The Episcopal Church is determining whether it will portray God using gender-neutral language in its Book of Common Prayer – a decision that could be reached at its 79th General Convention that started Thursday in Austin, Texas.
“The debate is centered on making sure that the faith’s prayer book is clear that God – the supreme being – is genderless,” TheBlaze reported. “The church has always addressed God through the use of masculine terms such as Him, Father and King – among others.”
But this could soon change, as leading Episcopalians are now questioning whether God is male – or if He even has a gender – and the answer they come up with during their eight-day convention will likely be written all over the Book of Common Prayer, which is the cherished core element of Episcopal identity used in every Episcopal congregation that impresses the belief that the language of prayer matters.
Preaching the LGBT ‘gospel’
Rev. Wil Gafney – a professor of the Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in Texas – is a member of the Episcopal Church’s committee that is pushing for the prayer book’s gender-neutral language.
“As long as ‘men’ and ‘God’ are in the same category, our work toward equity will not just be incomplete,” Gafney argued, according to the Washington Post. “I honestly think it won’t matter, in some ways.”
As a controversial woman pastor – a position that many Christians contend contradicts God’s order of teaching in His Church – she admitted that she often breaks her liberal denomination’s rules by using her own LGBT-friendly rhetoric to describe God.
“Gafney says that when she preaches, she sometimes changes the words of the Book of Common Prayer – even though Episcopal priests aren’t formally allowed to do so,” the Washington Post’s Julie Zauzmer noted. “Sometimes, she switches a word like ‘King’ to a gender-neutral term like ‘Ruler’ or ‘Creator,’ [and] sometimes she uses ‘She’ instead of ‘He.’”
However, in some instances – such as the beginning Lord’s Prayer that Jesus teaches the 12 disciples to recite in the book of Matthew – she adheres to the traditional masculine reference of God that has been used for millennia.
“‘Our Father,’ – I won’t fiddle with that,” Gafney conceded, according to the Washington Post.
Before attempting to change Scripture’s most widely known Christian prayer so that it adheres to LGBT’s lexicon, Gafney wants to make sure that the liberal denomination is behind her.
“Gafney and many other Episcopal priests don’t want to skirt the rules when they make changes like that – they want the prayer book to conform to a theology of God as bigger than gender,” Zauzmer explained.
Instead of sticking with the traditional language of prayer over the centuries that uses the masculine reference to God, Gafney and other LGBT activists in the Episcopal Church – an American denomination that spawned and later broke from the Church of England – are adamant about implementing a major overhaul to the prayer book to indoctrinate congregants into believing that God does not have a gender.
Is God masculine or genderless? That is the question
Two opposing resolutions are currently being explored at the triennial convention by Episcopalian leaders – many of whom have already moved to delete “husband and wife” from the church’s lexicon.
“One resolution asks for a modernization of the Book of Common Prayer, which was last revised 39 years ago,” CBN News recounted. “According to the church, a complete revision would take several years, and a new prayer book would probably not be ready for use in congregations until 2030.”
Other politically correct agendas are also being pushed by liberals within the denomination.
“Besides adding gender-neutral language concerning God, some advocates also want other revisions, including a Christian's duty to the Earth's conservation, adding same-sex marriage ceremonies to the liturgy – since the church has been performing homosexual weddings for years – and even adding a ceremony to celebrate a transgender person's adoption of a new name,” CBN News’ Chris Warren informed.
Conservative and traditional church leaders recommend that Episcopalians should be better versed in the existing prayer book and learn more about the prayers of those in the Church that date back almost 500 years.
“The other resolution asks that the church not update the Book of Common Prayer, but should spend the next three years studying the existing book.” Warren added. “The prayer book's roots go back to the first Anglican prayer book, which was first published in 1549.”
Episcopal Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago – a member of the committee that will decide on one of the two resolutions – advocates keeping and studying the 1979 format, but he indicated that current “social justice” movements have led him to consider women’s demands to use gender-neutral lingo.
