To wrap up this series on sex and gender (see "Defining 'Sex'" Part 1 and Part 2), some thoughts on how we talk about God's gender:
I find it interesting when people use "She" to refer to God so that when people protest, they can say, "But God doesn't have a gender! Why limit God to only male pronouns? That only reinforces the patriarchal hierarchy." (To be clear, I am not saying that everyone who calls God "She" does it for this reason; I am interested in the people who do it for this reason.) I don't personally see a benefit in exchanging one set of limiting words for another. If God has no gender, why use gendered pronouns at all?
Ah, but there's the rub: In English, we have no good gender-neutral pronouns for individuals. Really, the only singular gender-neutral pronoun we have is "it," and it's difficult to imagine having a close relationship with an "it." You might use "it" for an animal if you don't know whether it's male or female, but if it's, say, a friend's pet, you're more likely to venture a guess by calling it "he" or "she" rather than referring to their beloved animal as "it." It's just an impersonal word. So if we're talking about a loving God with whom you want a close relationship, "it" is not going to cut it.
There's also the option "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun. Using "they" to refer to a single person is guaranteed to make most grammarians twitch, despite the fact that it's been used this way for centuries. The average English speaker, however, already uses "they" when talking about a person of an unknown gender.
On the other hand, it's perfectly acceptable to refer to a group of people as "they." And isn't God three persons? Despite most Christians professing a belief in the Trinity -- that God is both one person and three persons -- God is almost unilaterally referred to in the singular. It seems that the dual role of "they" as both a plural pronoun and a gender-neutral singular pronoun is suited quite perfectly for reference to God.
The Nature of Sex and Gender
Those who want to argue against referring to God with only male pronouns often point to markers of biological sex and ask, "Does God have a penis? Does God have testicles? Does God have a Y chromosome? Isn't God spirit?"
And then I've seen the argument come back that God is masculine in nature based on descriptions in the Bible, and that Jesus was incarnated as a male human and referred to God as "Father," so even if God does not have a physical body, God's spirit is clearly male.
Leaving aside the many feminine and maternal references to God in the Bible, I find this argument fascinating because it attaches male-ness to something other than one's physical body. In other words, it clearly identifies gender as separate from biological sex, that one can be male without having a traditionally male body. And yet, I find this argument about God's male-ness, this discomfort with calling God anything other than "He," coming from many of the same people who are so dismissive, if not hateful, toward the transgender community. How is it that God can be fundamentally male without having a male body (i.e., male genitalia), and yet a human can't?
Or Does God Have a Body?
Another point that comes up in the Is-God-Male debate is Genesis 1:26-27:
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.In this case, "man" is 'adam, which might make more sense here translated as "humans."
If we were made in God's image, does that mean God has a body like our bodies? To what extent, or in what way, is it like our bodies? I am not a Biblical literalist myself, but for those who are, you have to acknowledge that God creates both male and female humans here, rather than saying, "Let's create male humans in Our image, and then change their parts around a bit to create knock-off versions we'll call female humans." So somehow both male and female humans reflect God's image.
If you believe that our bodies are literally copies of God's body, then in order for both men and women to have bodies representative of God's body, God would either have to have no genitals or both male and female genitals. Kind of sounds like an intersex person, huh?
What's the Point?
As with the other posts in this series, I want to challenge black-and-white viewpoints on the notions of sex and gender. These concepts, whether about biological sex, sexual behavior, or talking about God's gender, are not the kinds of things to which you can say, "Obviously it's this way," and then walk away and be done with it. I want to challenge people not to think they have all the answers, but to be open to learning more and questioning what they think they know.
Do you refer to God as He, She, They, It...? Why? Does it matter?