Toxic masculinity: Why we should stop calling God 'he'

Archbishop Justin has some gay friends. He knows them and likes them, and indeed he thinks their relationships are fabulous. So it's not personal.

There is however a way of treating gay people in the Church which has been normalised. There is a level of emotional, spiritual a and verbal abuse which is woven into the fabric of the institution. It almost feels as if there is a fault line in human nature which cannot be changed. The latest flurry over 'Living in Love and Faith' (aka the 'Teaching Document'), we hear, is about the fact it is all happening on the condition that the status quo is upheld.

Well, I'm feeling the same about men.

Activists held a protest march and rally in opposition to Brett Kavanaugh near the Capitol in Washington, October 4, 2018Reuters

I know some fabulous men. People I admire, respect and love as individuals. This week however, has left me thinking that gender wars are at the root of most of the evil in the world. I am experiencing a sort of despair. There has been a perfect storm.

I really struggled with my reaction to the unfolding story in America around the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Virtually everyone knows that Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth, but they still went ahead and appointed Kavanaugh.

In a way we are familiar with the politicalisation of patriarchy in the Republican Party. What dug the knife in though was the role of the conservative Christian lobby.

As an email I received from Faith America on October 7 usefully summarised:

'Franklin Graham said attempted rape was "not relevant."

'Jerry Falwell Jr. bussed hundreds of Liberty University students to Capitol Hill to rally in support of Kavanaugh as Christine Blasey Ford testified.

'An official at Catholic University tweeted that one of Kavanaugh's accusers should be treated as a "perp," not a victim.

'If you want to understand why Republicans are voting lockstep to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, look no further than the religious right.

'For decades conservatives have been telling Christians to vote Republican because of sexual morality. It's time to end the charade.'

There is a not a calm, measured way to react to this stuff. I'm sorry, but it makes me want to vomit.

In case you think it's just Christians, The Times reported (8.10.2019) that Amazon has a scheme that supports the extremist Muslim cleric Haritha al Haddad who condones child marriage, FGM, and stoning people for adultery. He naturally believes that women should remain in the home and not have independence or complain when their husbands beat them.

Ironically in the same edition of the paper there is a report on research that shows that the quality and quantity of men's sperm is falling so rapidly that were it to continue the future of the human race would be in doubt. Too many pies, it seems.

Does it HAVE to be like this?

Is this actually what the story of Genesis is all about? Are we being given an insight into the root cause of so much of our cruelty and suffering?

What most women experience is that 'toxic masculinity' has invaded our families, our workplaces, our schools, our politics and our churches. Patriarchal ideologies are the norm. The Church has been horribly silent in the face of violence and abuse against women. We don't talk about it, even though in our congregations there will be many women – some say 87 per cent – who have experienced some form of harassment, and one in six who have been the victim of rape or attempted rape.

Why? Why, when our message is about love and transformation and healing, is the Church not the one place where things are different? The one place where we can model a way of justice and equality. It's all in the Bible, after all.

Deep breath. But I'm going to say it: it's because 'God is male'.

At the deepest level we have chosen to create an image of God which colludes with the toxicity of male dominance. So much religious language is violent. It is about heroic leadership, kingship, subjection, dominance. It's about who wins and who loses. It's about punishment and reward. There are wars, physical and spiritual. Every level of oppressive patriarchy is right there in our holy text.

Canon Rosie

Of course I hear our feminist theologians. You don't have to read it that way, but we do. Instead of turning the script on its head we use it to reinforce male dominance at every turn.

This is about so much more than making a few women bishops. This asks us all if there is a way in which Christianity can be so counter-cultural that it inhabits a universe that is free form gender war at every level.

To even begin to make that happen we need to talk about pronouns.

While God goes on being caricatured as 'he' the conversation cannot even begin. 

Rev Canon Rosie Harper is chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and a member of the Church of England's General Synod.

This article appears on ViaMedia News and is used with permission.