I recently heard about a campaign organized by many Christians to get the Amazon Prime Show, “Good Omens,” taken off the platform. Jokes on them for not doing their research and sending the outraged demands to Netflix instead. Hilarious.
I actually watched half an episode when my husband turned it on out of sheer curiosity. And, while it wasn’t my sort of entertainment, and I must admit I felt uncomfortable, I didn’t immediately shoot off an email to Jeff Bezos. You know why? It’s none of my business whether others watch and enjoy it. I can easily turn it off for me and my family.
Christians (especially those of the Christian Right) seem to be so interested in censoring others until their own freedoms to censor other races, women, the underprivileged, or those with differing opinions gets caught in the crosshairs. (I can hear the shouting of, Not All Christians! Well, then a good many of them.)
What really angered me was the criticism of the show. It wasn’t only the satanic themes and images that bothered many people, but that God was voiced by (gasp) a WOMAN! Now that is certainly blasphemous. Everyone knows that God is an old white man after all.
Honestly, I have had to address this issue so many times that I am sick of it. I can count at least a dozen separate incidents that I have had disagreements with people over the sex or gender of God. I’m not exaggerating. Whether it has been from the pulpit, from peers at my Christian college, or even from family members, the ignorance is staggering.
The most memorable and shocking occurrence was from a pastor at my husband’s former church. His message was on Hollywood’s agenda to strip God of power through the film Exodus: God and Kings. What did he object to? The director cast a young boy to voice God. Again, blasphemy!
“No offense boys — or ladies for that matter,” he said, “but you can’t emulate the booming voice, the awesome power of God!”
My mouth literally fell open, and I looked around to see the reactions from the sparsely populated pews. Nothing. I was the only one mortified that this ancient preacher was declaring God to be not only male, but an adult man no less. Apparently, the power of God is bestowed on neither females nor children.
I brought this up recently in a conversation with a family member, and he said he understood the pastor’s point about a powerful God with a booming voice. I responded, “But why is power gendered as male? Do women not have power? Do children not have power?” His shocked silence showed that he had never considered this point of view.
The aforementioned pastor also conveniently forgot that God’s voice is varied and is described as a “still small voice,” in 1 Kings 19:12. In the surrounding passage, God is not in the powerful and destructive forces of nature. God is in a whisper. Are whispers male or female? Since the vast majority of humanity can and does whisper, I doubt these sort of passages in scripture can really be — or are intended to be — mined for the gender or God.
Another troubling incident occurred when the book, The Shack, was published. What a deep drink of water that book was to my soul. God presenting as an African-American woman? Fantastic. The Holy Spirit as an Asian woman? Amazing! But, where I saw justice and grace in a diverse representation, many Christians found an aberrant and dangerous theology.
The truth is that many Christians don’t actually believe that women equally reflect God’s image, though Genesis 1:26-27 clearly state that this is the case:
Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.” God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.
This passage clearly illustrates that the female and male sex bear God’s image equally. God is not one dude sitting up in heaven. God contains multitudes of which we cannot even begin to fathom. The structure of God, the Trinity, is merely scratching the surface of who God is.
And it is important to note that God is outside of sex and gender, just as God is outside of time. Can we possibly begin to fathom a person not trapped within the sticky cytoplasm of identity that is gender? I contend we cannot.
In one of my college seminars at my Christian university, we meandered onto this topic. Many of my peers were sure that God was male. With my face bright red and my voice unsteady, I angrily asked if God was not bodied, how could He be male? I immediately caught myself in an apparent contradiction. He is not male?
I explained that it is a failure of language that makes it impossible to refer to God without using any pronouns, and that God refers to himself as “Father” and “He” because He is trying to illustrate His relationship to us and His personhood within the confines of patriarchal societies.
Some complementarians will counter that God is always referred to as “Father” and not “Mother” in the holy scriptures and that using inclusive language to describe God is heresy. To that I say, really? There are several passages that use feminine metaphors to describe God (See: Hosea 11:3-4; Hosea 13:8; Deuteronomy 32:11-12; Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 66:13; Psalm 131:2; Matthew 23:37 and so many more). Those are biblical expressions of God’s character and being, too.
God is exclusively referred to as “Father” to illustrate something that we in the 21st century easily overlook. In every ancient society, men were the only ones allowed to own and pass down property. Women were usually seen as part of that property.
In order to use the metaphor of God’s people inheriting eternal life, it only makes sense that God would be called “Father.” “Mother” would make no sense to them in that context. It would also diminish God’s authority and his credibility, as women were denied agency and were not allowed to testify in court. These cultural aspects are enormously important.
In my Old Testament class, I was taught that God works through the culture at hand — he meets people where they are. In several stories, God exalts the youngest son above his older brothers. Why? Modern audiences may think that these younger sons just happened to be more godly. My professor’s interpretation is that God was working against primogeniture, the notion that oldest sons are worthy of more inheritance than the rest.
Time and time again, God/Jesus exalt those who are lowest with the least amount of cultural privilege and humble those people with the most. Why should women in our culture be any different? Women and girls are still systematically oppressed and silenced. The Church, instead of being set apart from the world and its culture of misogyny, capitulates to the culture and maintains the status quo.
No female senior pastors! No female worship leaders! Men are the spiritual head of the house! All of this is nonsense, and none of it is biblical. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that in an argument between a husband and wife that the man is the tie-breaker. Really. I’ll wait. You can check. That is something we’ve read into the passage. It is an interpretation, an opinion, based on poor translations and self-serving male bias. And it is a relatively recent one dating to the 1970s in response to the political power of the feminist movement.
Passages such as the New Testament “household codes” beginning in Ephesians 5:21, rather than enshrining hierarchy as complementarians contend, actually work against the 1st century patriarchal culture by advocating for mutual submission out of our love and respect for Christ and his command to love one another sacrificially.
And while I can’t get into the specifics of the significance of this passage here, many capable and godly theologians have shown that this is yet another example of God elevating the “least of these” and not a rubber stamp on treating women like dirt. (See: “The Priscilla Papers” archive at CBE International.)
So why will I not listen to complementarians anymore? Because they have had their say, and their say is to deny my right to utterance, autonomy, and female personhood. It is the same reason that I won’t listen to people who say the earth is flat, or that the moon landing was faked — all the evidence points the other way.
It’s time for women to reject the hierarchy imposed on us, and instead start embracing all the gifts God has given us to further His/Her Kingdom! As my New Testament professor stated, “Women, don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t lead. If God is calling you into ministry, into leadership, you must be faithful.”