God as Feminine and Masculine & the Use of Pronouns


With the Faith and Culture Writers Conference coming soon (and all the work we are doing to make it an incredible event for everyone), it got me thinking about writing

. . . .

Today on #OffTheHighway, The Shack and Cross Roads author, William Paul Young (FCWC featured speaker), addresses an issue for which he is, uniquely, both a lightning rod and a thoughtful scholar.  In The Shack, Paul famously embodies God the Father, “Papa”, as an African-American woman and the Spirit as a wispy Asian woman.

Watch today’s episode to hear more of his thoughts on the topic.

I want to focus today’s post on an implication of Paul’s theology… a very practical implication for me in my vocation.

As a writer on topics of faith and spirituality, God is often the subject of my writings.  At this point in my writing development, one issue that I am working through is the use of God-pronouns in my writings.

To put it simply, do I refer to God as exclusively “he” or do I mix in both “he” and “she” references.  Straight talk.

Paul Young, mixes his references. For instance, he most typically refers to the Spirit as “she” since the Hebrew word for Spirit is grammatically a feminine word.

I had an article published earlier this week on a national website.  As happens, minor edits were made by the editors.  A punctuation correction here, a phrase added there.

In this article, the editors changed the word “God” to “he” at several points.

Look, I get it.  From the traditional editorial model, I use the word “God” too often, sometimes multiple times in one sentence.  I say “Godself” instead of “himself”.  My motivation is to avoid the gender question as often as possible.

Here’s the deal:  I would probably prefer to weave in both “he” and “she” in reference to God.  I believe that this would be more ontologically true of God’s character, even though it would be a shock to my religious-literary tradition.  However, I know that because of that shock, many, many people from my traditions would be offended by references to God as “she.”

On the other hand, referring to God as “he,” particularly if it is exclusively as “he” is also offensive to a significant group of people that I very much care for, a group that has often experienced indefensible abuse at the hand of males.  I want to write as inoffensively as possible.  I desire to be heard.

So what am I left with?  I can either risk offending (thus losing my message) a fairly large group by using “she” AND “he” for God OR offend another group of people (for whom the offense is often much more visceral) by sticking strictly with “he.”

My solution.  Since we don’t have an all encompassing or “neutral” pronoun in English, I try to avoid pronouns for God as much as possible.  Even if it makes my writing slightly more wooden.  If you read my most recent book ALOOF, you may even notice that from the start of the book to the end, my use of God-pronouns decreases along the way.

And why not?  Even if it is wooden, this is God we are talking about.  Throughout human history there has been a special deference to the names of God.  Scribes would use a different quill when writing a word for God.  Orators use unique and specific phrasing when speaking God’s name(s) aloud.  Why not also remove the use of pronouns, at least in English, so that whenever God is referenced the full gender-spectrum is always embodied in each use.

What do you think?

On the other hand, I am also playing with the idea of using the pronoun “they” for God, instead of “he” or “she.”  It removes the gender dilemma.  And it was God who referred to Godself saying “Let US create humankind in OUR image… Let US create them male and female.”  Maybe a transition to “they” could provide a lovely solution.  Also, it would be fun to watch auto-grammar-correct deal with a sentence like: “When God speaks to people, They tend to do so in a way that surprises.”



5 Responses to “God as Feminine and Masculine & the Use of Pronouns”

  1. My Gender Fluid friend suggests using “they” in place of he or she. Apparently, Shakespeare did so. I’m resisting this. It works when writing about God. It doesn’t work as well for humans. For example: “I love my partner; they are my best friend as well as my lover.” (They is?)

  2. Great topic. As a writer and preacher I’ve wrestled with it a bunch. I’m right there with you. Trying to limit my use of gender pronouns as much as possible. It can create a bunch of editorial difficulty, though. It has, on the other hand, forced me to think carefully about the sentences I write, and I think the result has often been better and more clear writing.

  3. Thank you for bringing up the subject. I had a conversation recently with another female friend about how she feels less important to God because she is a woman. I have felt the same way. Sometimes I feel silly, but singing songs and reading verses about God only as male and about his sons makes me feel like I just don’t fit into the God-world. Our verbiage really does change our perspective. I hope more leaders include people like me (women) in the God-world.

    • Rachel. I am sorry that I did not check comments sooner.
      You have shared something that is so significant. Truly significant. This is but one more example of my privilege. It is only recently that the gender gap in religious language has come to pain me.
      I pray that you will know, know deep in your heart, that you fully fit… more than that… you have a the most significant place in the God-world.
      Blessings, tony

      Tony Kriz

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