The extremism that characterizes some of the more enthusiastic and influential proponents of “inclusive” liturgy clearly delineates the threat of using feminist ideology to support the Word of God. Canadian theologian Mary Malone asserts that “in the language of the Church, women do not exist,” that “liturgy is mostly for men,” that “women are not challenged by the Word of God,” and that “at the most important moment in the life of the local Church, women are excluded, they are nonpersons.” Boston theologian Mary Daly sums up the feminist point of view even more forcefully. “The ethos of Judaeo-Christian culture is dominated by The Most Unholy Trinity: Rage, Genocide, and War.” Not too surprisingly, Mary Daly has left the Church.
Another radical feminist who, while denying a number of basic Christian doctrines, remains in the Catholic Church in order to change it, is Rosemary Ruether. She states that “His story has been the holocaust of women.” She deplores “patriarchal theology” because it “uses the parent image of God to prolong spiritual infantilism as virtue and to make autonomy and assertion of free will a win.” This is the same author whom Mary Hayter, in her book about the use and abuse of the Bible in the debate about women and the Church, claims is “one of the less extreme and more reputable feminist theologians.”
Wherever a particular moral or ideological focus is the inspiration for revising Scripture or changing the liturgy, the danger exists in destroying the kind of understanding of God’s Word that operates on a deeper, more symbolic level. One must always be aware that fervor is not an acceptable substitute for competence. Nonetheless, enthusiasts of “inclusive” language have made many inroads into the liturgy.
For “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” some feminists substitute “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier”; others use “Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter.” The United Church of Canada’s 31st General Council (1986) overwhelmingly adopted a recommendation calling for a reversal of “male domination in religion.” The church will no longer use the word “man” and will replace it with “people.” Similarly, Father, King, He, and Master will no longer be used. Instead, the church will say God, Creator or Father-Mother. The Ontario Peel-Dufferin Separate (Catholic) School Board has endorsed a report by its board that recommends using the terms God, Creator, Friend and Everlasting One, instead of referring to God as Father.
The United States National Council of Churches has produced An Inclusive Lectionary in which “brethren” is changed to “friends,” “watchman” to “watcher,” and “Lord God” to “God the Sovereign One.” Not only does ideology triumph over theology, but it often triumphs over style, as the following passage from the gospel of St. John indicates: “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Child, that whoever believes in that Child should not perish but have eternal life.” The Lectionary also strips Jesus of his sexuality (He is the “Human One” or “The Child”); it invests God with bisexuality (God is the “motherly father of the Child who comes forth”). This prompted even a former Moderator of the United Church of Canada, Rev. Lois Wilson, to exclaim: “Surely Christian women aren’t so insecure and self-conscious as to require a de-sexing of Jesus in order to relate to His message.”
The Revised New Testament of the New American Bible, which replaces the previous version issued in 1970, avoids the use of “man” in reference to both men and women. Typical of the change is the verse from Matthew 4:4, “Not on bread alone is man to live” has been revised to read, “One does not live by bread alone.” Some critics have complained that the revision did not go far enough. For example, the Greek word adelphoi (literally, “brothers”) is still translated as “brothers.” This was found “indefensible.” Yet the substitute phrase, “my dear people” (which has appeared in other revised versions), singularly fails to convey the meaning that since members of the community are adopted children of God, they are all members of the same family. In this instance, “my dear people” is actually exclusive since it excludes the intended reference to Christ’s children as members of the same family.
As one female Bible scholar sensibly points out: “When the biblical images of God as father, bridegroom, and other `masculine’ metaphors are rightly interpreted, it is clear that there is nothing `sexist’ about them.” The Bible does not need to be changed; it needs to be understood. And the more people read and understand the Bible, the more they realize their own need to be changed.
Many who are especially zealous about purging Scripture of its “sexism” seem unaware of their own penchant for female bias. Some feminists instruct their children to pray the Lord’s prayer by saying “Our Mother.” Others adorn their “women-church” liturgies with replicas of “Christa,” a crucifix with a nude female body. One feminist theologian urges a trinity of “Mother, Lover, and Friend.” Rosemary Ruether proclaims that the divine reality is best understood as an empowering “primal Matrix,” the great womb “in whom we live, move and have our being.” Male critics are routinely discounted and the male authors of the Gospel are often regarded with suspicion precisely because they are male.
The Hebrew Bible proclaims a Creator who is qualitatively different from his creation and thereby rejects the mother images of God that resurrect Near Eastern fertility goddesses and the human sacrifices associated with the likes of Baal and Astarte. The effort to remove “sexist” language from the Bible is merely the first phase of a program aimed at radically altering its meaning. Rev. Ralph Garbe, past chairman of Canada’s United Church Renewal Fellowship has remarked that “The evidence is beginning to mount that what is happening in our church is not simply a change in language, but a change in faith. The Bible is being distorted by the ideology of feminism.”
Feminist Naomi Goldenberg is willing to state the matter far more graphically. She writes: “The feminist movement in Western culture is engaged in the slow execution of Christ and Yahweh…It is likely that as we watch Christ and Yahweh tumble to the ground, we will completely outgrow the need for an external God.”
The meaning of male and female, of marriage and sexuality, is at once so human and profound, that we cannot alter their Scriptural descriptions without at the same time diminishing Scripture’s human significance. A culture that is as time-bound as the present one is – given its obsession with fads, novelties, and expediency; its materialism, secularism, and individualism; its rejection of the past, its dissatisfaction with the present, and its apprehension of the future – is hardly in a position to correct the timeless and universal Word of God. “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date,” wrote G.S. Lewis, the same man who noted, quite correctly, how odd it is that “the less the Bible is read the more it is translated.”
Donald DeMarco teaches philosophy at St. Jerome’s College, University of Waterloo, Kitchener, Ontario.