AROUSING "deeply felt and conflicting opinions" and amusing
members of the clergy who are "already doing it", the debate about
using "inclusive language" will be familiar to Church
Times readers, a search of the archive suggests. But the
discussion was revisited in the press this week.
A journalist from The Sunday Times interviewed Hilary
Cotton, who chairs WATCH (Women and the Church), after hearing her
address the Westminster Faith Debates last week (News, 29
May). During her speech, she suggested that women bishops would
make a difference "only if God is she as often as she is he -
because this is such a formative aspect of our church life, and a
real bastion of sexism". The story was picked up widely by the
On Monday, Ms Cotton agreed that the debate she had sparked was
not new, but argued: "Now is a particularly potent time to note
that almost all the language about God in the normal Church of
Engand liturgy is male, and not just male but about Almighty,
Father, King: all male authority figures."
The installation of women bishops "makes the dissonance rather
more obvious", she said. "It feels as if it should be more of a
If the language went unchanged, she feared that "at some level,
they [girls and women] don't believe that they really are made in
the image of God, and the consequence of that is that they may not
feel confident in their calling by God in all sorts of ways."
There was "a lot of latitude in Common Worship", she
said, but she hoped for "an appendix with much more expansive
imagery and language about God, including possibilites where God
can be referred to as female".
The Transformations Steering Group had had, at the invitation of
the Liturgical Commission, "a conversation which included thinking
about inclusive language in liturgy for which the Liturgical
Commission is responsible, and that was well-received as a
possibilty going forward".
On Tuesday, the Bishop of Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd Robert
Paterson, vice-chairman of the Liturgical Commission, confirmed
that this meeting had been "very helpful. . . This is likely to be
a subject that will continue to surface."
Ms Cotton expects "at least 75 per cent" of the House of Bishops
to be supportive. Her conversations with clergy had suggested that
it was "not an issue at all - they have had the discussions. But
none of that has been made evident to lay people at all. I don't
know whether it is something that clergy have been trying to
protect lay people from, because it does evoke strong
In December 1988, the Church Times reported on a
Liturgical Commission report, Making Women Visible, which
proposed changes to the Alternative Service Book. Although the
report refrained from suggesting the use of "she" and "her" to
refer to God (which were deemed "inappropriate"), and a bishop
noted that "many changes are already in use," it provoked "deeply
felt passions" in the General Synod in July 1989.
This week, the Revd Dr Ian Paul, Associate Minister of St
Nicholas's, Nottingham, argued on his blog that "talking of God as
'he' runs the danger of making people think God is male." But he
warned that this pronoun could at least make a claim to being
universal. "She" could not, "and so suggests that God does have a
gender, and that that gender is up for debate."
He wrote: "Christianity uses metaphors because it makes the
unique claim that God is both beyond human comprehension and yet
somehow makes himself comprehendible. Using specific, historically
conditioned metaphors is a central part of that, and we tinker with
them at our peril."
The Revd Jody Stowell, Vicar of St Michael and All Angels,
Harrow, told the BBC that she was "dismayed" by the press coverage.
"This is not about making God a woman. This is about creating those
proper, biblical images of God," she said, speaking of the way that
different parts of the Bible describe God in female terms,
including as a mother bear and a nursing mother.
"I would encourage people to explore those kinds of images. . .
They're wholly traditional within the Christian faith."
'God unmanned' - Leader
'The mother of all
headlines' - Press column