An article on WORLD magazine’s website bemoans a Grammy-nominated Christian band’s “drift from biblical orthodoxy.” The substance of this move toward heresy?

  • the band leader no longer believes in an historic Adam, Eve, or Noah
  • the band’s newest album expresses doubt (for the record: so does the biblical book of Job) AND, most importantly and heretically:
  • a new musical track experiments with feminine metaphors for God!

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted the WORLD article, saying “this is really sad.”

Owen Strachan, who teaches theology at Boyce College, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and who serves as president of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, was more expressive, tweeting

Screenshot 2014-08-04 15.33.21

The second part of that tweet is an allusion to 1 Peter 2:8…except that there it’s Jesus who’s the stumbling stone and the rock of offense — not Bronze Age-appropriate gendered expressions that the Bible, being a text of its context, employs, along with other notions that not even the strictest patriarchalist adheres to — such as the implication in the various laws that women are property (property that ought to be treated decently, but property nonetheless.)

I’m not sure why Bible’s female metaphors for God (some of my favorites are in Deut. 32 and in Isaiah) get almost no airtime and to suggest that we might think about God as Mother equals heresy. Sure, the language of masculinity is used to to talk about God more than the language of femininity, but it is there, albeit largely ignored  in certain quarters.

Speaking for myself, when God’s “maleness” is upheld to the exclusion of God’s “femaleness,” I can’t help but feel…I’m not sure. Excluded? Left out? Less-than?

[Side note: while my husband and I discussed this at dinner, our eight year old piped up: “wait, someone is saying that God is a man!? But God’s not a man, a woman, a person, or an alien!” And then he went back to gnawing his pizza crust.]

On her first Sunday at our church, the new assistant priest beautifully incorporated the matriarchs into the liturgical prayer — invoking “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.”

Fe+Male. Image courtesy Thomas Rousing via Flickr Creative Commons.

Fe+Male. Image courtesy Thomas Rousing via Flickr Creative Commons.

It was as if I let out a huge breath I didn’t know I was holding in for a very, very long time. Named women in the liturgy; women of God, my God, not exclusively the God of men! I wrote the priest a note to thank her. “Strange that it is 2014 and hearing the matriarchs’ names along with the patriarchs’ names was such a revelation for me…” I said. But it was.

Beneath all this, I can’t help wondering: Surely God is not really so fragile as to need all this defending? “I AM WHO I AM,” God says to Moses. God gets to define who God is, and no one else does. If God is pleased to express God’s nature in female metaphors, as a birthing, nursing, comforting mother, who are we to object?

And isn’t it just a bit presumptuous to assert that any of us has the authority to dictate the best (or ONLY) words that may be used to express aspects of an inexpressible God? Do we not, to paraphrase Marilynne Robinson, mistake for reality itself the words we use to articulate what we can perceive?

No, “biblical gender” is not a stumbling block keeping people from the ‘true faith.’ But it may be a millstone that teachers of the law load people down with — and, being that many of these teachers are men, it’s a burden that they themselves do not carry.

14 Comments

  1. I am sick of ‘farewelling’ people for things that are clearly not heresy. I was blogging about this in my review of CS Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm this morning (in direct reaction to Moore’s tweet and World’s article).

    If CS Lewis were writing today he would certainly be ‘farewell-ed’ by a number of Evangelicals for his belief in purgatory and praying for the dead and his ambiguous universalism in Narnia #7. But by farewelling people for small things we lose the ability to claim safe space for spiritual and theological exploration.

    That was the point of Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm. It might have been fictional, but he was exploring ideas with a friend. He knows that not all of his ideas are right and he back tracks and becomes confivinced he was wrong through the discussion.

    But if we succumb to ‘farewell-ing’ we create a class of Christians that are not only unable to really explore faith, but they are unwilling because of the potential backlash. This then changes the very nature of Christianity to one that is locked into a particular time and culture.

    But Christianity is not locked into a particular time and culture. It is a universal faith that is open to people of all times and all cultures. Which requires exploration and questioning.

    I think a good response if you are concerned about actual heresy is the one that Justin Holcomb has with his books Know the Creeds (positive understanding of what it means to be an orthodox Christian) and Know the Heretics (an exploration of what heresy is, through the ancient heretics). I will admit I haven’t read these yet (although I bought them this morning because they are on sale) but I have read a number of reviews of them and they seem to accomplish their purpose.

    • Rachel Marie Stone

      Post author

      Yes, exactly: sick of people ‘farewelling’ people for things that are NOT HERESY. Heresy exists. It may, in fact, be heresy to paste a male identity on God and insist that it’s the only acceptable one…since God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should repent. And so on.

  2. “Surely God is not really so fragile as to need all this defending?”

    Silly question, really. God is not fragile, or He wouldn’t be God. But God is jealous.

    It’s also a question seemingly calculated to deflect from a more important one which would make us look at questions of orthodoxy, heresy and even blasphemy. It’s easy to declare something to be not heretical when you haven’t defined the logically prior concept of orthodoxy. For, at it’s simplest and most basic, a heresy is that which departs from orthodoxy.

