Britain’s most senior female bishop has said the church should stop referring to God as a ‘he’.
The Rt Rev Bishop Rachel Treweek, who was the church’s first female diocesan bishop, made the statement after research by YouGov revealed almost half of 18-to-24-year-old Christians and one in three over-65s believe God is male.
The Bishop of Gloucester has said it’s important to be ‘mindful of language’, and raised concerns non-Christians could feel alienated from the church if God is described solely as male.
Speaking to The Telegraph, she said:
I don’t want young girls or young boys to hear us constantly refer to God as he.
For me particularly in a bigger context, in all things, whether it’s that you go to a website and you see pictures of all white people, or whether you go to a website and see the use of ‘he’ when we could use ‘god’, all of those things are giving subconscious messages to people, so I am very hot about saying can we always look at what we are communicating.
After Telegraph report, lots tell me Jesus called God 'Father.' Just so. Jesus Christ points to God of intimate relationship. Greater than perfect parent. Closer than close. God is not a man or a woman. God is God and perfect love .. unlike media soundbites!
— Rachel Treweek (@BishGloucester) September 16, 2018
She has spoken to The Guardian about similar issues in the past, explaining:
God is not to be seen as male. God is god.
Rev Treweek said she tries not to say ‘he’ or ‘she’, but instead refers to God simply as God – though she admitted she does occasionally forget.
She added how language is very powerful in shaping people’s views and our culture.
Rev Treweek continued:
In the creation narratives, we’re told that God created human beings in God’s likeness, and then it goes on to talk about male and female.
If I am made in the image of God, then God is not to be seen as male. God is God.
I am not in the business of wanting to offend anyone, but I do want to gently challenge people.
The Bishop of Dorking, Rt Revd Dr Jo Bailey Wells, stated the tendency to use male language when referring to God is a ‘growing problem’.
When I lead prayers or preach, I try to get around the problem by using both male and female imagery, and also by avoiding the need to say ‘his’ or ‘him’ too often.
Member of the Archbishops’ Council, the Revd Dr Ian Paul, believes the amount of young people who believe God is male stems partly from a culture where ‘sex identity is ever present’.
I think it makes it increasingly hard for young people to think of personal being without thinking of sex identity — and so if God is the ultimate ‘person’ then God must be sexed – i.e. male or female.
This view contradicts orthodox Christian teaching — but many young people don’t have enough contact with the church for actual Christian teaching to counter the thinking they pick up from culture.
It would be interesting to see if changing the language would affect people’s perspectives on God.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.