The Church of Sweden has announced that it plans to start referring to God in gender-neutral terms rather than as a man.
The national Evangelical Lutheran Church decided upon the move as a part of other updates of their 31-year-old handbook on language, hymns and other aspects.
Their clergy are being encouraged to no longer use ‘Lord’ or ‘He’ but instead refer to God as ‘God’ because it is less gender-specific.
Officially coming into effect on May 20 next year, the rather controversial change has been made so the church can stay in line with contemporary society.
Recently the world has become more inclusive and encouraging of gender-neutral terms and the church believes it should change with it.
Lena Sjostrand, the chaplain of Lund Cathedral, told PBS NewsHour:
We have a consciousness about gender questions, which is stronger in our time than it has been before.
And, of course, this has had an impact on theology and on church life and pastoral reflection. And I think that is — we should have that.
I don’t think that God is a big mother or a father sitting up in the sky. I don’t think that makes sense. God is something much bigger than this.
Antje Jackelen, the Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala which is the location of the seat of the Church of Sweden, will be overseeing the changes.
The move will change the way over six million registered churchgoers worship and therefore was a conclusion made after a lengthy eight-day meeting attended by 251 members of the church’s decision-making body.
Archbishop Jackelen emphasised that they were ‘not giving up on tradition’ saying:
In the tradition, there are all these elements already present. Like Julian of Norwich in the 14th century said, ‘as sure as God is our father, God is our mother’.
So, I mean, this is not something that’s newly invented. It’s part of our tradition.
God is beyond our human categories of gender. It’s actually already in the Prophet Isaiah in the 11 Chapter.
God says, ‘I am God’ and not human or a man. God is beyond that, and we need help to remind us of that, because due to the restrictions of our brains, we tend to think of God in very human categories.
We are not worshipping political correctness. We are worshipping God, the creator of the universe.
The seemingly radical move means several expressions will be altered.
For example, ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ which open church services will be no more changing to ‘in God the Trinity’s name’.
Although priests won’t be forced to embrace the changes, they will be strongly encouraged to do so by the church.
Many though are unhappy with the move believing that the gender-neutral terms will undermine the entire service.
Pastor Mikael Lowegren explained:
You don’t play lightly with these things. You don’t play lightly with the creed. You don’t play lightly with the liturgy of the church.
Being part of a tradition means that you come from somewhere. You have a history, and that forms you and makes you what you are. And if you lose contact with your roots, you run the risk of losing your own identity.
God being the father means he has a son.
You could use female imagery referring to God. But the name of the God is what God has revealed. It’s the father, and the son and the Holy Spirit.
It will certainly be interesting to see how many priests do change their language and if they will soon influence other countries to embrace the same move.