16 October 2014


One of the things I have been reflecting on for a long time is inequality of language, particularly in a worship setting. Those of you who are regular readers here will know that I am journeying through a sea-change in my own experience of God's goodness: from a small picture of God as "father" and "son" to a much bigger, deeper understanding of God that includes Mother, Lady, Sophia - Holy Wisdom.

So what really happened to the women? Where did they all go? I even posed this question to the Patheos blog (and got a reply, which was super-cool!). The answer is essentially that, "to the victor, the spoils". The victor in this case was men: in Roman society, women were powerless: they had no rights, and could not own property or rule (although they could lead in church!). In Judea, it wasn't much better. Although Jesus himself welcomed women, stayed in the houses of his female friends and relied on their support, and Paul named Junia (sometimes spelt Julia) as first among the apostles in his letter to the Roman church, along with Lydia and other key female figures, by the end of the second century they were gone. Their stories were lost to us, their voices discredited. And why, you might ask?

Greek thinking was coupled with Christian reflections on God's actions in the world. The Greeks had a pretty dim view of women, and that translated into them seeing women as passive rather than active, dark rather than light - which Christian thinkers, raised in a Greek philosophical mindset, viewed as evil rather than good. Early Christian theologians such as Tertullian, Augustine, and Jerome assimilated Graeco-Roman ways of viewing the world that saw women as sinful temptresses who had to be "kept in their place". This of course was complicated by the Christian interpretation of the Jewish story of Eve and the "temptation". The language of God became male, because Jesus was born male, only a male was perfect, and therefore only men were perfectly made in God's image. I kid you not: they actually thought that women's bodies weren't fully reflective of God's image because they were female. And there are still people that think that.

So, to the victor, the spoils. Women's stories, women's experiences, women's bodies, were devalued. The language of God in churches shows a deep inequality that is the result of 2000 years of false thinking and fake theology, and say, "but it's in the Bible" to continue their oppressive treatment of women's skills and experience. If people actually take the time to look at the images of God that are truly there in the Bible, they would get a shock. Here's just a few of my favourites: El Shaddai "the breasted one"; God the mother bird who shelters her chicks; Holy Wisdom, Hokmah/Sophia, who is always addressed as she in the Hebrew scriptures and who is God abroad in the world - we usually call her the Holy Spirit; the mother bear defending her young. Female images and female language for God abound.

People also say, "but Jesus called God Father - doesn't that mean we should too?" Not when you count the number of times Jesus refers to God as abba changes in the different Gospels: it's used 4 times in Mark, 15 in Luke, 49 in Matthew, and 109 in John (the Gospels were written in that order, from around 60-120AD) - surely a sign of a growing community usage, rather than Jesus’ actual words. The oldest Gospel, Mark, refers to God as abba only four times. Given the Gospels had earlier sources now lost to us, might it be possible that the word was used just once by Jesus and then latched onto by his followers as a quiet and subconscious way of reinforcing the Graeco-Roman worldview of men as pater familias, the head of the household, and its use encouraged and strengthened through the years?

So where is this language now? Where is Sophia in our churches, the Holy One, God's own presence with us? Sung a hymn to Sophia recently? If not, why not? Called God Mother lately? If not, why not? The language we use for God defines how we understand and view God and God's work in the world. If God is never addressed or referred to as She in church and in public, then how will my 8 year old daughter come to truly understand and know that she is made in God's image: in all her beautiful skin and flesh, fully reflective of God's glory in her own person - as much as any boy? How can she possibly feel that she is valued in God's house if she never hears all of God's Names - all of them, the female ones too? Will she ever have a relationship with God that sees more of God than just what someone referred to as "two men and a bird"? Will she ever feel herself equal with men - in courage, faith, pay, and work?

I truly hope she will, but only if I can help her find Sophia: God in the world. She who Is. The God who welcomes us all, and sent her child to be the redeemer of all, the Chosen One of God.

A post for Blog Action Day 2014 #inequality

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