How does this teaching function for women given that Jesus was male? The church has exclusively gendered God as male based on passages like this and then privileged cis-men in the Christian faith. The belief that the clergy should exclusively be cis-men is just one of those practices, and all of them are rooted in a male Jesus being the exact image of God. This assumption has been at the heart of centuries of harm to women in Christian history, and has led many women to reject Christianity because of the real, concrete harm they have experienced because of these practices. (See Jaqueline Grant, White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus, Feminist Christology and Womanist Response, p. 151-172)
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But our stories about God, sex, and gender are not monolithic. We also have stories within our sacred text that remind us that we all bear the image of the divine. We all bear God’s image. In the context of our bodies, wherever our bodies may sit on the spectrum of sex, we all bear God’s image. In the context of gender identity and gender expression, wherever we may sit on that spectrum, we all bear God’s image. Our most ancient origin myths whisper to us these truths.
In the Genesis story, God made “two great lights,” “the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night” (Genesis 1:16) and yet we have times of day when both lights are active: sunrise, dusk, and twilight. So too in the story, God created humankind in God’s own image: “male and female, God created them” (Genesis 1:26). We also have a spectrum for sex and gender on which each of us lives out our lives. But wherever we find ourselves on this spectrum, it is the entire spectrum that bears the image of the divine. We all bear that divine image. As the Jewish tradition states, “Before each person there goes an angel proclaiming ‘Behold the image of God.’”
In this spirit, a dear friend of mine, Daneen Akers just published a new children’s book Dear Mama God. You can find out more at https://www.watchfire.org/dearmamagod.
After two millennia of exclusively gendering God as male, we don’t get to jump immediately to God being gender-less. We need to spend some time sitting with images of God in all genders. We need an imagining of the divine that is large enough to embrace all gender identities and expressions.
The closest I will ever come to God in this life, is you, my fellow human. How I treat you matters. How you treat me matters. If we would keep this thought close in our relating and in how we shape our world politically, socially, and economically, what a difference this single thought might make.
This leads quite naturally to the final point we encounter in this week’s reading. Those who follow Jesus will do as Jesus did. If every person bears the image of God, if every person has intrinsic worth and value, this must impact how we relate to them. Jesus models this in the gospel stories. When Jesus encounters an image-of-God-bearer under the weight of oppression, injustice, or suffering, he sets out to bring them life, healing, liberation, and change. He does this personally for the people in the stories, and he also does so by challenging the systems in his society doing those people harm.
This speaks volumes to me in our context today, as we consider what it means to be a Jesus follower, to do the works of Jesus. The work this sets before each of us is the work modeled by our Jesus: the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone, a world big enough not only to house many rooms but also to celebrate all of our many differences. This is the work I want to be about.
Herb’s new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is now available at Renewed Heart Ministries.