The use of gender neutral language whilst referring to God is being promoted at two of America’s top divinity schools.
Students at the Divinity School of Duke University have been given ‘inclusive language’ guidelines which advise the use of “God” and “Godself” instead of he and him.
The guidelines state that “the exclusive use of either masculine or feminine pronouns for God should be avoided.”
‘Father’ and ‘woman’
It claims to serve “as a beginning point for developing a more inclusive language about God”.
Professors are also encouraged to use gender-neutral metaphors to refer to God. For example, they could say: “God is the father who welcomes his son, but she is also the woman searching for the lost coin.”
“Imagination, patience, and diligence are required in order to use language that expands and enriches our understanding of God,” guidelines suggest.
It went on to state that: “The use of exclusively gendered language—that which always uses male nouns and pronouns for non-male subjects—can be harmful and exclusionary”.
At Vanderbilt University, professors in the divinity school have been urged to give “consistent attention to the use of inclusive language, especially in relation to the Divine,” because campus policy “commits continuously and explicitly to include gender as an analysed category and to mitigate sexism”.
A 2015 report listed both universities in the top 20 theological schools or seminaries in the US.
However, the use of gender neutral language has previously been dismissed by the Editorial Director of the Gospel Coalition.
In an article published last year titled ‘Does God have Gender?’, Andrew Moody said: “If Jesus is God’s eternal son—and both Scripture (eg. Heb 1:2; John 1:14) and orthodox tradition declare that he is—then God is the original father.”
Referencing Bible verses where God is likened to a bear with her cubs (Hos 13:8), or a woman in labour (Is 42:14), Moody asserts “God may well be like a mother but he is the Father.”