Churches divided on God’s gender

Gender equality and feminism should not interfere with the be­lief that God is mas­culine “as the Bible clearly refers to God as the Father”.

This was the response of some church leaders after the first female bishop to sit in the House of Lords said the Church of England should stop using male pronouns when re­ferring to God.

On Monday, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek, the church’s most senior clergywoman, said re­fraining from praying to God as a male would counter the “erroneous belief” that the Almighty had a gender.

“We are told that God creat­ed human beings in God’s like­ness. If I am made in the image of God, then God is not to be seen as male. God is God.”

Instead of using “He” or “She” to describe God, Tre­week said she preferred simply to use the word “God”.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of the Catholic Church said the issue deserved no attention be­cause the Bible made it clear how people had to address God.

“Unless she is trying to im­prove on Jesus, who said, ‘When you pray, say ‘Our Fa­ther…’ I do not think I have to say more than that.

“Jesus was saying that the kind of relationship that a per­son has with God is like that be­tween a person and their fa­ther,” he said.

Archbishop Vusi Dube, of the eThekwini Community Church, and a KwaZulu-Natal MPL, said God’s gender had never been a problem because the first man believed to have been on Earth was a man, Adam, and a woman, Eve, came second.

“If we understand God as a person of the spirit, we will never be worried about Him being a ‘He’ or a ‘She’. In many of our churches that has never been an issue. God is a spiritual being.”


Family Centre Pastor Shane Pillay said the Bible made it clear that God was far greater than male or female.

“Biblically, God is a mascu­line person. There is no reason to doubt it.

“The Bible says Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that is a clear indication that God is a He. It did not say Mother, Daughter, and Holy Spirit,” he said.

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa’s presiding bishop and the president of the SA Council of Churches, Zipho Siwa, agreed with Treweek on God’s gender.

He said human beings used limited language to describe the divine and God revealed “Godself” all the time in the differing context within which people found themselves.

“God is above gender. We as humans need to tidy up our language and make it more in­clusive.

“It is good to remove any language that can be deemed to promote the dominance of one gender over another,” he said.

Theologian Dr Herbet Moyo, a lecturer at the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Natal’s school of religion, philosophy, and classics, said the issue of God’s gender was one of ongoing debate and had a basis in theology.

He said in original Bible texts, which were Greek and Hebrew, the terms used where English had used “he” and “she” were genderless.

“We now assume that when God was considered to be a ‘He’, it was a patriarchal influ­ence of communities that pro­duced the Bible.

“The priests and educated people at that time were males, and then they gave a male gen­der to God,” he said.

“If we continue using ‘He’ to refer to God, we must re­member that ‘he’ is oppressive in society.

“God is God. God is neither a male nor a female.”

Sonke Gender Justice’s Mbuyiselo Botha said the nar­rative that God was a “He” cre­ated a hierarchy of superiority and inferiority.

“Unfortunately the inferior­ity is always directed towards women,” he said.

Botha said churches had to create a set of new values that would make people, especially the coming generations, look at God as a “He/She”, so there would be equality and respect regardless of gender in society.