Is God male in the eyes of people in the pew?

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”. []

4 comments on “Is God male in the eyes of people in the pew?

  1. Bob MacDonald

    We are all biased by the limitations of our languages. (No ungendered personal pronoun, or mixed company subsumed under the male pronoun) And we are somewhat aware of the bias. Yet I see the overall metaphors of the Bible – the word as seed, the bride and bridegroom, and so on, I see on this surface an analogy that is projected onto the One who teaches us knowledge. And not without reason – or at least not without post hoc rationalization (which sometimes seems to be ‘reason’ even if illogical). For me God is intensely personal and is not unaware of our assumptions on gender even as related to ourselves or to God’s self. As the psalmist says repeatedly – but specifically in Psalm 31:8 I will rejoice and be glad in your loving-kindness since you have seen my poverty // you know the inside of the troubles of my being.

    Such knowledge is too wonderful to be explained…

  2. Deane

    But how can God be “beyond gender” (if by which you mean “in some sense male or at least masculine”) when one of the three persons of God was incarnated male and (according to orthodox view of God) continues to have a male resurrection body?

    1. tim

      Sorry Deane, I only just saw this, Christian theology has “always” made a distinction between characteristics of the Second Person of the Trinity and the incarnate Jesus. E.g. Jesus had particular hair colour and food preferences but “God the Son” does not share these characteristics. Surely gender is similar?

      On “resurrection bodies” didn’t Jesus in one of the gospel accounts say that this would be “like the angels” neither marrying nor giving in marriage (which seems to imply also beyond gender)?

  3. Deane

    And I’m much later to reply, sorry. As for the second person of the Trinity, the orthodox formulation is that he ascended bodily to the Father, and thus as the male he was on earth. As you know, any denials of his bodily form have been quickly regarded as heresy. The distinction between the preexistent Logos and the incarnate Logos does not negate what occurs after the incarnation. That is, God is now, in one of his persons, a male.

    This is not inconsistent with Jesus’s statement that there will be no marriage in heaven. For example, Augustine (City of God 22.17 is an example) affirms the retention of female and male genitals at the resurrection, but, citing Jesus in Matt 22:29-30, notes that they will not use their genitals anymore for sexual purposes. Augustine also argue that Jesus did not deny that the female sex would exist, and that the statement that they shall not be given in marriage or marry indicates, rather, that at the resurrection they will be able to have sex, but will not do so.