    With regard to language for God, to move from metaphors to actual names is indeed to step into heresy. And this is because orthodoxy is defined for us in the Scriptures and the Creeds. In them we find the God is Father, and although His actions are sometimes likened to womanly or motherly actions, God is never named Mother. God is Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

    Leaving discussion about the femininity of the third person of the Holy Trinity aside, (since we are talking about the Father, after all), the creeds start with the Father. “I believe in God the Father …” And Scripture itself is shot through with the reality of the fatherhood of God. Even the supposed great Feminist liberator, Jesus Christ the Son of God, never referred to the Father as a mother. Jesus taught us to pray to our Father. And the author God was pleased to use for a great chunk of the New Testament makes it clear in his letter to the Ephesians that God’s fatherhood is important to human relationships as well:

    “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,”

    So yes, since to call God “our Mother” is a clear departure from orthodoxy, it is indeed heresy. One might also reasonably argue it is a violation of the 2nd commandment, making it blasphemy as well.

  3. I had only read the world article until just a few minutes ago. I hadn’t read the original blog post (from February) or the liturgy for Mother’s day where God is our Mother is from. (Here is the full liturgy in context. I think the whole thing should be listened to but at least listen to the Apophatic Introduction and Apophatic Meditation. http://www.theliturgists.com/god-our-mother/ )

    Frankly, now I am kind of pissed. The World article in context of the original liturgy and blog post reads like a hack job. It cites pretty much the only line from the liturgy that could be controversial and takes it fully out of context. Knowing this is World magazine, I get why rejection of Adam and Eve is a big deal. But still there the quote is misconstrued. This is the quote from the world article,

    “Then he nails down exactly what he doesn’t believe—in Adam and Eve or the Flood. He has “no more ability to believe in these things then I do to believe in Santa Claus.”

    This is the quote from the blog post in broader context.

    “I have no more ability to believe, for example, that the first people on earth were a couple named Adam and Eve that lived 6,000 years ago. I have no ability to believe that there was a flood that covered all the highest mountains of the world only 4,000 years ago and that all of the animal species that exist today are here because they were carried on an ark and then somehow walked or flew all around the world from a mountain in the middle east after the water dried up. I have no more ability to believe these things than I do to believe in Santa Clause or to not believe in gravity. But I have a choice on what to do with these unbeliefs. I could either throw out those stories as lies, or I could try to find some value in them as stories. But this is what happens…

    If you try to find some value in them as stories, there will be some people that say that you aren’t a Christian anymore because you don’t believe the Bible is true or “authoritative”. Even if you try to argue that you think there is a truth to the stories, just not in an historical sense; that doesn’t matter. To some people, you denying the “truth” of a 6,000 year old earth with naked people in a garden eating an apple being responsible for the death of dinosaurs is the same thing as you nailing Jesus to the cross. You become part of ‘them’. The deniers of God’s Word.”

    So now because of an article that looks (from the bio) like it was written by an intern, you have lots of people that now assume Gungor has actively rejected Christianity, which from the context of the article he is saying that he has not rejected Christianity at all, but some rejected him (and if him, then they reject a large segment of the group of people that call themselves Christian.)

    So why is it that I shouldn’t be pissed at this point over a magazine that seems to have actively mischaracterized a fellow Christian?

  4. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I think some people who aren’t Catholic or Orthodox get all caught up in angst over gender in religion because as far as I could see growing up in a Catholic father, Protestant mother family Mary was always getting the “bum’s rush” out the door by the Protestant side. They certainly didn’t regard her with angelic reverence as in the Annunciation or regard her as our mother as Jesus taught from the cross One of the most beautiful prayers ever written is the Ave Maria which ends: “Holy Mary ,,Mother of God, Pray for us sinners, Now and at the hour of our death.”. Clearly Mary is the Mother image he wants us to revere–yet He never made her a priestess or a “father.”
    No wonder our culture has become so bizarre with sexual, marriage, and family confusion.

  5. Thank you for this! I can’t imagine the Creator of the universe needs any defending from me.

    Because I’m rather an ass, I often ask people if their God isn’t big enough to handle everything: election outcomes, reading Scripture as though it were something other than an instruction manual, women preaching, gay people marrying one another. I’m PRETTY SURE HE’S GOT IT HANDLED. And I love to call Him “Louise” because sometimes She’s a beautiful, soft, kind, stern, loving, merciful black woman in the front row of the choir with the light of God shining out of every one of her pores.

  6. And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, “Brethren, I’ve heard it said that I am to be a human sacrifice for your sins. May I asketh, who in the goddamn hell came up with that Neanderthal bullshit!!!???

    Blood sacrifice!!!???? Are you all fucking insane!!!!????

    Brethren, listen carefully as I tell you something of great importance.

    The idea that the blood of a savage human sacrifice will drift up to the heavens and unleash magical powers of atonement from the invisible deity living there is, without a doubt, the most absurd, preposterous, revolting, sickening, evil and idiotic pile of Cro-Magnon donkey shit that the human mind has ever concocted in our entire history on planet Earth!!

    Blood sacrifice!!!!! Do you hear what you’re fucking saying!!!????

    Brethren, thou can all take your dying for sins lunacy and shove it straight up thy fucking asses!!!!!”

    —-Jesus Christ, The lost Gospel of Sane Thought

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