Must God be a He-Man?

“Christians go crazy if you in any way suggest that God isn’t a man,” said the first big-deal person in Christian publishing to read the manuscript of my book, I’m OK–You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop. He was advising me to cut the passage below from that book’s introduction.

“Really?” I said. “But no one thinks God actually has an a gender, right? Nobody’s that dense.”

“Trust me on this,” he said. “The average Christian reader cannot tolerate anything but God being male. And it’ll never get past the bluehairs.”

“The who?”

“The bluehairs. The old women who decide what does and doesn’t get sold in Christian bookstores. Every chain of Christian bookstores has these old lady readers who vet each book they carry for Christian-appropriate content. The bluehairs. They’re the gate-keepers of the business. If they find something in a book they object to, that book dies in the world of Christian publishing.”

Oh. I had no idea. And here I thought what most mattered in a book were things like quality of thought and deftness of  expression.

Pffft. Could I have been stupider?

Eventually I acquiesced (since it was either that or don’t publish the book, if you can believe the inanity), and cut the passage. So the text below does not appear in  I’m OK–You’re Not. But every once in a while I find myself wondering to what extent the “average Christian reader” would, in fact, find the following offensive:

Throughout this book I stick with the convention of referring to God as if he were … well, a “he.” I don’t particularly like doing that; I’m not a huge fan of the whole Big Bearded Guy in the Sky model of God. And I know most people aren’t; I know that most all of us are attuned to the idea that God is hardly, shall we say, gonadally defined. But when you’re writing about God (in English, anyway), you’re basically stuck having to Pick A Gender. So I went with the conventional “he” and “him” and “Big Daddy,” and . . . well, I actually never use “Big Daddy.” But you get the idea.

If my herein going with Manly God Talk offends anyone, please do forgive me, and know that (hairy, testosterone-addled guy that, sadly, I am) I’m extremely sensitive to what I believe is that perfectly valid point of concern. Here’s hoping that eventually we evolve some gender-neutral … well, pronouns, basically. If anyone’s into developing or promoting that sort of thing, please give me a call if you think I might be able to help. Because I’d try, for sure.

At the very least I’m glad to know that today this sort of thing would raise a lot less hackles than it did six years ago, when I was writing I’m OK.

And I’m also glad to know that today Christian bookstores have mostly gone the way of chamber pots and the dodo bird.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.todayscoolnews.com Brian Shields

    "Here’s hoping that eventually we evolve some gender-neutral … well, pronouns, basically. If anyone’s into that, please give me a call if you think I might be able to help. Because I’d try, for sure."

    I think the gods who gave us English have it covered already, John. The word is "It"

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    "Gonadally defined." Heh heh–I like that. No, I don't think it's a big deal. My guess is that the people who would freak out over that passage are the same ones who have devoted entire websites to labeling you a heretic, so not sure you'd've lost anything by including it. On the other hand, the 'he' default is so overwhelmingly common, and as far as I know pretty well accepted. Would you have gained anything by including it?

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    By including the passage, you mean? I thought I would have, in that I think it's an excellent idea to, whenever and however possible, be reminded that assigning God a gender, as we do by tradition and convention, is to, however subconsciously, ascribe to "him" a whole host of characteristics that can have no relevance to the actual nature of … the one Godhead.

    • Diana A.

      This is so true!

  • http://www.myspace.com/whitenoisemetalpodcast Brian Shields

    Sombunall of you my find this discussion of interest focusing on the vexing question "Does God have a willy and if so is he bigger than King Kong."

  • Candace

    Yuh. Right, Brian. That is a burning question for all of us Christians.

    (eyes rolling)

    Sometimes ridiculous is humorous. And other times it's just plain stupid.

    As to John's original question … seems to me that when God came to earth in human form, he chose a gender. If humans weren't such idiots about gender in general, it would be a total non-issue. But, you know, the fall and all that.

    Yawn. Maybe it's just me, but my deepest questions about God go way beyond gender.

    • http://thesewingexperiment.wordpress.com/ Sensible Seamstress

      And many of us can’t even get to the deeper questions because we can’t get beyond the rigid boundary of gender that has allowed many conservatives to marginalize half of the human race. That’s why this is an important issue.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com ric booth

    I think your publisher was spot-on, Christians freak over such things. The Shack is a good example of this tendency. Pastors have denounced it from their pulpits. However, it seems to be a best-seller none the less… or perhaps because of the free publicity? hmmm.

  • FreetoBe

    God is not a he/she/it–God is so far beyond anything we mere mortals can encompass in our brains. I'm with Candace on this one; there is more to contemplate than about God than His plumbing……

  • http://minoritythinker.blogspot.com Shannon

    God is a spirit and created us humans in His image, male and female — in other words, I don't see Him as a male.

