"Let Us Pray" - God-as-'IT'...

Our church recently conducted a survey regarding its "contemporary" late service on Sunday mornings. We asked what was working, what wasn't, highlights, perceived needs, etc...

We received quite a few comments about the overly-male pronouns referencing God in many of the worship songs. This didn't surprise me at all - at a liberal Mainline church, it's been surprising to me how many Top-40 Christian radio songs find their way into our worship music. Point of Grace, Newsboys, etc...

Our pastors rarely refer to "he" or "Father" for God - except in reciting liturgies - so the Christian pop is by no means subtle.

Yesterday morning we sang a classic Steven Curtis Chapman song: Let Us Pray. The words on the overhead were altered slightly to avoid conveying an overly-masculine God:

Let us pray, let us pray
Everywhere and every way
Every moment of the day
it is the right time.

For the Maker above
Is listening with love
And wants to answer us
So let us pray.

Maker replaced Father from the original lyrics, and "he" was removed from the two subsequent lines. But those removals created a syllabic void that required a muted downbeat (I'm not a musician, not sure if that explains it properly).

For the Father above
-He- is listening with love
And -he- wants to answer us
So let us pray.

It wasn't all that awkward, and everyone seemed to be getting it just fine. Except for the vocal leader on stage. She kept singing:

For the Maker above
It is listening with love,
And it wants to answer us,
So let us pray.
She couldn't avoid inserting a pronoun into those lines, so she choice a gender-neutral "it."

But "it" describes a thing, not a person. And God is a person. And if we remove God's personhood, then not only is God gender-neutral, but God is a distant object that seems... well... "unalive."

My wife Jen said, "When I heard that I thought of the cow-God-thing from South Park."

She meant this, the depiction of God, Jesus' father on South Park:

Yup. That's God. "Abba-It." And I'd say, "that's just about right." That's what I'd think of too, with God as an "it."

I'm all for rethinking our hyper-masculinized conception of God. I have no problem thinking of God as Father AND Mother. But "it?" I guess it seems like we're trying so hard that we end up killing the very concept we're trying to salvage.


Existential Punk said...

Hence, the adage the G-D is Dead! :)


Teresa said...

As much as I support getting past our image of God as male, I find that our efforts to do so are often more distracting than the male imagery ever was. I'd rather see us try to add some feminine imagery than discard the male imagery, and either option is better than "it."

(It's funny that the minister at my church who's most likely to refer to God as "he" or as "father" is a woman.)

Courtney McHill said...

How funny! I didn't really catch all of that...I hadn't heard the song in a loooonnnnggg time and I wasn't paying all that much attention to the band portion.

I am one of those crazy clergy that tries at all costs to not use a pronoun for God. For me, God is more than feminine or masculine...certainly more than what abused women may assign to the masculine...certanily more than the weak image that some of my male cohorts assign to the feminine. God for me is all encompassing and yet so close. So God is God...certainly more than "it."

Erik said...

Interesting dilemma. Seems about time a word was invented for this problem. But it really seems to be a language issue. Instead of "he/she" or "it," a third "person- but with ambiguous gender" term should be coined. "Herme" would not be the best choice.

This reminds me of the language used by the pro-choice to remove personhood. Call it a fetus. Now you can do anything you want with this object. From the other side of the political spectrum, calling people "criminals" instead of calling them "people who commit crimes," seems to dehumanize them enough to do what you need to to keep them out of society. (And it may become their self-identity and perpetuate the problem from an act to a lifestyle.)

I say we make a decision for all of society and choose a new term. We shouldn't be the only ones to benefit from this.

I wonder if there is a push in Spanish speaking societies to do anything similar? Talk about having their work cut out for them!

I can believe (having not researched anything like this since college) that gender-neutrality existed in some cases in reference to God. Either way isn't bothering me.

But Jesus did pray, "Our Father..."

Brent said...

Would the same people who changed this songs lyrics be offended if Christians changed a few words in a secular song to be more christian? I have no clue, I'm just curious what others think.

I don't really care if the lyrics are changed as long as God is being worshiped.

Peter said...

Courtney, I don't think it's crazy (at ALL) to try to be gender neutral about God. I think, like Teresa said, it can become distracting if it's seen as "trying too hard." I don't think FUMC has that problem. Like you, I see "it" as inadequate for describing God.

I was talking with Jen last night about it and wondered about Teresa's suggestion of incorporating more feminine imagery. "What exactly does 'imagery' mean?" though? Jen said, probably rightly, that a lot of folks would have even MORE problem with calling God "she" than "it." So I'm not sure the hypothetical works there.

Peter said...

Brent, I think the whole Christian music industry is basically Christianized rebranding of stale, secular pop music. So if anyone has a problem with that, I imagine it's with the quality, rather than the process itself. I know that's my complaint.

Peter said...

Erik, good to hear from you. I do disagree with you about your comment on the source or motivation for the word "fetus."

"Fetus" and "infant" are both Latin, which is the language of scientific identifiers.

"Baby" is a medieval (Middle-English) word.

There are medical, scientific, and practical reasons to differentiate between a baby who is still in gestation, and one who has been born (I think "conspiracy theories" about big-bad-liberals trying to pervert truth are a little tired - but I still love you).

In Greek, "Paraclete" is masculine, "Pneuma" is gender-neutral, and in the original Hebrew, "Ruah" is feminine. All of these are words referencing the Holy Spirit, or Spirit (breath) of God.

There isn't an "incorrect" way to use gender-specific words. Only "incomplete" ways. "Father" is not incorrect, but it is incomplete.

David Henson said...

What about using "they"?

Isn't the form of God used in Gen. 1 plural? "Let us go down..."

Seems a bit more Trinitarian, though maybe a little too close to polytheism for comfort? :)

I think a more interesting question to ask is that if God is male, what is it that makes God male? What makes men male? Etc., etc. Is it just a matter of plumbing?

Peter said...


Good question regarding plural forms. I think saying "they" would scare people just as much as saying "her." Of course, we're just conditioned/programmed to be ok with "him." And those who aren't are passed off as "jaded" or explained away as "wounded" or ignored or decried as "heretics."

Tough questions. And "what makes men male" seems just as tough. I'll leave that to the biologists and neuro-chemists...

Anonymous said...

What the crap? God is a dude. All the words used to refer to him are masculine.

God the FATHER.

Jesus the SON.

The Holy Spirit.

John 14:26 and John 16:13 refer to god as masculine in the greek language.

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