Speaking of God

Thursday, 7 July 2011
"Am I speaking with God?" - Zosimo
The United Church of Christ, at its recent biannual governance meeting in Tampa, FL, amended its bylaws to replace "Heavenly Father" with "Triune God".

Please note: It did not change the language of any of the historic Creeds. This was a change in the language of its bylaws.

I note that to correct Terry Mattingly, one of the darlings of the so-called "orthodox Christians", who headlined his piece at GetReligion.Org "Adios to God the Father".

Mattingly chided the "lame stream religious media" for not reporting this as a "major story".  He also wrote:
... since editing the ancient Christian creeds is a highly symbolic act -- even for flocks as hyper-Protestant as the UCC. Of course, this denomination also serves as the home base for a very articulate and important layperson -- President Barack Obama.
Ahem, Mr. Mattingly? Excuse me, sir, but this was about bylaws, not Creeds.  See, the UCCs are neither a 'catholic' nor 'confessional' church but a congregational denomination. Each level of the church operates more or less independently. 

And, oh, by the way, Mr. Obama hasn't been part of any particular denomination since he left the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's UCC congregation years ago.

What is it with these guys who think only 'they' have 'the truth' to report' and then unfailingly get it wrong? Does it seem to you that "Fox News" has a franchise of religious journalists in the institutional church who share talking points and phrases with each other?

Why is Mattingly so apoplectic about a change in the bylaws of a religious denomination which has a long history of advocating for gender-neutral terms for God?

The poor man looks like one of those soldiers who hasn't heard that the war is over and he's the only one left on a deserted hill, still polishing his rifle and shining his boots and ever-ready for the battle that ended years ago.

As National Convener of The Episcopal Women's Caucus, I have been listening to the growing buzz of conversation among men and women in The Episcopal Church about changing the language we use about The Holy Spirit.

Actually, many people simply want the language of our Prayer Book used in our worship to reflect the feminine pronoun used by growing numbers of people in the pew to describe the Holy Spirit. Some are advocating for a resolution at General Convention which directs that all future authorized BCPs and/or Supplemental Liturgical Texts use the feminine pronoun for the Holy Spirit.

One woman, a former long-time deputy and national leader in The Episcopal Church (not The Caucus), wrote me this note:
I am no longer involved in the national church. I am upset always that our current prayerbook in the Nicene creed refers to the Holy Spirit as "he"! There are 59 times in Jewish Bibles where the H.S. is SHE! You are a feminist leader in our church. I urge you to take this issue up!
Okay, my sister. You got it. However, if we're talking revision of the Prayer Book, I must tell you that language about the Holy Spirit is just the beginning of the conversation. 

Some folk feel strongly that the time has come and now is for the BCP to remove the italicized "he" to now read "s/he".

Still others are asking that we change the canons of the church to formally authorize what is happening formally and informally in worship in many churches around The Episcopal Church: the use of expansive language in terms of images of God and humankind.

Note, please, that I used the term "expansive" rather than "inclusive".

I am keenly aware that many people desire the use of pronouns because it is more reflective of their personal relationship with the individual and collective members of the Trinity.

Many other people also earnestly desire to keep pronouns out of the picture, using words like "Holy One" or "The Great Compassion" as more reflective of their relationship with God. Admittedly, it also carefully sidesteps the whole gender-based controversy rather nicely.

I'm not advocating saying "adios to God the Father". I'm talking about expanding it to include Father/Mother/Creator, Son/Child/Word and Holy Ghost/Spirit/Sustainer.

I'm talking about expanding our limited, human understanding of God - drawing the circle large enough - to include all expressions of our individual and collective images and language for God and humankind.

One former long-time deputy, now retired but still active in the local church (again, not a member of The Caucus) wrote:
At one General Convention I remember vividly a discussion with a priest who worked with prisoners. He said that he often talked to these men about praying to the Holy Spirit. When they had been horribly beaten and abused by their fathers, these men were totally unreachable when presented with a father God. Exploring the fullness of our faith would bring great rewards and help for those who need to find a way to God!
So, what do you think?

Is it time to amend our canons to authorize churches to have the flexibility to change the language of the BCP to be more reflective of the reality of "Common Prayer" that is already happening in our pews at at the altar?

Remember, please, that in the strictest sense of our canon law, not following the rubrics of the BCP is considered  a serious offense. No one really pursues that, thanks be to God. Most clergy who have devised creative liturgies and music not found in the authorized texts of the church do quietly check with the diocesan chief liturgical officer - that would be the bishop - for approval.

However, I should note that concern for the rubrics and canon law is the basis of some bishops decision, for example, that clergy in states with Marriage Equality not sign the marriage certificate, even though said clergy have presided at the marriage ceremony and blessed the covenant made in the presence of God and the people of God.

Some of them call that a "gracious, generous pastoral response". Others speak of "radical hospitality". 

I know, I know. It's pretty schizophrenic, right, but there's the truth of it.

Also remember that this discussion would turn all the ecclesiastical volume knobs to 11 when it comes to messing with the words of the Ancient Creeds or the formula for baptism.

Is it time to name and claim the reality of many who worship in our churches? Would that be the healthy, responsible, adult thing do or should we just keep doing what we have been doing and not upset the applecart which is already teetering under the discussion of Marriage Equality and the Election and Consecration of Queer people?

Is language a matter of justice, as many feminists suggest? Do we commit unintended acts of spiritual violence to people's souls - male and female - by limiting the public expressions of their relationship with God or not publicly affirming the variety and diversity of that expression in public worship?

How do you speak about God? And, does it matter to you how freely you are allowed to express your relationship with God in acts of public worship? Or, that the person leading the public worship uses language that expands the traditional church thinking about our Triune God?

What do you think?


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