    However, I would be bothered grammatically to see any pronoun but "He" used to refer to God. I still hold the old-fashioned notion that when using a pronoun to refer to a person of unknown gender, "he" is the best choice. "He/she" gets too clunky; "she" seems to imply there's something wrong with being a man; "they" refers to more than one person (and, when referring to God, has implications for the doctrine of the trinity); "it" is far too impersonal.

    • Diana A.

      "…'she' seems to imply there’s something wrong with being a man…"

      And "he" seems to imply there's something wrong with being a woman.

  • Doulos

    No, God doesn't have a gender, but God has revealed to the world through first Judaism, and later from the mouth of Christ himself, that God is refered to as a He, and as Father, so I think that's what we should stick to. As a revealed religion, we Christians can only know what God has chosen to reveal to us.

    • Diana A.

      No, it’s actually not that cut and dried. See “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” by Sue Monk Kidd (among others.

      • http://thesewingexperiment.wordpress.com/ Sensible Seamstress

        Awesome book!

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Shannon: Yeah, I mean, that's basically what I meant with the post/passage: We (who write in English, anyway) simply have no reasonable choice but to go with "he." (I could do "she," easily—but I'd never get published.)

  • Teresa

    Oh, you'd get published alright. You'd be feted and lavished with praise in certain circles. Entire departments, filled with earnest young "Women's Studies" students, at many universities would raise their arms and shout Halleluja! if only that had not been classified as a "hate word". God as "He" is an opinion of a minority of the former majority. From the Oracle in the Matrix to whatever that was in The Shack – God is being retrofitted to suit the sensibilities of the great void. I suspect Christian publicists may go crazy…

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

      “Hallejujah” is a hate word? That sounds like it’s coming from a very victimized place. Perhaps you should go back and really take a Women’s Studies course!

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Teresa: You lost me a bit with your final sentence—but (though I appreciate the true validity of what you're saying) I personally couldn't get published if I tried to write a book wherein I referred to God as anything but a "he." I don't have the academic credentials to be published in the kinds of circles you've referenced above, and Christian publishers would kick such a book out the door before they've even looked at it. I'd be … screaming in a vacuum.

  • Teresa

    About the Christian publicists? Just that they might have a skewed idea of what "average Christians" are up for. I search in vain for good reading in Christian bookstores. It's a sad experience – you want so for Christian "arts" to really be Art. And what you seem to get is either sentimental drivel "women's fiction" or drivel that adopts a sullen attitude (usually in the "Counseling" section. OK, I'm just poking a little on that one. But "popular" Christian writing is a bit lackluster. There are exceptions – but few.

    To speak to your statement about not getting published if you referred to God as anything other than He – it seems like most mainstream "churches" would love it or feel so guilted by their personal discomfort, they would support it in the cowardly way the guilted have mastered so well. Sheeple People.

    I suppose my contention is that it is far less controversial, it seems to me, to have God personified by She than the notion that God does self-refer to gender by the person of Christ. It seems that the average Christian writer (at least one that get published) is reluctant to identify with a God that doesn't have post-modern (the Great Void) sensibilities. I loved your phrase "screaming into a vacuum."

    You are different. I hope that what you say about this isn't entirely accurate or that it changes soon. Or perhaps writers like you will have to go the self-publishing route. I'm enjoying reading your past blogs this morning and watching your videos. I appreciate your work. I loved your post about when you told your wife you became a Christian. During my "awakening" I had to hid my Bible under my bed so my husband wouldn't find it. Life's a trip.

    T

  • Lynn

    From biblegateway.com…

    Mark 14:36

    "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."

    Romans 8:15

    For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."

    Galatians 4:6

    Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."

    Abba

    This Syriac or Chaldee word is found three times in the New Testament (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6), and in each case is followed by its Greek equivalent, which is translated "father." It is a term expressing warm affection and filial confidence. It has no perfect equivalent in our language. It has passed into European languages as an ecclesiastical term, "abbot."

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  • http://jenesaisrein.blogspot.com E. G.

    While I don't "need" God to be a He, for me, this issue was best explained by Christian feminist writer Tina Ostrander in her article, "Our Father Who Art in Heaven," (which used to be free on the Christians for Biblical Equality site; alas, you now have to pay–it's in a 1999 edition of CBE's Priscilla Papers).

    In it, Ostrander explained that while God does not have gender, God is referred to as male because that is how most people would understand the power of God. Also, Christ came as a man because it would take a man to confront the (male) power structure that, in his time, constructed barriers between people and God.

  • Greta Sheppard

    John, my boy, you do strain at a gnat and swallow a camel!

