In what would mark a departure from centuries of tradition, bishops are to launch a project “on gendered language” referencing God in church services later this year.
The move has been criticised by conservatives, who have warned that “male and female imagery is not interchangeable”. However, liberal Christians have welcomed it, claiming that “a theological misreading of God as exclusively male is a driver of much continuing discrimination and sexism against women”.
Details of the plans emerged in a written question to the Liturgical Commission, which prepares and promotes forms of service and religious worship in the Church, at General Synod, the Church’s lawmaking body, which is sitting this week.
Any permanent changes or rewriting of scriptures with gendered language would have to be agreed by a future meeting of Synod…
… The Rev Ian Paul, a member of the General Synod and the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, warned against any departure from the original scriptures, saying: “The use of male pronouns for God should not be understood as implying that God is male – which is a heresy. God is not sexed, unlike humanity.
“The Bible uses feminine imagery and metaphors of God, but primarily identifies God using masculine pronouns, names, and imagery. Male and female imagery is not interchangeable.
“The fact that God is called ‘Father’ can’t be substituted by ‘Mother’ without changing meaning, nor can it be gender-neutralised to ‘Parent’ without loss of meaning. Fathers and mothers are not interchangeable but relate to their offspring in different ways.
“If the Liturgical Commission seeks to change this, then in an important way they will be moving the doctrine of the Church away from being grounded in the Scriptures.”
A spokesman for the Church of England said: “This is nothing new. Christians have recognised since ancient times that God is neither male nor female, yet the variety of ways of addressing and describing God found in scripture has not always been reflected in our worship.