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Is God Male? (Part 2)

For the first time in history, significantly fewer women in North America are serving or participating in the life of the church, according to the George Barna Group—considered the leading research organization studying faith and culture. Several weeks after Barna released their 20-year study, two prominent pastor’s conferences focused on the need for male-authority. At one of these conferences, male-leadership was viewed as inseparable from the God-given “masculine feel" of Christianity. After all, Jesus was male, and Scripture reveals God as “king not queen, father not mother.”

But, let’s not allow these facts to blind us to the truth. Misconstrued facts take us not closer, but further from the truth. This risk is ever-present when focusing on one set of facts to the exclusion of all the others. And, facts, as stated in the Bible, require more than simply reading the words. To gain the fullest understanding of Scripture, facts should be read in light of the whole text as well as in their historic and cultural context. Does the gendered language of Scripture suggest that maleness is inseparable from God’s being, and that males should be, therefore, in ultimate positions of leadership?

Though Jesus called God "Father," it was understood in Jesus’ day that it was fathers who passed on inheritance, protection and identity to children, as Marianne Meye Thompson observes in The Promise of the Father. Christ also called God Abba, or “daddy,” as a way of expressing not only intimacy and trust, but also birthright. Like all language used for God, "Father" andAbba help us understand a spiritual or eternal principle: that just as Christ is God’s child, in Christ we, too, are heirs of God’s kingdom, a point Paul emphasizes in Galatians 3:27-29:

"As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves in Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise."

In as much as we are in Christ, we, too, are sons and daughters of Abraham and therefore heirs of God. This is the case regardless of gender, ethnicity or class specifically because it was not Christ’s gender, ethnicity or class, but Christ’s humanity, that makes him a sacrifice to all people.

Scripture also uses feminine metaphors to emphasize specific qualities of God. Last week, we considered the feminine language the early church used to understand God. Today we turn to the metaphors of Scripture, including gendered metaphors. Scripture speaks of God using a variety of images like “rock, fortress, and shield” (Deut. 32:18, Ps. 18:2); “light” (Ps. 27:1); “moth” and “rot” (Hos. 5:12); “lion, leopard and bear” (Hos. 13:6-8); “shade” (Ps. 121:5); and “shepherd” (Isa. 40:11).