  • http://oddideas.com Rainer

    "Here’s hoping that eventually we evolve some gender-neutral … well, pronouns, basically. If anyone’s into that, please give me a call if you think I might be able to help. Because I’d try, for sure."

    That's one of (the many) shortfalls of the English language… You could switch to writing in Finnish (as an example) and avoid this problem.

  • http://n/a Eddie Buchanan

    It has nothing to do with what I need and I think it's sad that this question is even being asked. I don't think God likes people trying to make his word/message politically correct.

    God is a Spirit, and does not possess human characteristics or limitations, male or female and all the evidence contained in Scripture agrees that God revealed Himself to mankind in a male form. However, this does not limit how God may choose to reveal Himself to mankind. God uses a figurative language in Scripture and it assigns human characteristics to God in order to make it possible for man to understand God. This is called anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is simply a means for God to communicate truth about His nature to mankind, a physical being. Since man is a physical being, man is limited in his understanding of those things beyond the physical realm, and anthropomorphism in Scripture helps man to understand who God is.

    Scripture contains all the revelation God gave to man about Himself, and so is the only really objective source of information about God. In the scripture God is referred as the “Father” over 170 times. For man and his understanding the term “Father” is synonymous with the male gender. For mankind you can’t be a “Father” without being male in gender. It is through the term “Father” that God chose to reveal Himself so it seems that God wanted for man to understand Him in the male gender. If He had wanted man to see God as female then He would have used the term “Mother” instead of “Father” to describe His characteristics.

    Jesus Christ came in the form of a human man and was revealed to mankind in a male form. So being consistent with the scriptures and the fact that God is triune (three that are one) then the whole character of God including the Holy Spirit have been revealed to man in the male gender.

  • http://noisytarli.etsy.com talialovesyou

    This is waaay important to me personally. I've seen firsthand how the attribution of a certain gender to God can damage people, especially children. When I was about six, I was informed that boys were better than girls because God was a boy–and I basically said you don't know what you're talking about, and the other said Jesus was a boy so that meant God was a boy. I remember this experience vividly 14+ years later and I know it and other experiences like it unfortunately influenced the way I thought for far too long. It's sad. And I'm not the only one who's had this experience.

    I've come believe that when we label God with a gender, either gender, we're putting real limits on God and trying to fit God down into a little box that we constructed ourselves. So I have begun just calling God "God", no he/she/and no, not even it. I think God is way bigger than our human concepts of gender. If God were male, men would somehow be made "more" in the image of God than women; they would have a closer link to God, they'd be more godlike. And I have a real problem with that.

    I also have a real problem with the concept that to call God "she" implies there's something wrong with being a man–but not vice versa. This is exactly why I've abandoned the God-is-male language I've been inundated with since infancy without turning 180 degrees to refer to God as female. If you're going to use a gender for God, I do think it's wrong if you're not willing to use both genders interchangeably. But apparently that's pretty taboo in this spiffy little subculture, so I just say God and leave it at that, you know?

  • http://n/a Eddie Buchanan

    talialovesyou,

    The problem is you're not following the example of Christ. Genesis 3:16, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you," predicted this by meaning that the woman will resist submitting to her husband’s authority because of her sinful nature. Mean and women are equal when it comes to God's love but not in the area of gifts as in talents and abilities. If you don't believe this how do you get by 1 Peter 3:7, 1 Tim 2:14, etc?

    Martin Luther summed it up when he said, "…we love nothing more ardently than our own feelings, judgment, purpose, and will, especially when they seem to be good."

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

      “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you,” >>>

      Actually, many interpret this scripture to be women desiring validation from a man at our core and as a result, strives for that instead of pleasing God. One can see that quite clearly in today’s society. Additionally, many also interpret this scripture as a description of how sexism originated in ways God certainly didn’t design – he was articulating the relationship and the balance of power between men and women as a result of sin.

      • Ace

        I've seen in some translations it is written "you will want to please your husband and he will lord it over you" which has a rather different feel to it.

        I don't know which is the more accurate translation, not being fluent in biblical Hebrew, of course.

        Food for thought.

    • Ace

      "Mean and women are equal when it comes to God’s love but not in the area of gifts as in talents and abilities"

      Uh, no. Maybe if you are talking about physical brute strength (and even then you can always find indivdual examples of stronger women and weaker men) but if you are this is just your way of rephrasing the childish "Boys are smarter than girls and that justifies treating them badly!" sentiments I hear so bloody often, well I'd tell you want to do with it but it would require some 4-letter words.

