Carol P. Christ at Alverno College 1
Carol Christ at the Conference of Women Theologians

Today I am publishing an early work on female language for God that I wrote with Emma Trout at the first Conference of Women Theologians in 1971. Highly contested at the conference, this essay is a foreshadowing of my subsequent work on the need for female imagery for divinity.

Rereading this essay more than four decades later, I am gratified to see that though we began our essay with the image of God giving birth (which I still view as an important image), Emma and I were aware of the danger that female imagery for God could reinforce “a false sexual polarity.” We insisted then that female imagery for God must not repeat sex role stereotypes, but rather must shatter them. Continue reading “ALTERNATIVE IMAGES OF GOD BY CAROL CHRIST AND EMMA TROUT”

The Mosaic Language of God by Andreea Nica

Andreea Nica, pentecostalismThroughout my “bible-thumping, smitten with God” years, I scribbled countless thoughts and prayers in four devotional journals. Recently I came across these journals, wiping away the years of dust accumulated. As I have been detaching from the Pentecostal god, it was a painful, downright mortifying experience to read through my past communication with god. This god seemed so foreign now given my liberated, enlightened, evolved self. I remember writing to and about Him, but I couldn’t help thinking how dysfunctional and convoluted the language I used really was.

I love you Father. Take me…surrender me to your will…your ways. Let me not lean on my own understanding and foolishness.

Mary Daly in Beyond God the Father advocates, “Time to go beyond God the Father. Don’t you see? If God is male, then the male is God. Reclaim the right to name your self, your world, your God. The liberation of language is rooted in the liberation of ourselves. Be a wild woman…God is not A Being. God is Be-ing.”

Many social scientists contend that language is the foundation of our socially constructed realities. We use language as a creative tool and guide to frame our perceptions of the world around us. We also use language to create our own unique creative expressions. That even though we share and appropriate from the accessible pool of creative expressions, each individual designs and discovers their own true form. Continue reading “The Mosaic Language of God by Andreea Nica”

Gendered Imagery of God (Part 2) by Elise M. Edwards

Elise Edwards

In my previous post, I shared some of the ways in which I’ve been wrestling with gendered imagery for God, the first person of the Christian Trinity often referred to as God the Father. In this entry, I’d like to reflect on ways I am reconsidering the gender of the Christ.

It is only recently, after reading Melinda Bielas’ post “Waiting for Jesus… I mean, Superman” (December 17, 2013), that I began to question male language for the Christ. I got into an interesting conversation with Grace Kao in January about it. My thoughts on this topic are still unformed and more theologically “speculative” than I usually share on this site, but I’d love to hear what you think. I think it is important for Christian feminists to consider the doctrines of the faith and assess where they support the co-humanity of women and when they degrade it. Continue reading “Gendered Imagery of God (Part 2) by Elise M. Edwards”

Gendered Imagery of God (Part 1) by Elise M. Edwards

Elise Edwards

I have been doing a lot of thinking about gendered imagery and language for God over the past few months. Honestly, a lot of this reflection was provoked by hostile comments I got from my college students at the end of the fall semester because I require gender-neutral language for God and gender-inclusive language when referring to people. The policy in my syllabus is this:

For academic discourse, spoken and written, students are expected to use gender-inclusive language for human beings, and gender-neutral language for God. (e.g. “God” instead of “He;” “God’s” instead of “His;” etc.) This is to prepare students to communicate to the world beyond the Christian university setting. I want to equip you to succeed in graduate school, in the corporate world, and in public communication, all settings in which gender inclusive language for is increasingly expected.

I provide links to websites that discuss the issue, and we talk about it more when we discuss 20th century feminist issues in my course on the Christian Heritage and when we discuss prejudice and sexism in my ethics class.  Some students have thanked me for the policy. But many students are perplexed by it, and I’m perplexed by their confusion. It shocks my system when I hear people refer to “man” for all people; I first became aware of the issue when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade and the Girl Scouts changed their pledge because it referred to “mankind.” That was over 30 years ago!

