I have just finished a five-lecture series at Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in Baguio in the Philippines, with the title “God as Mother?”. The experience has been great fun, with friendly interested and interesting staff, and students who engaged well with the ideas and were not afraid to question.

Even if I had had no clue before  I would have realised that the topic was challenging when before the first lecture every single person I spoke to said that the “topic is interesting”. As we all know “interesting” very often means “weird, off the wall, strange…” 

In my first lecture I set out to underline that God is beyond gender. This is one of those truths that every theologically literate person affirms, but which many fail to actually state in their teaching, so that in churches and classrooms people do not understand/believe it. Some Conservative teaching about gender roles in church and home also seems to deny it.1 I am glad I did because APTS students who come from many different countries in the Asia – Pacific region have a wide range of prior education, and some needed time to process even this claim. 

The extent of this reticence to accept a core Christian idea, which matches my informal surveys in NZ churches and among Carey students suggests that we have a BIG education job to undertake. Because I do not think APTS students are any “worse” in this respect than Christians in other parts of the world. Indeed by their openness and willingness to think they demonstrate why they have been selected for higher level study. 

What is your experience? Do theology students and people in churches generally really understand that God is beyond gender, or do most/many actually assume God is in some sense male or at least masculine?2

  1. Of course, writers like Wayne Grudem do not deny this basic truth of Christian doctrine, but many who read them draw their own conclusions. It must be difficult to hold “Complementarian” views, especially those that forbid women from teaching and preaching, and at the same time admit that God is NOT male. []
  2. NB here I do not mean “masculine” as a gramattical gender but as something nearer biology, like this dictionary definition: “having qualities … traditionally associated with men”. []