A group within the Church of England is calling for God to be referred to as female following the selection of the first female bishops.
The group wants the church to recognise the equal status of women by overhauling official liturgy, which is made up almost exclusively of male language and imagery to describe God.
Rev Jody Stowell, a member of Women and the Church (Watch), the pressure group that led the campaign for female bishops, said: “Orthodox theology says all human beings are made in the image of God, that God does not have a gender. He encompasses gender – he is both male and female and beyond male and female. So when we only speak of God in the male form, that’s actually giving us a deficient understanding of who God is.”
Stowell said discussions over terminology arose out of a Westminster faith debate on whether the consecration of female bishops would make a difference in the Church of England.
The matter has been discussed within the transformation steering group, a body that meets in Lambeth Palace to “explore the lived experience of women in ordained ministry”. The group has issued a public call to bishops to encourage more “expansive language and imagery about God”.
The Rev Emma Percy, chaplain of Trinity College Oxford and a member of Watch, said the effect of using both male and female language would be to get rid of “the notion that God is some kind of old man in the sky”.
She said many people in the church had been having this debate for a long time. “It’s just the church moves slowly. [The debate] caught the imagination now because we’ve got women bishops so in a sense the church has accepted that women are equally valued in God’s sight and can represent God at all levels. We want to encourage people to be freer, and we want to get the Liturgical Commission to understand that people are actually quite open to this and there is room for richer language to be used.”
In her role at the university, Percy said she had noticed people had become more open to modern terminology. “In the last two or three years we’ve seen a real resurgence and interest in feminism, and younger people are much more interested in how gender categories shouldn’t be about stereotypes. We need to have a language about God that shows God can be expressed in lots of diverse terms,” she said.
The Church of England consecrated the Rev Libby Lane as its first female bishop in January and has selected two more female bishops in the past few months.
Hilary Cotton, the chair of Watch, said the shift towards gender-equal language was already at an advanced stage in some sections of the church. “The reality is that in many churches up and down the country something more than the almost default male language about God is already being used,” she told the Telegraph. “Quietly clergy are just talking about God as ‘she’ every now and then.”
A spokesperson for Lambeth Palace said: “The transformations steering group is an independent group made up of women clergy exploring issues relating to the reception of women in ministry. The archbishop of Canterbury, as a gesture of hospitality, offers a meeting space at Lambeth Palace, but does not have a formal role in the group or participate in its discussions. The College of Bishops is updated regularly on the group’s work.
“Any change in the formal liturgy of the Church of England would require consent, revision and final approval of the General Synod. Even prior to that point there would need to be substantial consultation with the Liturgical Commission.”
The palace added that it was worth noting the Eucharistic Prayer contains the line: “As a mother tenderly gathers her children, you embraced a people as your own.”
Originally posted: Let God Be A ‘She’, Says Church Of England Women’s Group