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Thursday, September 07, 2006
Gender pronouns for God
So this topic has surfaced a couple of times around here. What pronouns do we use for God. Many default to the use of "he" which for a time in our history was inclusive of men and women. Others assuming God is the source of both genders (in his image he created male and female) use both "he" and "she". But hardly anyone uses "it" even if we do assume that God is genderless.

What are your thoughts, experiences, preferences, theology...? Why do you use the language that you do? What does our choice of language say about our conception of God and men and women?

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posted by Julie at 11:01 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 9/07/2006 12:34:00 PM, Blogger Sarah Notton

    I like the way Madeleine L'Engle used "el". It feels so much bigger than anything we have in English.

  • At 9/07/2006 02:10:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    In public I refer to God as "he" because I know and love too many people who wouldn't understand my use of a feminine pronoun - they'd think that I'd "backslidden" in Wicca or become a Man-Hating Feminazi(tm).

    In private, I refer to God as both male and female. Sometimes I'll use "he", sometimes "she", and occasionally I'll even throw in an "it."

    I don't think God is as hung up on gender as we are; I don't think s/he really cares which pronouns we use.

    Yes, gender matters but I think christians would have a much easier time with life if they realized that gender identity is rarely an either-or dichotomy.

    Most of the people I've known are a happy mix of what have been traditionally known "masculine" and "feminine" traits. Many lean more towards the traits typically ascribed to someone of their gender....but some do not. Both are ok.

    It would be a sad world, indeed, if I wasn't encouraged to learn scripting (i.e. building a website from scratch) or my 20-year-old brother wasn't encouraged to soothe his future children when they're tired or sick simply because that's not what we're "suppose" to be interested in according to the gender mores.

    I'll stop now before I get even more off-topic. ;)

  • At 9/07/2006 02:57:00 PM, Blogger Tiffanie

    I have to admit, I use the pronoun "he" because (until meeting all of you) I have never been exposed to anything different. While I will continue in doing so, I don't have any arguments for those who don't.
    I agree that it doesn't really matter, however, in doing so I wonder why some women are so outspoken, determined and sometimes challenging about their use of feminine pronouns.

  • At 9/07/2006 03:32:00 PM, Blogger Melanie@Abri

    I've started more and more to use 'she' because I have realised that the words we use correspond to the image we have of God. If I use 'he' then I typically image God as male and I'm finding this less and less helpful in my spiritual walk. More often than not, I find myself wanting to speak to the feminine side of God and so I image 'her' that way. I have found in my meditations that when I image God's female side, I open up new ways of prayer for myself. I relate differently. Also the male construct that I have of God, is often authoritarian and therefore I find I am appeasing in my prayers, qualifying myself a lot when Jesus said we are to come to God like little children, toddlers and last time I spent time with my 3 year old niece, I didn't ever see her try and justify her need for a hug from her parents!

    I'm about at the point of not really giving a hoot about people getting twitching about my use of the feminine pronoun. I think it's about time they got over it! And if they think I am a feminazi, fine. I don't really care. God knows who I am and that's all that counts.

    (hmmm do I sound a little spikey on this one.....?)

  • At 9/07/2006 04:46:00 PM, Blogger Sue Densmore

    In all this discussion, let's not totally discount the fact that God chose "Father" and "Son" as terms with which to refer to Himself. If He chose that, because He chose the time and culture into which He would speak, I have trouble just throwing that away, even while I am expanding my understanding of God's character and nature, and even while I realize that God does not really fit into our conventional language boxes.

    Anyhow, I think that is part of why historically we tend toward using male pronouns. I will likely continue to do so, because I am more comfortable with that English usage.

    I am using the TNIV for a Bible translation right now. It uses male pronouns for God, but is gender neutral in other things. It even uses the third person plurals "they," "them," and "their" as singular pronouns, and that is one thing I am having trouble getting used to. High school English class really drummed the "he" thing into me...

  • At 9/07/2006 05:06:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    I've always used male pronouns and had not thought of it much until I went to an emerging women's gathering (Indianapolis) this last Spring. One of the women referred to the Spirit (at least that was my take on it) as "Lady Wisdom". That image is one that has captured me. She actually said that Lady Wisdom has invited us to the table of ministry. The image of a woman inviting me to the table is that of a shared meal, of conversation and relationships. The image of a man inviting me to the table is that of a boardroom, work and business relationship.