  • http://noisytarli.etsy.com talialovesyou

    I completely disagree with your assumption that I'm "not following the example of Christ", particularly since the Bible clearly shows Christ reaching out to women and honoring them as equals, and not just in the abstract sense of love. So naturally I also disagree with your interpretation of Genesis 3.16. I think it's made pretty clear that the separate and yes, unequal, gender "roles" described here are a huge part of, and a direct result of, what we call the Curse. Descriptive, not prescriptive. It shows pretty well how the chaos between humans and God disrupts other parts of our lives and our identities. It makes us think we're better than each other, for one thing. It makes us think we can, and have the right to, control other people because they are "less" than us.

    Since I'm egalitarian, I think it's safe to assume that you and I have radically different interpretations of the other verses you mention. By the way, I do know what they are and what they say. All of them. I've made quite a point to study them more in depth. Even Paul was pretty advanced, gender-equality wise, for his time.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    Um, pretty strong language there Eddie, asserting that because someone disagrees with you on God's gender qualities they're not following the example of Christ. Wow.

  • http://www.1truebeliever.wordpress.com wickle

    Genesis 3:16 has nothing to do with an example of Christ. It happens a few thousand years before Christ is born. There's something to be said for context.

    I'm with Skerrib, that's kind of harsh.

    To John's question …

    God generally used the male words to refer to Himself, so I follow the same convention. I'm not sure how much I need anyone to use those same conventions, but I do hesitate when I see the female pronouns used, simply because I suspect it's being done for worldly, rather than spiritual, reasons.

    On the other hand, a gender-neutral personal pronoun would be great. Since man and woman were made in His image, it's clear that we're not talking about His image in terms of "What God looks like naked."

    Wow …

    I can't believe I just wrote that last part.

  • http://n/a Eddie Buchanan

    And when I mentioned Genesis 3:16, I meant that attempts to distort Scripture in order to conform to modern notions of equality is simply a manifestation of the resistance referenced there.

  • http://youngadultsindayton.wordpress.com talia

    I disagree. When you read your Bible, what you're reading is a human translation of something a human wrote in the first place. (I'm not saying God didn't inspire the writing of Scripture, but I am saying that the humans wrote it themselves. God didn't pick up a pen and write it for them. Naturally it's written within a human framework, and I think it would be silly to deny that.) Being BIGGER than gender is something that I don't think we can really understand, like many other facets of God. I don't think it's surprising that the humans in history and the writers of the Bible attached a gender to God, but neither do I think God is defined by the gender they attached to God.

    • Diana A.

      Thank you, Talia. Also, in the Hebrew Scriptures, feminine pronouns and imagery are used quite often to describe God–this is obscured by the English translations.

      As for arguing that God is more male than female because Jesus came in the form of a male, I imagine he did so because a woman who said and did what Jesus said and did would have probably been even more controversial than Jesus was in masculine flesh. If God had come as Jesusina instead of as Jesus, there would have been even more incidents like that described in Luke 4:4-30.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    I agree Talia. I don't see it as an obedience issue. Not that it's wrong to refer to God the same way Jesus did…perfectly acceptable–but I don't think he actually said the word "father." To be truly accurate it needs to be in the original language (Aramaic?). And there are probably other things to consider, and frankly the whole thing can become a bit burdensome, depending on how far you want to take it.

    I think God is less concerned with how we refer to him, and more concerned with our hearts toward him. Grace, and freedom in Christ, and all that. I don't call my (earthly) dad "father," but he seems OK with what I choose to call him, 'cuz he knows I'm addressing him with love & respect. I'm pretty sure God is at least as understanding as my dad.

  • http://n/a Eddie Buchanan

    When I wrote about following the example of Christ, I was referring only to the fact that Jesus did not use gender neutral language when referring to God. Instead he used the word Father. In fact, the term “father” in the King James version is used 541 times in the Old Testament and 311 times in the New Testament for a total of 852 times. The phrase “your father,” appears in scripture a total of 120 times. In the NT, most of these references are made by Jesus Himself, although one is made by His mother, Mary, and one by Paul. Not once does Jesus, or anybody else, refer to God as mother or a feminine pronoun. I see no reason to doubt that if he had wanted us to use a gender neutral or feminine term for God, he would have done so himself. I thought I was very clear on this.

    • berkshire

      Except that he understood the cultural and [now] historical context in which he was living, where it’s entirely possible that few, if any, would have accepted the authority of an all-powerful female figure. It might just be (and I say ‘might’ because I wasn’t alive then and was not in Jesus’ head) that he knew a male image would carry more weight.

      Additionally: “women are equal when it comes to God’s love but not in the area of gifts as in talents and abilities.”

      This doesn’t actually lend credibility to the scriptures whose authority you’re invoking.

