If God is not a male, then what exactly is he?

In a bold move, one Scottish church has taken a progressive leap towards remedying the former patriarchal notions about God that have become commonplace among many churches. According to the Daily Mail, a British tabloid newspaper, bishops in the Scottish Episcopal Church removed words such as “Lord,” “he,” “his” and “him” from its sermons. The bishops see this as a step towards moving away from suggestions that God is of a male gender.

“We are not saying God is not masculine. God is also feminine. The problem is trying to use human language to describe the indescribable,” said Darren McFarland, convener of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Liturgy committee.

The notion that God has a male gender has always struck me as strange. I believe that the idea is rooted in patriarchal notions about gender, assuming that since men were the heads of most institutions then surely that meant that god was also a male. It stems from the same source as notions about the race of God, primarily that those with the most power and influence got to determine which human characteristics to ascribe to God.

The Scottish Episcopal Church has come under fire from traditionalists who believe that the changes are based on nothing other than political correctness. However, this is often the case when those in the dominant class do not want to give up their power to define and designate. Many Black theologians fought hard to combat notions that God was of the white race, beliefs that were grounded in white supremacy. These Black theologians, much like the Scottish Episcopal Church of today, came under attack from traditionalists who wanted to keep ideas about God rooted in the past.

Ultimately, the decision to remove masculine references to God is central in making the concept of God affirm to all persons. Many women in the clergy find it difficult and problematic to accept patriarchal notions about the gender of God that are not relatable to them, just as many black theologians found it difficult to worship a white God. One of the quickest ways to create a culture of sexism and gender privileging is to instill in the masses that the highest being in their cosmos is a male.

Hopefully other churches will look at the example of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and begin to examine the ways in which they conceive of God. As one reverend was quoted, “God is above and beyond human gender.”