. Also just to confirm for all of you my highly skeptical view of church leadership, male and/or female, those guys on those elder boards, every one of them lied about this. I got in a lot of trouble for telling one group that I spoke with my wife contrary to what I was instructed.

    Just to show you how loving and understanding these people were about that revelation, they fired my wife from her church position and made it very difficult for me to remain on the elder board from which I joyfully resigned.

    Try this at your own risk just to see how your church leadership will react. Don’t be surprised when the gallows are erected.

  • http://gcjeffers.wordpress.com Greg Jeffers

    What should we do about our pronouns? I see that the author of this retains the masculine “he” when speaking of God. Should we talk about God equally as “she” and “he”? I fear that if we don’t then, now matter how much we prize female metaphors for God, we still end up believing that God is more masculine than feminine. What about praying to “our heavenly mother”?

  • Rick in IL

    I was very young – perhaps 7th grade – a long time ago – when I came up with what seemed to me a good analogy. I’d been doing pottery, and some clay was red, some clay was more of a cream color. And I imagined pots sitting on a shelf arguing about whether the potter was of red or cream colored clay. It’s a silly question, I thought, attributing clayish, pottery terms to the potter. The potter is neither red nor cream, nor even clay, but he made all. More than 40 years on, it still strikes me as a helpful analogy.

  • http://nomoreashes.net Linda

    Thank you for sharing that insight, Rick. I believe I will remember and use it. Young as you were, God gave you great insight.

  • Deb Meyer

    After reading Pastor Michael’s post I explored the church’s website. They have done a very thorough job of working through the topic of women in leadership and have posted the document on their site. It’s a great example of how a church might go about searching the scriptures and prayerfully seeking God’s leading for the sake of the gospel. I’m a pastor in north Denver and follow Pastor Michael on Twitter. I look forward to joining them in worship sometime soon. Thanks for sharing this, Scott!

  • Larry S

    I think Rick’s analogy (#12) is useful.

    God is spirit = therefore has no gender. God is Other.
    To attribute either maleness/femaleness to God is to make a category error. I seem to remember from a lecture I heard somewhere that to speak of God as ‘person’ is using a metaphor. Biblical descriptors of God are anthropomorphic to help our human pea brains try to get some notion of who God is.

    It seems we are prone to project our concepts of personhood/gender onto God.

  • http://bodytheologyblog.wordpress.com Laura Cavanaugh

    @ #11, Greg, I’ve struggled with the issue of pronouns myself and finally came to the conclusion to avoid them when possible and when not possible to use them wisely and mindfully. (I wrote a little about my journey on my blog at http://bodytheologyblog.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/gender-inclusive-language-gender-inclusive-god-part-4/.) Have you tried praying to “our heavenly mother?” What was your experience like? – Laura

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    ouch, Larry #15. The best way I’ve heard it explained, & in line w/ what Michael Hidalgo has written, is that God’s image is gendered in creation. If we abstract too far into spirit as away from gender, I think we miss the beauty of God reflected and imaged through the people around us, albeit still partially & imperfectly.

    Thank you for the post, Scot. I think it’s very helpful.

  • Tom

    It seems, at least in prayer, Jesus could not have been more clear: “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven…’” I’m just curious as to why we would not pray as Jesus taught us?

    Do we know if Jesus ever referred to God as “Mother”? It’s a genuine question, I’m not a biblical scholar, I’m open to ideas here.

    It seems “Father” was how he almost always referred to God. So we should probably have compelling reasons before we decide to not simply follow his lead. Did he speak this way because of the culture he was born into? Perhaps, but then I wonder if that too was part of the “fullness of time” that Galatians 4:4 refers to: “4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son,…”

    A final thought…I think the statement “When we only hear from the voice of men or the voice of women we only see one side of God” needs some re-thinking. For me, Genesis 1:27 speaks of the full image of God in both female and male:
    So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.
    So that whether it is the voice of men or the voice of women, either of them can give us the full (both sides) image of God, not a partial image.

  • Ana Mullan

    I found this entry so wonderful, so uptlifting. At the end of reading it made me realize that no human comparison can fully define God, there are no words or metaphors that can explain all that God is, because to us He is still a mystery, a mystery cannot be mastered or fully comprehend, and that makes us want to go deeper with Him. Thank you for posting it, after so many other thought going around talking about God masculinity, this is a far more helpful comment.

  • http://gcjeffers.wordpress.com Greg Jeffers

    @ #16, Laura

    Thanks for the blog post. No, I’ve never prayed to God as a mother. I think I should. I think it would be edifying. I’ve intellectually prepared myself too, but when it comes to doing so, it seems like a line is being crossed. I know this has to do with comfort and social mores, but it’s difficult to break inherited taboos.

    @ #18, Tom

    By that logic, the ONLY prayer we could pray would be the Pater Noster. Jesus didn’t model the vast majority of the prayers we pray. Does that mean we can’t pray them?

    My point was that “father” is a metaphor just like “mother.” Yet, we feel comfortable directly addressing God by the father metaphor and not the mother metaphor, probably because we believe that God actually IS father while he is only LIKE mother. Ok, let’s maybe not use “heavenly mother.” Instead, perhaps we can address God as the great “nursing mother.”

  • Elaine

    Well said, Ana Mullan @19.

  • Tom

    @ #20 Greg

    Jesus didn’t say pray “only” this, he said, this is “how” you should pray. From that it doesn’t seem too far fetched, at least to me, so sense that he prefers that we pray to our “Father” in heaven. Several of Jesus’ prayers are recorded for us and they always use “Father”, except the one on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I agree Father is a metaphor, but it is one that God himself revealed to us through Scripture, and the one that Jesus himself chose to use…seems wise to follow his lead.

    Have you read “The Shack”? In that book the first person of the trinity is a black woman. People found many theological issues to argue about in the book, but I found it useful in that it provided a good chance to stretch your mind on these gender (and race) issues that get entrenched in our minds.

  • P.

    Tom – the way I’ve always seen it is that Jesus was acting in a culture where women had very little value. Even though Jesus lifted up women, it would have been unacceptable to his audience to say “Mother” in regards to God. Yes, he rocked the boat many time, but on this issue, I think he would have ruined his credibility. He had to pick and choose his battles.

  • Sue

    #10, I say this with compassion but also some urgency: why would you go to a church that behaved like that? It is not the only choice. I have become impatient with the churches that will continue to abuse their people this way, particularly when it comes to gender, but there are other authoritarian ways in which by their behavior they deny the gospel. It is ok – actually, better than ok, preferable – to move on and become part of a congregation that better reflects the glory of God, it seems to me.


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