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

      Then why bring up the relationship between men and women after the Fall if you didn’t intend to make any correlation? Confusing.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    Eddie–so I think it’s safe to say that referring to God in the male form is definitely important to you! :)

  • http://n/a Eddie Buchanan

    skerrib-No. Referring to God in the same way Jesus did is important to me. I know what you’re thinking but this is an issue of obedience to me, not power, ego, etc. :)

  • http://n/a Eddie Buchanan

    I wish I could stay and discuss this further but I have to go to work. I’m a cop so I will spend the next 10 hours dealing with those people who choose to be disobedient to man’s, and thus God’s, law. (Now that’s a whole new can of worms, isn’t it?):)

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

      That’s right – please also say hello to the cops who are stealing drug money or pulling over kids of color for being in the neighborhood as they represent the Law (more worms in that can than you think, my friend).

  • http://www.myspace.com/whitenoisemetalpodcast Brian Shields

    Having already been called "plain stupid" once in this thread… do I dare ask?

    If God is the father, does he have male genitalia? I've always liked the Gen.1 creation myth better than the Gen2 creation myth (in his image male and female as opposed to the dust of the ground and the weird rib thing) but if you're going to take that story seriously as I assume most of you do, doesn't God have to be both Male and Female? If that's his "image"? Does that make him a hermaphrodite? Did he require some form of sex to create us? Or to hit fast-forward a few books, was the beginning the Logos, the Word?

    Sorry to have to be the one to ask the crazy questions but that's why John keeps me around, I think…. (or maybe he hasn't figured out the IP block section of the WordPress interface)

    Brian "Plain Stupid" Shields

  • Doulos

    I would argue, Brian, that "image" does not mean the same thing as gender. The traditional Orthodox understanding is that the image and likeness which God gave to us is free will and rationality. It has absolutely nothing to do with gender.

  • http://youngadultsindayton.wordpress.com talia

    Exactly, skerrib! :)

    The thing is, if God has a gender, gender -does- come into it. Gender has come into it for pretty much all of history. Traditionally arguments have been, and still are :( made that men are somehow "more equal", indeed superior, because God "himself" is male. If God is male, then it appears that men automatically have more in common with God, not because of who they are as people, but because of a body part they're born with, and that's what bothers me. We're all made in God's image, and we all have equal access to God.

  • http://n/a Eddie Buchanan

    We’re all made in God’s image, and we all have equal access to God.

    True, but women are the weaker vessel.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Now here, in Mr. Buchanan (whose email name is "glockrules"), we have an example of someone I've banned from the site. (I let this comment of his through to show why.)

  • http://noisytarli.etsy.com talialovesyou

    Wowww..

    So! This seems like an appropriate time to say thanks, John!

  • http://www.myspace.com/whitenoisemetalpodcast Brian Shields

    I was having some gender identity confusion about Eddie.. a name that could be either male or female. If Eddie is female, that last comment seems even scarier to me.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Check out how mean Eddie was to poor me.

      Here's an email he sent me off my "About Me" page:

      "3. I haven’t spoken with or had any contact with my mother in some 30 years. [This is a quote from a "16 Things About Me" thing I posted onto my "about me" page]

      "In that case, how do you honor your mother, Exodus 20:12, and provide for her, 1 Timothy 5:8?"

      That was his entire email.

      Isn't that mean?

      • berkshire

        More like plain crazy.

        Poor Eddie. I’ll bet he’s a pretty lonely (despite his obvious superiority) guy.

  • http://youngadultsindayton.wordpress.com talia

    Oh gosh. I must go away and giggle now.

  • Brenda

    I too noticed your comment about your mom. It made me curious, of course, in the way people are curious who wonder if someone else shares their same experiences.

    I have chosen to limit the time I spend with certain members of my family. In my world it's called protecting myself emotionally. It would be nice if people realized that just because the situation can be reduced to one sentence does not mean it was easy, or that it was my wish or that I am happy about it.

    In my case, I feel guilty for taking care of myself–it's crazy.

  • Brenda

    Oh, this was about the gender of God. Sorry.

    I think when God said "I Am" He meant He is All-Encompasing Everything. We can't understand Him with the minds we have now, so, obviously, I'll just keep calling Him "Him" and be happy He was gracious enough to come to us in a form we as humans can relate to.

    ,

  • http://www.myspace.com/whitenoisemetalpodcast Brian Shields

    I am a little confused about what honoring your father and your mother has to do with your longevity. The commandment says to honor Mom and Pops "that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee."

    Maybe with certain parents, it's better to keel over younger if the years you have are free of emotional bondage.

    Also I suspect it's possible to honor your parents without necessarily putting up with their crap.

