Several years ago I was writing a column for Relevant Magazine called “Subversive” which featured interviews from various voices in the Emerging Church Movement.
One of those voices was Spencer Burke. He not only helped to launch an emerging church here in Orange County, but he also started an online magazine called theOoze.com and also wrote a great book called “Making Sense of Church”.
That’s why one afternoon about twelve years ago I was sitting across the table from him in Newport Beach, California interviewing him for Relevant.
But that’s when he said something that made me second guess the entire interview. He said, “Just imagine, if the Jewish culture had been Matriarchal instead of Patriarchal, God would have been ‘Mother’ and Jesus could have been a woman.”
Honestly, I didn’t know what to say to any of that. I was just so far outside my comfort zone at the time. Spencer is seriously one of the few people I have ever met that I would sincerely call a genius. He has an astounding gift to predict where the culture is headed and he has an insight about human nature that is uncanny.
Still, I wasn’t sure what to do with that statement. On the one hand, I didn’t want to edit out that quote because I knew Spencer would notice that I had left it off the article. But I also didn’t want to publish it and have it hurt Spencer’s reputation.
So, I never published the interview at all.
That was over a decade ago. Since then my theology has radically shifted. I owe Spencer an apology for not having the courage to publish his statement which, today, seems so obvious and true.
Here’s the deal: God is not male.God is not female. God does not have a gender.
We use the pronoun “He” for several reasons. One, because we don’t want to call God an “It”. God is a person and therefore has a personality. Two, because a patriarchal society tends to fashion their Deity in the male image. In other words, God made us in His image and then we returned the favor by making God into an image that reflects ourselves.
Unfortunately, the common use of the term “He” to refer to God creates the illusion that God is male. But that is not the case.
God is Spirit. God is not male. God is not female. When the Genesis account tells us that mankind was made in the image of God that means that men and women were both made in His image. The man was created first, yes, but hidden within that man was the female. Therefore, both man and woman were the “image of God” that was created. One was hidden inside the other, but both were created to reflect the image of God.
Yes, the male aspect of God gets more screen time than the female one, but there are several images of God as female that – unsurprisingly – have been overlooked throughout Church history.
But they are there.
For example, when Jesus stands up on the last day of the Feast and invites everyone to “come to me and drink” the picture is of a mother nursing her young. [See John 7:37] This image is repeated when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and says that he longs “to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing.” [See Luke 13:34]
There are many other verses in the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures that speak of God as “giving birth” to Israel and uses metaphors where God nurses them and cares for them like a Mother cares for her children. The New Testament scriptures often speak of us as being “born of God” and “children of God” who are nurtured on milk as newborn babes in Christ.
So, while we may be accustomed to calling God “He” it is not blasphemous or inappropriate to call God “She” or to alternate between the two because, as I’ve said before: God does not have a penis, or a vagina.
God is a Spirit and those who worship God do so in Spirit and in Truth.
Keith Giles is the author of several books, including “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”. He is the co-founder of Pacifist Fight Club and co-host of “The Heretic Happy Hour” Podcast.