“The Book of Common Prayer really constitutes the Episcopal Church in significant ways, [as] our theology is what we pray,” Lee impressed, according to the Washington Post. “In the culture, the whole #MeToo movement, I think, has really raised in sharp relief how much we do need to examine our assumptions about language – and particularly the way we imagine God,”
Even though God characterizes Himself as male from the books of Genesis through Revelation in the Bible – referring to Himself as one of the three Persons in the Trinity as Jesus’ “Father” God – Lee claims that seeing God as exclusively male is being narrow-minded, arguing that God is bigger than male or female.
“If a language for God is exclusively male – and a certain kind of image of what power means – it’s certainly an incomplete picture of God,” Lee contended. “We can’t define God – we can say something profoundly true about God – but the mystery we dare to call God is always bigger than anything we can imagine.”
But Lee says that using supplementary texts already provided by the Episcopal Church should suffice for priests who want to push the LGBT-friendly rhetoric on their congregants.
“In the decades since the 1979 prayer book, the Episcopal Church has published numerous authorized alternative texts, which bishops can choose to let priests in their dioceses use alongside the Book of Common Prayer,” Zauzmer explained. “Lee and other advocates of keeping the current prayer book say that these alternate service materials are sufficient, for now – for priests who want the option of gender-neutral texts – [and] if the wholesale revision of the prayer book does not pass at the convention, some feminist priests said they would push to at least grant broader authorization for priests to use the alternate texts … for instance, letting any priest use the newer texts, even without a bishop’s approval.”
Gafney acknowledged that a large number of Episcopal priests strongly resist any attempt to alter God’s masculine identity in the Bible, but then asserted that not making the gender changes to the Book of Common Prayer is detrimental because it is the only book existing in many Episcopal churches – and the only book most believers take home as their personal spiritual resource.
“I have no doubt there are many, many, many other priests who are clutching pearls and collars in horror and would never change a word,” Gafney conceded. “[But] as long as a masculine God remains at the top of the pyramid, nothing else we do matters. We construct a theological framework in which we talk about gender equality … then we say that which is most holy in the universe is only and exclusively male. That just undoes some of the key theology that says we are equal in God’s sight – we are fully created in God’s image.”
As the chair of the Episcopal convention’s committee – which will decide whether or not to send the prayer book resolution to a larger legislative body – the Very Rev. Samuel Candler shared his personal preference for including non-gender language to the text under debate.
“It stands for something – it’s a symbol of our common faith,” Candler impressed, according to the Washington Post. “The words in our prayer book do matter.”
The dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, Kelly Brown Douglas – who is serving on the committee recommending the gender-neutral language change – stressed that changes to the Book of Common Prayer would go far beyond replacing “Lord” with “Sovereign.”
“God as Creator, Liberator, Sustainer … God as the one who loves – we use descriptive words for God so that we can begin to imagine who God is in our world,” Douglas said, according to the Washington Post. “That, to me, is the theological challenge – to get away from the static nouns that don’t tell us anything anyway. The God that I can see in the least of these – the God that I can see in the face of a Renisha McBride or a Trayvon Martin – … tells me something about God.”
To bolster her argument, she contended that the Bible uses a wider array of descriptors for God than the current Book of Common Prayer.
“What about the God who heard … the cries of the Israelites as they found themselves in bondage – the God who heard the oppressed, the God whose voice comes through the whirlwind?” she asked. “Wow! Who is that God? That frees God from these very limited, finite images of God in which we are creating God in our own image instead of trying to live and reach into the image that is God.”
Other church movements emasculating God
The Episcopal Church is not the only denomination that is leaning toward adopting LGBT language to depict God.
The United Methodist Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have also debated the use of gender-related language for God,” TheBlaze’s Jana J. Pruet noted. “The Reform Jewish movement changed its language regarding God to gender-neutral terms in 2007.”