    It seems we've come a long way from the original point of this post… although we were obsessing about the whole concept of God as the father…

    One more thing, Leviticus says honoring moms and pops is important but then turns to say, "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." So if the parents punt on this requirement, I suspect a truly loving God would allow the kids some leeway.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Never feel guilty for taking care of yourself. If you don’t, you can bet no one else will.

    Here’s a bizarre, terrible fact about life: in your life a disturbingly significant number of people out there—and, tragically, very often family members—who KNOW how much you want and need their love, will use that as a weapon against you. One of the ways you know you’ve been slimed in that particular way is if you experience any guilt for taking care of yourself. That means someone you care very much about—someone who cares a great deal more for themselves than they do about you—still has their talons in you.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    I’d say something snarky, but I’m feeling a little too weak to speak up right now. I’d better go lie down.

  • Brenda

    What you just wrote sounded terrible, but you got it exactly right, without any sugar-coating.

    I don’t want to cut my family out of my life, but I have realized I don’t owe them—or anyone—to let them beat up on me emotionally. Just that has taken a long time, and I know I have a lot more work to do.

    Thanks for putting it right on the line–I think I needed to hear everything you said. I felt a little indignant at first, like, what does he mean, talons in me, but I suppose I should be honest and admit you were right about that too—I haven’t arrived yet, but I’m getting closer.

  • Brenda

    I hope you’re right, Brian. In my case it’s a whole family dynamic that is completely dysfunctional. When I distance myself from that, I have to distance myself from my parents, too, since they are part of it and support it. And since they equate “honoring” with “spending time with”, I know they feel dishonored.

    I do apologize for my part in getting off track on this discussion, but I’m going to blame John, as I was originally responding to something he wrote.:)

    John, maybe you should write something new about family dynamics, since I am living proof that they can affect you for years and years. And years.

  • http://achristianfeministjourney.blogspot.com Rachel

    In case you're interested, in the relms of queer theory (where not that many christians venture…) pronouns have been invented to use for people who identify as neither male nor female, the ones I know are ze (for he/she) and hir (for him/her), they're less dehumanising than 'It' I think. Like you I tend to call God 'He' even though I understand God as being neither male nor female. I'm beginning to change this though as I've realised that when I refer to God as 'She' in my mind God becomes different, and this makes me realise that my understanding of who God is has been dictated more than I thought by the fact that God is 'He'. Giving God a gender puts God in a box.

  • http://none gins lou

    I'm confused. Did you ban Buchanan because he, or she maybe, referred to 1 Peter 3:7? If so that seems wrong. You also mentioned "glockrules" in what seemed a negative way. It's been my experience that Glock makes a fine handgun. Do you disagree?

    Thanks for the effort you put in here.

    Gins

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      No, I banned Buchanan because of the offensiveness of some of his comments, which I deleted.

  • http://nirakia.blogspot.com Karin

    Luke 13:34

    “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together AS A HEN protects HER chicks beneath HER wings, but you wouldn’t let Me."

    God revealed Himself as Father but He also alluded to motherly instincts.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Karin: NICE! I'll bring this quote over to the conversation about this topic currently being at at http://www.boarsheadtavern.com.

  • http://www.chaseandre.com Chase

    Spot on, as far as I see, John.

    I'm against calling God an It, simply because in our culture an "it" is below a "he" or a "she"

    I know some that make the point by switching between "he" and "she" when referring to God like they teach you to use "she" every once in awhile in your writing so that you're not called a sexist.

    I'm not entirely sure that's the answer, either… but I'm not entirely against it.

    I like your approach (and have used it myself). "I use 'he', but that's not to say 'he' is *actually* a 'he' …and if you use a different word… that's cool."

    Respectable, for sure.

    It gets old saying God a bunch, but I've tried – in those moments necessary – just to avoid pronouns as much as possible.

    Then again, those 'ol writing classes advise against that, too.

    • Diana A.

      And especially when you replace pronouns with the word “God” it can sound like you’re using the name of God as a swear word even when you’re not.

  • Russ

    Not out to offend or stir everyone up, but from an atheist's perspective… the big "He" in the sky is another absurbly obvious example of how clear it is that humans made all this stuff up. He is mad. He is vengeful. He needs to rest after creating the world. Is he divine or someone's overweight step father? I enjoy your writing John, so clearly you have some crossover (which I'm sure you'll appreciate).

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Chase: Yeah, I almost always just stick with God. Seems … Generally Workable. But I'm forever restructuring sentences so I can use that word.

    Russ: Yes, it means a great deal to me that I have any non-Christian readers; it's much of what I strive for. So thanks very much for taking the time to let me know that you like what I do. That's huge to me. Thanks. (Oh, and … well, I must say: I know most Christians understand the pronoun he has much more to do with the restrictions of English than they do any kind of pointing to the actual nature/identity of God.)

