I was converted to Christianity after hearing a church congregation recite together the Our Father prayer. I was ready to join in, I thought I knew what I was doing, having been in church plenty as a kid, but then they started right out praying to “Our Father and Mother” and I left my mouth open but nothing came out. I was just as stunned a little later in the same worship service when the choir sang the 23rd Psalm with all female pronouns for God.
She maketh me to lie down in green pastures.
I am to this day indebted to that church, for having the courage and the willingness not only to pay lip service to a genderless God, but to also live out that value: to live out the value of gentleness and flexibility regarding gender. I have heard many say in principle that God’s divinity is not precedent on His maleness. But I have heard few give breath that principle, to actually bring it to life in language.
She leadeth me beside the still waters.
When I stepped into that church in Boston I was a seeker, and I was vulnerable. I had been looking for some kind of bridge between my cracked insides and the tradition of my childhood. I had been looking for exactly this kind of leadership, somebody who would take me by the hand and bring me into the circle, give me a chance to work out all the dissonance, help me put glue in all the cracks.
One of the things we struggle with in activism of all kinds, but particularly Christian activism, is how to be nice to each other. Right? Nice. Gentle. Welcoming.
Hey, didn’t you read those beatitudes? Bring it down a notch.
It isn’t that I don’t think about these things. Or that I don’t recognize that compassion is the center of our faith. It is. And I do want to live in compassion, more than anything. It’s that I see the directionality of this language. I see that what people call “nice” is sometimes only nice to some of the people, and quite uncomfortable for others.
Sometimes when we say, “be nice,” we mean, “be nice to the people who are used to having people be nice to them.” When we say, “be welcoming,” we mean, “be welcoming to the people who are already inside the circle.” This choice is a choice of direction. It is a choice between audiences. There are people located on all sides of the issue.
I get that changing gender pronouns feels disruptive. With gender it can feel like when you take away any of the rules you lose your grounding entirely, and then where will you end up? I get that. I want to say that I have compassion for those who are intensely threatened by hearing of God as a She. I have compassion for those who say, “You can’t be speaking of a real God, you must mean a something else, maybe something wrong and twisted, and that scares me.” I have compassion for those who say, “I don’t understand it,” even if they really mean, “I don’t want to understand it.”
But I feel the need to say today that although I have compassion for these feelings, I do not validate them. The distinction is that I want to be the kind of leadership that moves forward, into risk, and out of this particular brand of security, which is really only security for some.
Why do I make this choice? Because Jesus did. Because this was the root and basis of Jesus’ ministry: to reach out, beyond comfort for some into a kingdom for all. This is what the beatitudes are about.
We must reverse what is high and what is low, what is inside and what is outside, in order to build God’s kingdom here on earth. Otherwise we are only shifting the human kyriarchy ever so slightly to the left.
A church that is fully welcoming to human beings who are not gender conforming will not uphold gender as an idol in the place of God. We just won’t. We won’t let this be a stumbling block. We will open this door and hold it open. We will be a church that welcomes, and a church that sings.
The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. She makes me lie down in green pastures. She leads me beside still waters. She revives my soul. She guides me by paths of virtue for her name’s sake. Though I pass through the valley of the shadow, I will fear no evil, for God is with me.