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Commentary


Women's Division General Conference Resolution On Inclusive God Language Runs Seriously Amok


RENEW
A Network for Christian Women
P.O. Box 889
133 Clarkesville St.
Cornelia, GA 30531
706-778-4812

February 2000

Dear Friend,

All segments of the United Methodist Church are preparing for General Conference 2000. I recently attended a meeting of "official" and "unofficial" renewal groups who are jointly planning a tremendous prayer effort for this event slated for Cleveland, Ohio, May 2-12. How reassuring to be aware of this, the most important, facet of our preparation.

Most of our official boards and agencies will be submitting resolutions to General Conference. The Women’s Division has prepared resolutions on seven topics: (1) Adoption in a Global Context; (2) Banning the Use of the Child Soldier; (3) Biblical Language; (4) Hate Crimes in the United States; (5) "Pillars of Peace for the 21st Century"--A New Policy Statement on the United Nations; (6) Public Education and the Church in the USA; (7) Responsible Travel.

While I have addressed my concerns about several of these resolutions for our upcoming newsletter and the next issue of Good News magazine, in this letter, I particularly want to focus on the resolution regarding Biblical Language.

On the surface, this seems a reasonable resolution, intended to affirm "the use of language that reflects the long-standing commitment to the inclusiveness and diversity of United Methodist members and constituencies." However, the full implication of this resolution is seen in the sections where the United Methodist Publishing House and the General Council on Ministries (or appropriate body) are authorized not only to prepare guidelines and resources that deal with inclusive language for all persons, but also inclusive language for God. Here is where this resolution runs seriously amuck.

As theologian Elizabeth Achtemeier has so aptly stated, "No aspect of the feminist movement promises to affect the church’s life more basically than that movement’s attempts to change language for God."

My intention in this letter is to help clarify why the feminist argument for inclusive language for God, and in this case, the Women’s Division’s resolution on Biblical Language, is flawed and destructive of an accurate understanding of the true and living God.

A letter can only touch on a few important key elements in this particular argument. You may send for a more extensive issue paper on this topic by using the enclosed card. (Since you have no card, you may write to Renew Network )

The following points are critical to the Christian, Biblical understanding of the character and nature of God and shape the theology of sound Christian doctrine. Several sources are referenced to support each point.

God is neither male nor female. Contrary to feminist thought, and to the implications of the resolution on Biblical Language, Biblical scholars agree universally that the God of the Bible has no sexuality.

Sexuality is a structure of creation (Gen. 1-2) confined within the limits of the creation (Matt. 22:30), and the God of the Bible is consistently pictured as totally "other" than all creation. "I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst," he says in Hosea 11:9.1

References to God as Father do not mean male sexuality, either in the Bible or in the central Christian and Jewish traditions, although similar language did indicate divine sexuality in ancient pagan and Gnostic religions.2

The few instances of feminine imagery for God in the Bible all take the form of simile, not metaphor.3 Feminist theology and the Women’s Division resolution base their claim to inclusive language upon diverse imagery used for God in the Scriptures. The claim that all such language has equal authority in naming God is inaccurate.

All of the indisputable figurative associations of the Deity with a mother (whether human or bird) come in about half a dozen similes, not in metaphors, and that distinction is functional and fundamental: God and Christ are said to be like a mother in some particular circumstances, but are never called mother in either Testament. References to God as Father, on the other hand, occur in every New Testament book with the sole exception of the brief epistle III John.4

God has revealed and named Himself. God has revealed himself as the Father of Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ as the Son of the Father. That is God’s self-identity. The names "Father," "Son" and "Holy Spirit" also clearly identify God as three distinct persons. Therefore, it is inappropriate to refer to God as mother, or to refer to God exclusively by his works or attributes such as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Rock, Ground of Being, Wisdom. These works and attributes cloud the threeness of the Trinity and the personhood of God.5

The church has historically claimed to base its beliefs and actions on revealed truth.... The evangelical Christian affirms that God’s definitive and unsurpassable revelation has been given in the person of Jesus Christ. …. To change the response to God to anything other than the revelation focused on the person and work of Christ is to change our religion.6

The Bible uses masculine language for God because that is the language with which God has revealed himself. Biblical Christian faith is a revealed religion. . As the Episcopal writer Alvin Kimel explains, "‘Father’ is not a metaphor imported by humanity onto the screen of eternity; it is the name and filial term of address revealed by God himself in the person of his Son."7

Inclusive Language for God destroys sound Christian doctrine. God’s revelation of Himself defines who we are as the people of God. To attempt to alter God’s identity to fit our experience or gender requirements would be disastrous. And, God cannot be named by impersonal, metaphorical language.

What is at stake today is not just the wishes of any particular group of feminists, but something far more basic. For the church to adopt inclusive feminist language for the Deity would disrupt and destroy the careful, nuanced, and balanced formulations that for centuries have made it possible to proclaim the three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit whom Christians encounter as divine, within a single and undivided Godhead.8

Why are not his primary designations [various] metaphors found throughout the Scriptures? Why a personal God when God transcends all human personality?…No impersonal designations of God, except they be explained by the Bible’s personal names for him, can adequately express that gracious and demanding relationship of love with himself into which God woos and calls us. …. the Bible’s language for God is masculine, a unique revelation of God in the world. …. It is precisely the introduction of female language for God that opens the door to… identification of God with the world. . . . If God is identified with his creation, we finally make ourselves gods and goddesses--the ultimate and primeval sin (Gen. 3). …The Bible... is rigorous in its opposition to every other religion and cultic practice that identifies creation with creator.9

I hope these points are helpful to you in evaluating the faulty theology behind feminist attempts to change the language for God. The Women’s Division’s resolution on Biblical Language contains recommendations supportive of this perspective. We need to do all we can to see that this resolution is defeated at General Conference 2000.

Members of the RENEW Network committee will be an integral part of the General Conference 2000 team. As the women’s program arm of Good News, we will be working closely with them in their efforts to have a positive impact upon General Conference by encouraging the United Methodist Church to remain faithful to Scriptural Christianity and to its own Doctrinal Standards.

Keep praying for the upcoming General Conference and its impact upon the United Methodist Church. If you are able, refer to the "Call to Action" section of our web site for specific information about prayer for GC2000 (http://www.renewnetwork.org ).

Influencing General Conference requires a tremendous investment of time, energy and money. RENEW has entered the new year with a balanced budget, but with no surplus for new programs or for General Conference expenses. Your gift of $25, $50, $100 or any amount you can give will enable us to move ahead with new programs and support our personnel at General Conference 2000. Thank you in advance for your prayers and financial support

Sincerely in Christ,

L. Faye Short President


footnotes:

1Christianity Today, August 16, 1993, p. 18," Why God Is Not Mother, "Elizabeth Achtemeier

2 Scottish Journal of Theology, p. 444, Roland M. Frye

3Christianity Today, August 16, 1993, p. 19, "Why God Is Not Mother "Elizabeth Achtemeier

4 Scottish Journal of Theology, p. 468, Roland M. Frye

5 Theology Matters, Vol. 5 No. 1, p. 9, "A Theological Guide for Pastoral Nominating Committees," William Lewis

6 "Why Not Sophia? A Response to the Re-Imagining Movement," Dr. Arden C. Autry

7 Christianity Today, August 16, 1993, p. 19, "Why God Is Not Mother "Elizabeth Achtemeier

8 Scottish Journal of Theology, p. 469, Roland M. Frye

9 Christianity Today, August 16, 1993, p. 21, "Why God Is Not Mother "Elizabeth Achtemeier

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