  • Karen Holmberg-Smith

    Completely right, John! Your publisher has too small a concept of what Christian Readers can stomach. I refer to God as He most of the time, but your deletion should have been kept in the book.

  • http://cadoah.wordpress.com cadoah

    Well, the Bible says, “God created man in His own image; male and female He created them.” Ergo, it stands to reason that He has, well, “masculine” and “feminine” qualities, e.g. justice and mercy, strength and beauty. Men were made to reflect His strength, women, His beauty. You were made in His image as a man, I was made in His image as a woman. However, God is so… well,supreme, and…strong, powerful,omnipotent, etc… that in relation to everything else, He is necessarily masculine.

    It also helps that He never refers to Himself as a “she” throughout the Bible. The church, however, is a “she”. There are men in the Church, yet she is a “she”. The Bride of Christ.

    If any of the above sounds familiar, or if anyone’s posted it before, well, my apologies… I read it somewhere a while ago…

  • Anonymous

    I’m pretty sure that my lady English teachers in the public school taught me that “He” was the divine pronoun and had no gender significance. Of course they could have been wrong, but, try to tell them that.

    • Anonymous

      You’ve been killing up on here lately, Don. Great stuff.

  • Robyn Sheppard

    We do tend to overlook the fact that God was female for many thousands of years before she was male. It wasn’t until Judaism succeeded in elevating its own tribal warlord to the status of the Supreme Deity that God as a woman was killed off.

    My own belief that just as “in Christ there is no east or west,” so in God there is either no male or female, or (and this is where I lean now anyway) both male and female.

    Ultimately, as a woman who has a very dysfunctional relationship with her father, I’m much more comfortable with the Goddess than I ever was with a God.

  • micki7

    Absolutely NOT! I guess my opinion has something to do with Jesus weeping (yep! REAL men cry) over Jerusalem and saying: As a MOTHER (a feminine aspect of God/Goddess/Source?) HEN would gather her beloved chicks, would I have gathered you but you wouldn’t have it (my paraphrase)….Somehow I think the “Manly Man” version would be gathering them just for the next fry up or barbeque!

  • Don Whitt

    You should never let someone edit your writing unless you feel it actualliy improves it, John. Neutering text is a form of thievery. They’re stealing your thoughts and feelings. .

    Gender is meaningless in the context of God. As is species or element or time and space, for that matter. How can the finite describe the infinite?

  • denver

    Personally I like Dogma’s take on the non-gender thing – when the Metatron (the voice of God angel) came into the last scion’s house all aflame saying “I am the voice of the one true God… ” and she put him out with a fire extinguisher, later she said “take what you want, just don’t kill or rape me.” And he said he couldn’t rape her, because he wasn’t equipped to do so. And pulled down his pants. And said, as only Alan Rickman can, “I’m as anatomically correct as a Ken doll.” And he was.

    Inappropriate, sure, but funny. ;)

    On a serious note, I get that you thought you were giving in to this guy”s expertise so I don’t blame you, but I wouldn’t have cut it. First of all, it was explaining why you used the vernacular you did, which I’ve seen other authors do plenty of times (though perhaps their target demographic wasn’t “the average Christian reader”). Secondly, it’s not like it was a minor thing that was cut to help story flow. It was explaining something that dealt with not only the rest of the book, but our habits when it comes to theology in general, and your personal philosophy, to boot. Sometimes editors are not good at their jobs. But you’re good at writing, so we’ll keep reading. :)

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

    I’ve long thought that the concept of God as a male gender and the concept of the father/son/holy spirit was more of an analogy then a reality.. If we were created in his image, then where does that include the female, IF gender is an issue? To me the concept of God as only masculine limits just who and what God is.

    We put labels on deity simply because we don’t quite understand deity ourselves, not being one. We try to present God in packages we can grasp, but we should remember that we don’t grasp them as well as we think. Thinking of God as gender neutral or containing both attributes of the feminine and the masculine is not really all that bad a concept. Some of relate better to one then the other. I believe God understands and appreciates that.

  • Dennis

    I don’t think you should have acquiesced. I have no problem believing that God is male and female and neither. I do use the male gender when I pray and I have no problem with that either. I am interested though in whether you think there is something called maleness and something called femaleness and if so, how you would describe each.

