'Jesa Christa': God is female too, say Church of England campaigners

Christians should be able to refer to God as female as well as male, campaigners say.

Calls to refer to God as female in official liturgies are growing among men and women in the Church of England as preparations begin for the enthronement of the first diocesan woman bishop in Gloucester later this year.

Proclaiming "Jesa Christa, crucified" is among the liturgical changes that could help lessen abuse of power in the Church, according to a leading woman priest.

While there is support at the highest levels for the liturgies to be rewritten to represent the female as well as the male side of God, any change would need to go through the General Synod of the Church of England.

Many priests and bishops already substitute "she" for "he" in parish services around the country. At a recent Westminster Faith Debate on women bishops, a woman rabbi sang 'The Lord's My Shepherd' with female instead of male pronouns.

Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson told Christian Today: "It strikes me that the whole point of 'male and female created he them' is that the God of the Hebrews is a quantum leap other than the strange gods of the Canaanites because unlike them or humans, s/he is beyond Gender. Thus, even before feminine 'Spirit' language, outrageously female terms like 'El-Shaddai' - 'Two-Breasted' - can legitimately be used for them alongside conventional male warrior imagery.

"The latter is transposed into our culture as the English public school 'Almighty Gawd' who is definitely male, wears a high collar, drones on in daily chapel and runs the cadets: a male tribal idol who had his day in July 1916 when he turned out to be not terribly good and on both sides. The only people who set much store by him are those, sometimes journalists, who experienced his pale shadow at school. Back to the Bible, say I!"

Already, discussions have started, under the authority of the Transformations Steering Group which meets in Lambeth Palace, London HQ of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The group looks at the place and impact of women's ministry in the Church and has urged bishops to embrace "expansive language and imagery about God".

Hilary Cotton, chair of Women And The Church, said many churches up and down the country are already using more than the almost default male language about God.

Some Anglican worship has already embraced the feminine, such as Canticle 82, which likens Jesus to a mother, and Canticle 86, which speaks of God as "our mother in all things".

According to Sally Barnes, of Women and the Church, the concept is "nothing new". She told Christian Today: "For decades men and women, lay and ordained, have been grappling with language and imagery of God in terms that helps them pray and make sense of how God can be perceived in their lives. There are many precedents, both in and outside of the Bible, such as in the writings of Julian of Norwich as well as Anselm who talked of God as Mother; so did Bernard of Clairveaux.

"While God is beyond gender we as humans have a need for imagery and inclusion that takes us away from God as the white-bearded elderly father-figure deeply ingrained in the minds of so many and rejected by so many; especially those whose paternal parentage has been one of absence, indifference or cruelty."

Rev Lindsay Llewellyn-MacDuff, chaplain to the Bishop of Rochester, wrote on the Women and the Church website: "What difference would it make if we regularly – in our worship, our preaching, and our everyday conversation – talked about God as 'she'? I don't mean all the time, but often – perhaps even 50 per cent of the time. What would it mean if we could talk about God as 'her' without sniggering or stropping, but as evenly as we talk about God as 'him'. What would it do to the way we approach God, or each other?"

How we talk affects how we think, she said. "Centuries of keeping women linguistically out of the picture has helped keep them out of the picture politically, financially and legally – what the tongue doesn't mention, the eye needn't see. To talk about God as 'her' - not all the time, but often - widens our concept of the divine."

God ceases to be an old man in the sky and becomes someone bigger than can be described by just one pronoun. "She becomes a God of wind and fire and smoke and silence."

She concluded: "And perhaps, just perhaps, it might weaken the justifications for abuse of power, if the Church proclaims Jesa Christa, crucified."

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