Susan Stead responds to Tim Belben’s Pronoun paradox in Signs of the Times No. 59 - Oct 2015
from Signs of the Times No. 61 - Apr 2016
Tim Belben’s conclusion to his article is that ‘we need the unavailable gender-less pronoun’. I disagree.
After thousands of years of God as ‘he’, we need first to imagine God as ‘she’ with all the rich imagery and metaphor that evokes. Tim’s aversion to ‘she’ is on the basis that ‘she’ carries echoes of an entirely different religion. Since when has the church balked from taking over other religions and using elements that suit? We’ve taken over the winter solstice and called it Christmas and transformed the spring equinox into Easter. The goddesses have been absorbed as Virgin Mother.
It’s time we took on ‘She’ and claimed our God as one who holds both male and female within her identity – THEN turn to the apophatic way and confirm that God is neither.
Why are we required to choose only one pronoun? Why can’t we play and dance with ‘he’ and ‘she’, ‘you’ and ‘God’? Tim Belben quotes Paul from Acts 17. Just to take verses 26-29 (NRSV), how about:
From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and she allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed God is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are her offspring.’ Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.
Indeed. Nor should we think of the deity as encompassing only the ‘male’. Yes, Jesus is male and the incarnation of God but the Risen Christ is not male or female. Also please note that Jesus was a first century Middle Eastern Jew yet we have felt entirely free in Europe to image Jesus as a shaven, blue-eyed Aryan blonde and God as an elderly white European man, which, surprisingly enough, epitomises those who have held power over the last 2000 years.
It is too soon and too easy to try and jump to ‘gender-less’. As if we can pretend that 2000 years of appalling treatment of women has never happened. (Jerome: ‘Woman is the root of all evil’, Tertullian: ‘you are (each) an Eve. You are the devil’s gateway’ or Thomas Aquinas: ‘Woman is defective and misbegotten’). As if we can pretend that there is no link between this abuse and the way we have imaged God as solely male. It is about time to change.