    I do tend to use masculine pronouns, but am open and exploring feminine. My overall feel on the subject is captured in a few lines of a poem by C.S. Lewis, though...

    "Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
    Worshiping with frail images a folk-lore dream...

    Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
    Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate."

  • At 9/07/2006 07:30:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    Lately, I am actually avoiding pronouns a lot, because of this reason. I chose God a lot, which can get repetitive. I know what has been used and I am open to the feminine. I am however, trying not to get caught up in the gender pronouns. God has been described in both ways. I think the bottom line is I know that God is neither. We can only begin to imagine, and the descriptions were/are the best we have. I don't want it to get into a gender debate, just for the debate. If pointing out the feminine is to help along the equality of women under God, than I am for it, as long and the main focus stays that God is neither.

  • At 9/07/2006 10:41:00 PM, Blogger From the Margins

    I'm impressed with the graciousness that this topic ( a hot button one) is being talked about here. I feel privileged to be a part.

    Michelle ... I understand your thoughts about God being neither, as an option to the difficulty we have in this arena with our language. But, I think it's important that we try (and struggle with!) and wrap our heads around both male and female being represented perfectly in the Trinity/God-Head rather than neither. (somehow!!) I think it's important for discussions having to do with sexuality and it's God-Divine foundations.

    The Spirit in the O.T. is only found with feminine endings! Not a fact often mentioned! :-) Guess God chose this too!

    Agree with Melanie - when I read and write in the feminine totally different images and emotive responses arise in me.

  • At 9/07/2006 11:57:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    I knew after posting I should have clarified...I guess I don't mean 'neither' as much as I mean God is way beyond one or the other as a "being". The descriptors of God are many and grasp way beyond gender. I am probably not articulating well.
    At this stage I try to avoid pronouns because I am uncomfortable supporting just the masculine pronouns and defending and fighting with my more "traditional" friends and family over feminine pronouns.
    Can you say "avoider"! :)
    Hope that made sense!

  • At 9/08/2006 01:53:00 AM, Blogger Nneka

    I use the pronoun "he" because that's what I grew up using and it stuck. I also have a closer relationship with my father than I do my mother so I don't have any hang ups there.

    I don't use "it" because it seems very impersonal. When I feel like being genderless or, in general, more than I can fathom of God or anyone has described, I say "Spirit".

  • At 9/08/2006 07:14:00 AM, Blogger Tiffanie

    Thank you for all your comments; I have never really acknowledged the significance of God's "feminine side". After reading your comments-I am excited to explore the new ways I might be able to relate to God by exploring a feminine image.

    I will probably still refer to God in the "he". I too find significance in the "Father" and "Son" descriptions. I think that the image of a father encompasses “female” attributes more than we give credit for. Fathers might be strong authoritative men, but are also loving, understanding and nurturing to their children.

  • At 9/08/2006 08:46:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    I find myself using "he" because it is what I am used to. I try to use other methaphors for God as well. The bible describe God with both male and female traits (as both father and mother). So I occasionally refer to God as mother or sister or friend. I'm mainly just trying to stop addressing God always as father (not that there is anything wrong with that, its just the default option that most people don't think about before they use it).

    I have realized that using "he" as an inclusive pronou no lonnger works. Most children are not taught these days that the male words include both men and women. I've had girls in my children's ministry ask why God hates girls (because all the verses only include men. So as weird as it was to be included under the male pronouns, it worse when girls can no longer see themselves in the bible or as being created in God's image.

  • At 9/08/2006 01:33:00 PM, Blogger Shoshana

    From a strictly lingustical view point,in English the male pronouns are both masculine and neuter (neutral). Whereas the female pronouns only referance feminine. Think of it like the "romance" languages (italian, french, spanish) they have male and female as well as singular and plural definite articles (Spanish - el, la, los, las). In the plural, if just one member of the group is male, the male plural is used, but every member has to be female for the feminine to be use. So a "male" group can be men AND women.

    So from this view point, I have no problem with using the traditional "he," because it can encompasses both male and female. Or as a strict grammarian would say, male and neuter.

    (As a side note, have you noticed that 3-5 year olds refer to everyone with the same pronoun? To boys everyone is he, to girls everyone is she.)