While I’m confused as to why replacing “man” with “people” is such a difficult task, I am more empathetic to the reorientation required to replace “He” with “God.”  (And I also acknowledge that the term “God” is not completely genderless either.) I recognize that for many of my students, I might be the first one to challenge their gendered conceptions of God.  So I am empathetic, but insistent.

The way discussions about the “gender” of God and Savior are often dismissed as irrelevant, unimportant, silly, or the remote concern of “those feminists” bothers me. Traditional Christian theology asserts that God is a different kind of being than humans are.  Therefore, God (the first person of the Trinity) and the Holy Spirit do not have a sex or gender, as sex is a characteristic associated with physical creature-ness and gender is (to simplify) a social construction related to sex. The second person of the Trinity, Jesus, is thought to be male.  In the Incarnation, the eternal God became human while also divine, and therefore has a sex and gender in the person of Jesus.  But the Trinity as a whole is without sex and has characteristics that we would associate with femininity, masculinity, and genders in between.  According to this logic, references to the maleness of God should only be understood metaphoricall,y not literally, and therefore replacing that language with genderless/sexless language should not be inherently problematic.

I’m not saying that the use of any language in reference to God is appropriate or acceptable within the bounds of traditional theology.  We (traditionals and non-traditionals alike) should be concerned with how we refer to God, because as Sallie McFague and others remind us, these metaphors/models of God have consequences in the world beyond language.  Maleness becomes deified or closer to godliness than femaleness, maleness becomes the model for the priesthood, maleness is the true form of authority, etc.  I believe that many of the concerns about feminine imagery for God are based in this same concern: that by associating God with one sex or gender, we claim God’s preference for that sex or gender.  In a patriarchal system, this correlation between God and the feminine simply will not do.  Feminists who assert feminine qualities of God are merely making projections of themselves, critics claim.

How we conceptualize the being we worship matters. It matters to me, at least. While I acknowledge that there is a danger of simply projecting an image of myself as a deity that I worship, I also think there is great harm in loving and worshiping the divine imaged as those who are at times hostile to me, and historically have been so to my ancestors and kin. So although I know and have good relationships with older, white males, I see no reason why I should image and worship God “the Father” who looks like an old white man. How would that benefit my spiritual practice?

Thank you Carol Christ, for asking me to state my views about this in the comments to my last post. I look forward to more discussions with you and the members of this community.  When I read your work years ago, I was convinced about the validity and rightness of affirming feminine forms of divinity. Although the Christian (patriarchal) tradition does not have much room for Goddess language, I am comfortable with it, at least for the first and third persons of the Trinity. In my next post, I’ll talk more about the ways I am considering the gender of the Christ.

Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or

God the Father or Buffy the Vampire Slayer? by Linn Marie Tonstad

Linn Marie TonstadIn the second season of the television show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer [spoiler alert!], Buffy is faced with an agonizing dilemma. She is condemned to save the world “again.” Buffy’s former lover is the evil Angelus. Angelus – once the good Angel – has awoken a demon that will swallow up the whole world into an eternity of suffering.  In what follows, I read Buffy as God the Father. Angelus represents sinful humanity, Angel is Jesus, and the Spirit is the sword in Buffy’s hand. Buffy attempts to destroy Angelus. But at the moment that she is about to kill Angelus, his soul is returned to him. Unfortunately, only Angel’s blood will close the gaping mouth of the demon. The shift from Angelus to Angel gives a vivid representation of the shifting positions of the first and second Adam in the Christian narrative of redemption. Angelus is evil. Angel carries the weight of Angelus’s guilt without any of the responsibility belonging, strictly speaking, to him. Yet finally, the innocent Angel must bear the consequences of Angelus’s evil for the salvation of the world.

The gender dynamics of this scene complicate and illuminate traditional readings of the involvement of the Father in the crucifixion. Gender subordination and the subordination of the Son to the Father go together, and are ultimately justified by the same theological logic. Reading the Father as an 18-year old girl helps to mark the inadequacy of language to capture God. The evident implausibility, even absurdity, of the image, makes visible the theological truth that God is not a father among other fathers.   Continue reading “God the Father or Buffy the Vampire Slayer? by Linn Marie Tonstad”

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