Friday, April 19, 2013

What Am I Supposed To Call God?

When I was a student at Earlham School of Religion, school policy was that in our written and oral contributions to our classes, worship and community life, we should do our best to use gender-inclusive language for God. In practical terms, this meant avoiding the personal pronoun he, usually simply replacing it with the word God. This language switch could get a little bit tricky, since standard English has some serious limitations when it comes to expressing a non-gendered personal entity. I remember that quite frequently I ended up writing and saying godself - as in, “God is gathering a people to godself.” Not exactly the most accessible language!
Don’t get me wrong; I am clear in my own mind that God is neither exclusively male nor female, and I have no desire to promote a worldview in which God’s feminine qualities are denigrated or ignored. While I was a student at ESR, and for years afterwards, I embraced gender-inclusive language wholeheartedly. In fact, hearing other Christians refer to God as he really bothered me.
Over time, however, I have begun to encounter serious problems with some of the attempts to make my language around God gender-neutral. The most obvious, of course, is the simple dilemma of using the English language in a way that sounds deeply unnatural to most folks. The word godself is a seminary invention if there ever was one, and there seems little likelihood that this well-intentioned stopgap is going to catch on any time soon.
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