  • Nancy Walker

    I too believe that God has no gender, or perhaps, all genders, since all are made, male and female, in the image of God. The difficulty in the English language comes only from the use of pronouns. So I am careful to not use pronouns to refer to God, except for the second person, you. This sometimes is a little awkward, but with practice you can find ways to say what you want. In ancient times, God’s name was considered too sacred to pronounce; nowadays, God’s name is too sacred to be replaced by a pronoun!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Cruz/1479219421 Anthony Cruz via Facebook

    That picture makes me slightly sick.

  • Jim RS Bachii via Facebook

    I certainly hope so….

  • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson via Facebook

    of course God isn’t “male” or “female” (or perhaps more aptly, is both). i don’t even get why that passage would have been a problem six years ago… sixty, maybe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Caroline-Miller/500786293 Caroline Miller via Facebook

    Um, Christians do realize that Jesus entered the world through a vagina, right?

  • Richard Manley-Tannis via Facebook

    http://ucim.org/2012/03/blog-a-deacons-musing-lent-heroes/ Thought my most recent Lenten blog might be of interest considering your sharing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JeffBean1 Jeff Bean via Facebook

    As assisting Elder, after using inclusive language in a prayer during workship service, I was taken to task by a “blue-hair” parishioner for even suggesting that God was anything other than an old, white gray-haired Northern European male. She then died (not immediately thereafter, but after awhile). My pastor and I after her service had a chuckle wondering if she had the heavenly angelic cojones to ask God, and if she now knows, exactly what kind of genitalia He has.

  • Terrie

    “Male and female He made them.” Made in God’s image. Is not part of being made in God’s image what we humans shove into defined roles for “gender.” We think of God the Father as, well, “Father,” because Jesus called him that. But that doesn’t mean that God possesses only male qualities, for he made us male and female in His own image. So surely God has qualities that we label “male” and others we label “female.” For example, did He not “nurture” humanity all through the Old Testament to grow to know Him? “Nurturing” is seen as a female quality. There is no doubt that God possesses both “male” and “female” qualities. And we can, too, if we stop labeling them and allow ourselves the full range of emotions and heart as God intended us to do. Perhaps someday we will grow enough in His image to do so.

    I’d have no problem reading what you wrote in a book, and I’m almost a blue hair! Also, as the baby boomers age, more of what wouldn’t pass muster in the past will be deemed just fine. Yes, we’re growing a whole new generation of “blue hairs.”

  • BMac

    Even biblical literalist can clearly see in Genesis that God created BOTH male and female in his image. Yet, Ive heard horror stories of pastors telling people they can just leave of they won’t accept that God is male. Sickening! These are people who are so insecure with themselves that they have to grasp at straws to gain a shred of self worth. It’s SO silly. I’ll never understand the extremely sensitive male ego of some.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bethany-McFarlin-Cook/645709607 Bethany McFarlin- Cook via Facebook

    If it weren’t for people like John I’m sure I would have jumped onto the agnostic band wagon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bethany-McFarlin-Cook/645709607 Bethany McFarlin- Cook via Facebook

    @Richard- just read the link. That was cool!

  • http://thesewingexperiment.wordpress.com/ Sensible Seamstress

    I regularly throw out a “she” when talking about God, or a “he/she,” or use the word “God” carefully so as not to say “he” (after awhile it becomes obvious that I’m refusing to use “he” exclusively) and it freaks out everyone who hears it. It even freaks me out while I’m doing it. But I think it’s important to do because we are SO used to God as a “he” and I think it keeps us from fully experiencing God – to limit God like that.

    Kudos to John for trying, but he’s right: those kinds of comments are too scary for the status quo.

  • Driftwood2K11

    There were people in church (when I attended many, many, many, many, many moons ago) used to tell me God had a gender, and that he was male. I used to reply, “Does he have a penis?” This would elicit white faces and hands up to mouths. I mean, really, if God is male, does he have a penis? Does he use it? If not, why not? Did he use it on Mary when she had Jesus? These are all reasonable questions that extend (heh) from the premise that God must have a gender and that gender must be male. I don’t get the big deal. I mean, if that’s what you believe, follow through on it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joanne-Elliott/100001065501295 Joanne Elliott via Facebook

    I will read your book John. I’ve had strong views about the feminine/masculine idea of our God for a long time.

  • Jennifer Hanish via Facebook

    I’ve never thought or really even cared what He carries below.. all I know is that I am fed up with the likes of the blue-haired using Him as their poster child to hate. cowards, every one of them

  • Lisa Crawford via Facebook

    As a pianist, I have played several Christian Scientist services where the phrase Father/Mother God is common. I like that :) But, as an Elder of my own church frequently tasked to give a Communion prayer (and not having a spontaneous bone in my body), my rough drafts almost always included that phrase; my actual prayers never did. As much as I would like to include that concept in my corporate worship, the Communion table was just not the time and place to make that statement. :(


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