On Feb. 1, 2018, the Episcopal Church Diocese of Washington, D.C., voted to stop using only masculine pronouns in referring to God.
The decision was made while preparing to update its Book of Common Prayer, as well as fostering the conscious use of male, feminine and neuter terms in preaching, prayer and teaching.
The diocese believed that inclusive language would be a way to broaden our understanding of God and create an atmosphere of respect for the entire human family.
Sept. 11 represents my 42nd year as an ordained minister. During most of my career as a preacher and teacher, I have intentionally used inclusive language about God.
Anyone who knows me will attest to this. It just makes good theological and philosophical sense.
If God exists (which I believe God does), and the human family is created in the image and likeness of God, then to think about God as both male and female is without question.
To speak about God must include both masculine and feminine concepts and terms. At the root, what I posit is an antinomy: God is male and female ... and neither.
The insistence of using inclusive language when speaking about God has caused great debate in the church.
Fundamentalists see such a move as heresy. They claim that all referents about God in the Bible are male. Since Jesus refers to God as Father, then God must be male.
After all, they say, men are made in the image of God, and women are made in the image of men (the rib story in Genesis).
Many liberal churches object to the conceptualization of God as male but fail to do their exegetical homework.
They want to decry the injustice of such a conceptualization but on social grounds, and not on theological grounds.
Exclusive language about God lends itself to the denigration and oppression of women.
If women are made in the image of men and not God, then they are second class to men.
Historically, this idea has been used to prevent women from participating as clergy and holding major offices in the church, as well as separating learning experiences by gender.
It has socially promoted discrimination and sexism. It has not been that long ago that women were prevented from the opportunity to learn philosophy, systematic theology, mathematics and science simply because they were women.
Exclusive language supports a toxic masculinity that can no longer be tolerated.
My greatest angst comes from women clergy and laity who only use masculine language about God. These same women object to sexual discrimination in the church but employ the language of discrimination and exclusivity.
Tradition has taught us to refer to God in the masculine only. Traditions forged by social constructs tend to be rigid. They are slow to change.
However, they can be changed. For me, part of the problem lies in our forgetting the Second Commandment: “Make no graven image of me.” Graven means serious, inflexible and permanent.
A graven image can be made of physical materials or intellectual concepts. I think God was trying to teach us that none of our images can capture the totality of God as an ultimate reality. To act as if only male concepts are correct is hubris.
So, hooray for the move by the Episcopalians. I hope other denominations will join the movement toward inclusive language about God. Then I think we will hear Her (God) say, “Well done!”
The Rev. C.W. Dawson Jr. was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at MU. He teaches at Columbia College and Moberly Area Community College and writes for the Missourian.