  • At 9/08/2006 02:28:00 PM, Blogger Sue Densmore

    I had a thought sparked by Julie. She said she has stopped exclusively addressing God in prayer as "Father." I can understand that.

    What I was wondering is whether the idea that Jesus taught his disciples - which included women - to pray by addressing God as Father has any bearing on this discussion.

  • At 9/08/2006 02:59:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    I know that historically in prescriptive english "he" is neutral, but many school are not teaching children that these days, so in descriptive english things are changing.

  • At 9/08/2006 10:56:00 PM, Blogger Charlotte Wyncoop

    I would lean towards Jesus teaching his disciples to call God "Daddy" in demonstration of the new type of relationship they were to have. While I suppose Jesus could have used "Mommy" the cultural context would have been wrong given women's allowed roles within the culture. Mommies were dependent on male relatives, to be protected etc (generally but not always - think Jesus telling John at the cross "this is your mother"). Within the context of the conversation the chief protector and caregiver, shield, would have been male. At least that's why I think Jesus chose "Daddy" as opposed to "Mommy."

    Just some thoughts to throw into the mix...

  • At 9/09/2006 06:50:00 AM, Blogger Shoshana

    It's interesting that human's tend to view fathers as the protectors when in nature, the female is quite often larger than the male.

    Never get between a mama grizzley and her cub!

  • At 9/09/2006 11:24:00 PM, Blogger Charlotte Wyncoop

    Ah! But when the female is larger she is often the only caregiver...
    For us poor puny humans, the male is on average larger, so go figure. I'd rather have him around so I can say "Honey, take them before I lose it completely!!!!"

  • At 9/10/2006 07:57:00 AM, Blogger lydia

    many school are not teaching children that these days

    Yep, I was taught that it was no longer grammatically correct to use "he" as neutral.

  • At 9/13/2006 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Doxallo

    I use male gendered language, mostly because that is how I was exposed to GOd. That is the way my bibles are translated, its the language I am presuming christ used. Christ took on the form of a man.

    Would really be something if Christ had come as a daughter rather than a son. Not sure I find any significance in it other than that which can be readily reasoned through cultural contexts. And I guess I have never contemplated approaching god as a female, and I have to be honest and say that I find no intrigue in it even after reading this thread. I will surely give the topic though over the days to come and I don't fault anyone for their journey...just sayin' I'm not finding any personal pull or need connection with the idea at this point in time.

    Some times when I read here I wonder if I'm not in touch with my female-ness or something....but thats fleeting. :) Maybe I'm just very in touch with both. (?) I know one thing, I've been given much to think about through participating here, and I thank you all for that! :))

  • At 9/13/2006 04:12:00 PM, Blogger From the Margins

    Dox: From a few of your 'wonderings' and what you've shared personally, it seems to me that you've needed to be totally engaged in your personal situation in order to do the incredible job of handling single parenting, FTJ and schooling, etc! Way to go!
    Perhaps there is yet to come a point in your journey where 'other females' outside of your own personal experience will begin to take form in the periphery of your vision. I know it was life transformational for me when I began to search for 'The Other' outside my own life view.

  • At 9/14/2006 10:08:00 AM, Blogger Doxallo


    I'm not sure how to respond to that.

    I am not isolated by any means....and I am certainly not self absorbed....and I have plenty of interactions across the globe, and I'm not at all insensitive to the circumstances of others. Nor do I feel that I have been 'limited' by my own 'personal experience'. And I'd welcome your elaboration on that.

    I may have a different view on some of these things and am blessed in my circles - perhaps where you are emerging to, I have long lived.

    I am open to the perspective of others which is one reason I am here. I know not everyone has it as "good as I do". But then again, many would not consider what I have to be 'good'....lol.

    Engaging and handling others view points does not mean I will adopt them or agree with them all.

    I heard some commentary the other day about our liberty in christ and being free in Him, walking within His 'confines' being the most freeing place to be...and sometimes I wonder how much women (and men) are pushing against the confines of religion or the confines of God. Frankly, I believe the latter to be as beneficial and about as good a use of time as spitting into the wind.


  • At 9/16/2006 05:35:00 PM, Blogger From the Margins

    Janice ... please forgive me as I feel I have offended you. It seems I misinterpreted your previous comments. I'm sorry. I look forward to more conversations with you from your sacred space and journey and I will take a different view as now I know you better. Thanks for sharing with me.



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