Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God–Part 2
I didn’t think too much more about the issue until I moved to California after college to enter seminary. I was surprised at some of the reactions I got from my friends back home. Some asked me what degree I was pursuing and were visibly relieved when I told them I wasn’t planning to be a pastor. Others actually told me I was going to hell and stopped speaking to me. While some of my family members were supportive and even encouraging of my seminary training, others became hurtful and even combative, telling me I should come home, that I shouldn’t be in seminary because I’m a woman.
Then there were the people I met in seminary, both students and professors. Not just women, but men were advocating for women in ministry, arguing for equality, and providing opportunities for women to step up into leadership positions. My seminary has a seminary-wide gender-inclusive language policy, and I was surprised as I began sitting in lectures and writing papers how thoroughly ingrained I was in gender-specific language, especially when it came to language about God.
The more I thought about the language I used, the more I realized that I had been wrong when I thought the issue was silly and petty. I was wrong to agree with Madeleine L’Engle that everyone was intrinsically included in gender-specific language. The more I learned about the history behind the language and the way it had been used to marginalize and oppress over the centuries, the more convinced I became that it was my responsibility as a woman, as a Christian woman, as a Christian woman who–dare I say it?–has been given certain qualities and skills of a leader, to hold myself to a higher standard of language and to advocate for gender-inclusion, not just in language but in life–church life, home life, and public life.
That’s a tall order. And as an introvert, as a conflict-avoidant person, and as woman who grew up believing barefoot-and-pregnant was all was I meant to be, living into my calling as a female Christian leader seems impossible. Yet, God does not call us to impossible tasks, for the Bible tells me so: the Spirit of God does not make me timid but gives me power, love, and self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7).
Indeed, the Spirit I received does not make me a slave to culture or to other people’s expectations of who I am supposed to be so that I return to live in fear again of coloring outside other people’s lines; rather, the Spirit I received brought about my adoption as a daughter of God–by which I receive all the honor, standing, and inheritance of the Most High God. And because of this Spirit and this adoption, I cry out to God with all the confidence and innocence of a toddler calling for “ma-ma” or “da-da” (or “a-ba”)…and I know God answers me with all the immediacy, care, and tenderness of a proud and loving parent (Romans 8:15).
To be continued in the next post.