The terms for God, in the poetic language of the prayers written for centuries, have almost always been male: Father. King. Lord.
And in the Episcopal Church, the language of prayer matters. The Book of Common Prayer, the text used in every Episcopal congregation, is cherished as a core element of Episcopal identity.
This week, the church is debating whether to overhaul that prayer book — in large part to make clear that God doesn’t have a gender.
“As long as ‘men’ and ‘God’ are in the same category, our work toward equity will not just be incomplete. I honestly think it won’t matter in some ways,” said the Rev. Wil Gafney, a professor of the Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in Texas who is on the committee recommending a change to the gendered language in the prayer book.
Gafney says that when she preaches, she sometimes changes the words of the Book of Common Prayer, even though Episcopal priests aren’t formally allowed to do so. Sometime she switches a word like “King” to a gender-neutral term like “Ruler” or “Creator.” Sometimes she uses “She” instead of “He.” Sometimes, she sticks with the masculine tradition. ” ‘Our Father,’ I won’t fiddle with that,” she said, invoking the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to say in the book of Matthew.
I remember being in college, searching for a religious home, and worshiping for a while at the campus Episcopal chapel. The service in which the priest had us all pray the “Our Mother” was the last time I went there. I didn’t have any kind of strong theology worked out, but I knew that to “fiddle” with that particular prayer was a very bad sign.
Switching to gender-neutral language is the most commonly mentioned reason to make the change, but many stakeholders in the church want other revisions. There are advocates for adding language about a Christian’s duty to conserve the Earth; for adding a liturgical ceremony to celebrate a transgender person’s adoption of a new name; for adding same-sex marriage ceremonies to the liturgy, since the church has been performing such weddings for years; for updating the calendar of saints to include important figures named as saints since 1979.
Read the whole thing. For the first time in 2,000 years, these Episcopal Churchpersons have discovered that they know better than the authors of the Bible, and every church leader prior to the mid-20th century. Their prophetic gift astonishes.
This article from the conservative Episcopal magazine The Living Church discusses the stark decline of TEC. I learned from it that TEC is 87 percent white. The urgency of de-gendering God the Father strikes me as just about the whitest, most elite concern imaginable. Next to the recently announced “diversity drive” by the Church of England to encourage transgenders to become priests, of course.