God should be called ‘She,’ say Church of England women’s group

Reuters / Darren Staples
A women’s group in the Church of England has called for the inversion of male language surrounding references to God and asked that the Christian deity be referred to as “She.”

The call comes as the established church appointed its first female bishops earlier in the year. It is pioneered by Watch (Women and the Church), which spearheaded the campaign for female bishops.

Watch member Rev Jody Stowell said the group wants to re-configure the almost exclusively male references to God.

Orthodox theology says all human beings are made in the image of God, that God does not have a gender. He encompasses gender – he is both male and female and beyond male and female. So when we only speak of God in the male form, that’s actually giving us a deficient understanding of who God is,” she said.

Stowell added that discussions about the language surrounding God had followed debates about whether the consecration of female bishops would change the Church of England, saying she hoped it would encourage “more expansive language and imagery about God.”

The Rev Emma Percy, chaplain of Trinity College Oxford and a member of Watch, said a change in language would change the way God was perceived, and shake the image of the “man in the sky.”

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It’s just the church moves slowly. [The debate] caught the imagination now because we’ve got women bishops so in a sense the church has accepted that women are equally valued in God’s sight and can represent God at all levels. We want to encourage people to be freer, and we want to get the Liturgical Commission to understand that people are actually quite open to this and there is room for richer language to be used.

“In the last two or three years we’ve seen a real resurgence and interest in feminism, and younger people are much more interested in how gender categories shouldn’t be about stereotypes. We need to have a language about God that shows God can be expressed in lots of diverse terms,” she added.

The official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace, said any changes would be subject to a full exploration and vote from the Synod.

The transformations steering group is an independent group made up of women clergy exploring issues relating to the reception of women in ministry. The Archbishop of Canterbury, as a gesture of hospitality, offers a meeting space at Lambeth Palace, but does not have a formal role in the group or participate in its discussions. The College of Bishops is updated regularly on the group’s work.

“Any change in the formal liturgy of the Church of England would require consent, revision and final approval of the General Synod. Even prior to that point there would need to be substantial consultation with the Liturgical Commission.”