(My apologies for this post being a couple days late this week. There was a scheduling hiccup on my end. But this post is definitely worth the wait.)
Danielle L. Vermeer is a social impact consultant by day and blogger on the intersections of marriage, faith, and feminism by night. A Christian feminist and longtime advocate in the anti-trafficking sector, she is passionate about amplifying the voices of women and girls and sharing stories of hope and healing. She and her husband are on a journey of two becoming one and live in the Chicago suburbs with their adorable baby-dog. Connect with her at www.fromtwotoone.com or on Twitter at @fromtwotoone.
They told me that God must be a man because men are more powerful.
I was six-years-old in the middle of playing basketball in my driveway with my next door neighbors – two boys a year older than I – when they confidently asserted their theological conclusion. Frizzy-haired, lanky, and stubborn as an ox, I retorted that God isn’t a man because God isn’t a person. God is God. They scoffed at me for not knowing what I was talking about and then we proceeded to go on with our game.
They told me that God must be a man because Jesus came to Earth as a man.
Growing up in the Catholic Church, I was taught that only men could be pope and bishops and priests and deacons and even altar servers.* Contrary to the evangelical debates on women in church leadership, the Catholic Church basically taught us that since Jesus was a man, only men could represent Him on earth in the sacraments and other important functions of religious life.
They told me that God must be a man because God calls Himself Father and Jesus calls Himself Son.
In the Catholic Church, we made the sign of the cross in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, not in the name of the Mother, and the Daughter, and the Holy Spirit. In some evangelical churches I attended, contemplating the (traditionally/stereotypically) feminine characteristics of the Divine was akin to heresy. God was Father. Jesus was Son. Period. No questions asked. Since the parts of Scripture that characterized God and Jesus in more feminine terms were exceptions to the rule, the rule was upheld in a remarkably literal fashion.
They told me that God must be a man because as husband is to wife, Jesus is to His Bride the Church.
When I splintered off from the Catholic Church during my preteen and teen years, the evangelical churches and camps I attended stressed the complementary relationship between men and women. They derived much of their theology from Genesis in which God created mankind in His image, male and female He created them. And since the male was created first and the female sinned first, they contrived that the man was to be the leader and protector of the more easily-deceived woman.
From my girlhood to my womanhood, I got the impression from both the secular world and my church traditions that all people were created equal, but men were just a bit more equal. Because if men are associated with power, salvation (Jesus), authority (God), and leadership (Church), then where does that leave me as a woman?
When they said that God must be a man because men are more powerful, they were implying that women were less powerful and inherently more vulnerable. While female people around the world are more vulnerable to abuses of power precisely because they are female, this is not a system ordained by God. Patriarchy is the not the result of men being made in the image of God, but rather of men wanting to be gods in power and authority.
When they said that God must be a man because Jesus came in male form, they were implying that the female form was not worthy of the Incarnate God. They were, of course, forgetting that Jesus incubated and was birthed through the body of a female, that God’s choice of a young, unmarried woman to bring forth the Messiah was not only a slap in the face of patriarchal norms about women, but also completely defiant of human logic.
When they said that God must be a man because God calls Himself father and Jesus calls Himself Son, they are ignoring the intensely patriarchal context of the time in which protection and inheritance passed exclusively through men. But they also are downplaying how Jesus consistently subverted the prevailing norms of the day when relating to those considered less than – women, the disabled, foreigners, children – basically anyone who who do not fit into their narrow definition of person.
When they said that God must be a man because of those verses in Genesis and Ephesians, they are literalizing metaphors – communicating truth through symbolism – that ultimately are profound mysteries to us. Paul even says so explicitly after the analogy of husbands and wives being like Christ and the Church. And as for Genesis, the Hebrew word for “female” – in some cases meaning to be perforated, punctured, bored through, or screwed – is an anatomical description from a contextualized era in which women were not considered fully human, not an ontological truth about women’s role in all places and in all times to be (passive) receivers of “something bigger than ourselves.” Elevating literal interpretations of the intended figurative translation results in false theology that says women are held accountable for their submission to their husbands while men are held accountable for their submission to God.
That’s not who I know God to be.
God is not powerful or authoritative or protective or a leader because He is like a man. God is the Father who passes on inheritance of eternal life through the Son Jesus. God is also the Mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings.
God is all of these things and more because God is above and beyond and encompassing gender of all kinds.
Growing up, I essentially learned that if God is male, then the male is God. But as I’ve grown in wisdom and stature as a Christian and a feminist, I’ve come to rest on a profound truth: that I am made in the image of God both irrespective of and precisely because I am made female.