What Happens When God Can be Mother Too?

Category Archives:Church

Introducing Your Church to God as Mother

Church isn’t easy. There’s a lot to disagree about within Christianity, and within American (or Canadian, or your own country’s) politics. But still, some of you–pastors, leaders, lay leaders, and church members–will find that’s it’s worth it to take some risks to bring feminine language for God into church services.

You are the ones who know that to be completely supportive of women, we need to acknowledge the image of women within the Godhead. This starts with the words we use to describe God. To fully affirm that God made women in Her image, we must begin to change from worshiping an exclusively masculine god to an Invisible God who welcomes both male and female metaphors and pronouns to describe God.

If you are ready to begin the task of introducing your church to feminine language for God, here’s where to start:

One) Begin using it in your own prayer life.

This didn’t happen for me until I made up my mind to do my one-person experiment. I only used devotional books and Bibles that used feminine language for God until it started to get more comfortable to call God “Mother.”

I continue to use these helpful resources during my time with God:

Swallow’s Nest: a Feminine Reading of the Psalms by Marchienne Vroon Rienstra

The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament by The Christian Godde Project 

The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation by Priests for Equality

Two) Do a teaching or sermon series on the Biblical basis for feminine language for God.

There are many obvious references to God as mother in the Old Testament and some in the New. I used to stumble over the argument that God is a father but only like a mother. Recently I re-read the mother verses and discovered that most of the time the Old Testament writers use mother as a metaphor. In fact, often God is speaking in the first person as a mother (See my post here). Jesus himself uses mothering as an implied metaphor when he says, “Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6).

It’s amazing what you and your congregation will discover as you unpack these verses that affirm the feminine within God.

Three) Discuss and introduce hymns that have inclusive language and feminine language for God.

It is often the lyrics to our hymns and worship songs that create sexist barriers and block full participation by egalitarians. Getting past the first few songs in a service can be a challenge with so many references to God as male, or to the “brotherhood of believers” or to being “sons of God.” Yet, great resources exist for bringing healing to women and men through music:

–Jann Aldredge Clanton’s hymn and worship song compilations.

–“5 Tips and Tricks for Being Gender-Inclusive in Worshipby Rev. Wesley Spears Newsome

–This great article for general guidelines for selecting inclusive hymns: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/making-hymns-inclusive.

Four) Occasionally, use “She” as a pronoun for God, and refer to God as Mother in prayer.

Expect push-back. And keep going. Rev. Paul R. Smith, author of Is It Okay to Call God Mother? Considering the Feminine Face of God, says when he refers to God as “She” members of his congregation tend to laugh or giggle. Eventually, your congregants will understand that it’s not a joke, and will start to get comfortable with the fact that the God who is a non-physical person will sometimes be “He” and sometimes be “She.” Check out Paul Smith’s amazing book as a possible resource as you respond to complaints and questions. A scholarly work to refer to is Dr. Timothy Bulkeley’s book, Not Only a Father: Talk of God as Mother in the Bible and Christian Tradition.

Five) If you are in a liturgical setting, alternate the use of “Father” and “Mother” in liturgies sometimes. 

One of my first breakthroughs in being able to call God Mother was during my husband’s home church services, where we alternated Father and Mother in the liturgy. Saying “Mother” out loud, and even better, “Mother Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” helped affirm to me that it really is okay to call God Mother.

Someone I knew balked at the term “Mother Almighty,” because in his mind “mother” could never be “almighty.” But that’s exactly the problem that we are trying to solve with changes in the language we use for God in church and society.

With the help of these new words for God, someday the church may see what God sees: the strength of women, who are made in the image of the Almighty God (Gen. 1:27).

Bathsheba Only Wanted a Bath: Exposing Power-sins in the Church

Bathsheba Wanted It

Bathsheba was a favorite subject for Renaissance painters, because she should obviously be painted naked. She was an adulteress, after all, right? Surely, she knew David was watching her do her monthly ritualistic bath from above. No, Bathsheba was a survivor of power-rape and a woman made a widow by her rapist, King David (Check out 2 Samuel 11 for a reminder of the story).

Why don’t we think of her this way, however? Because many of us, deep down, believe that sexual sins against women by big-name religious men don’t matter that much. We assume Bathsheba was all for it, too. Don’t women automatically fall for powerful men who approach them?

Bathsheba’s Opinions Not Recorded

The Bible doesn’t say what Bathsheba felt or thought. It does say she “mourned” the dead husband that David murdered, whom she had only recently married. What mattered to the author of 2 Samuel was David’s sin against Yaweh, and the prophet Nathan’s view of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, as David’s victim. David had stolen Uriah’s property. And from the author’s way of painting Yaweh, to kill David and Bathsheba’s first child as punishment was only hurting David. Ironically, Bathsheba was hardly seen at all.

King Yoder’s Sins

The same dynamic continues in our culture and time, perhaps unconsciously justified by misreadings of Scripture like this one. This week, I found out that John Howard Yoder, well-known pacifist author of The Politics of Jesus, made a practice of attempting to manipulate Christian women to entertain him sexually. Most of the women resisted him, but were scarred by what he did. The Society of Christian Ethics recently held several sessions in their annual conference to discuss the issues involved when a well-known leader like Yoder harms many people.

Yoder twisted theology to try to convince women that sexual play and even intercourse between them was morally acceptable. He used his personal power in the Mennonite church due to his social justice, pacifist writings. Yes, his social justice theology.

John Howard Yoder died 20 years ago. 20. years. ago. It’s not that no one knew what he was doing back when he was alive. The president of the college where Yoder taught tried to get him to change but ultimately protected him. One theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, even praised him in an aside and in his 2010 memoir, for how he handled the situation. (For the full story, see a 2013 New York Times piece and a recent one by feminist scholar Grace Yia-Hei Kao). Only since 2013 have Mennonite leaders been talking and acknowledging the injustice toward the women who live on, with their memories.

History Redux

An isolated situation, right? I think not. Historically great religious men have gotten away with a lot when it comes to misusing power with women. Ghandi was much like Yoder in aligning his religious beliefs with his abuse of women for his sexual pleasure. Martin Luther King was nothing like Yoder in using bad theology to get women to do what he wanted, but he did mistreat his wife with his affairs, with no accountability.

We all flinch when we hear Ghandi and King’s names linked with sins against women. But this is the exact problem I’m talking about. And it happens on even the domestic level, where no one wants to expose a Christian family man even though he is beating his wife and/or children. This is a big problem no matter how well-known, or not, the male abuser is.

Learning from Nathan

We can learn how to confront injustice toward women by powerful, and not-as-powerful, religious men through the prophet Nathan’s example. When Nathan heard from God to rebuke King David, he didn’t let fear deter him from speaking out what he heard from God. We can also learn from David, who didn’t go to self-defensiveness and pride as Yoder repeatedly did. David admitted that he was wrong.

We have to also start facing squarely the sins of the famous authors that we read, and not toss their personal lives off as an aside, as this particular theologian would like to argue we should. What Yoder did is a fact, not an allegation. It matters. I would feel physically sick to teach his work at all, especially when there are other good theologians who teach pacificism, such as Walter Wink and J. Denney Weaver.

We have to acknowledge and discuss the tendency for great thinkers to separate their minds from their emotions and bodies. That kind of split isn’t the Christian life. Following Jesus is not about having the right answers or ideas, no matter how interesting. Nor is it about keeping a perfect façade. King David understood that following Yaweh meant he would be accountable for sins he committed, even if he thought the only sin was against Uriah.

Though neither David, Nathan nor the author(s) of 2 Samuel 11 understood that David had sinned against Bathsheba, you know that Mother God did. And during all those years no one took seriously that John Howard Yoder was assaulting women, Mother God did.

She wants us to use the next four years to practice speaking out when we see power abused, especially in the church. Now is the time to learn from Nathan.