Friday, July 8, 2011

Who's Your Daddy?

In the most recent tempest in the Christian blogosphere teapot, Jesus bloggers have gotten their knickers in a twist about some tweaking of the language in the United Church of Christ bylaws.

The UCC, in the event you don't have your old-line denominations down, is a smallish and very progressive fellowship.  How smallish?  About half the size of the Presbyterian Church USA, putting them at just a niblet over one million members.  How progressive?  It's known within itself, occasionally, as "Unitarians Considering Christ."  It's intellectual, reformed-ish, open and tolerant, and susceptible to all of the foibles and distractions of leftism.   These are congregations that are prone to anguishing about whether the free-range Guatemalan llamas that provided the fair-trade wool for their openly lesbian pastor's rainbow stole were fed an organic diet.

Good people, in other words.

Anyhoo, the UCC recently reworked their bylaws, and in doing so, abandoned the use of gendered language to describe God.  Meaning, no more God the Father.  Instead, they've done a search and replace, with the replace term being "Triune God."   This has apparently set off all manner of alarm bells among people who aren't UCC and like to fulminate.  Not God the Father?!  Apostasy!  Flagrantly unbibley bad things!

It does give bloggers something to write about, I suppose, for which I'm truly thankful.

The progressive obsession with abandoning gendered language has never really caught hold with me.  Having suffered through clumsy efforts within my own home church to talk about God as "God the Parent" or "Mother/Father God,"  I've found most of the re-writing and tweaking too clumsy.  It just sounds forced, in the way that academic progressivism so often sounds forced and scared of it's own shadow.

As a people who find their identity in the story and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, Christians of a liberal persuasion are stuck with two awkward truths.

First, when describing his relationship with the Yuhd-Hey-Vahv-Hey/Creator/Maker/Self-Aware-Reality-Engine-That-Is-The-Ultimate-Ground-of-Being, Jesus consistently used the term Father.

Second, that's OK.

This does not mean that God is male.  Or female, for that matter.  Gender, as a category that describes the reproductive identity of living beings and/or the socio-sexual identity of homo sapiens sapiens, well, it means jack diddly squat when coming to terms with God.  Theological squabbling about maleness and femaleness is as meaningless as arguing about whether the radiance of God's Glory is golden or more sun-yellowish in hue.  The terms are not adequate to the task.

That also does not mean that the traditional understandings of Fatherhood within human cultures are somehow cues to grasping God's nature.  God the Father is not God the Dad Who Goes to Work and Comes Home Late And Expects a Martini Waiting.  God the Father is not the patriarch of your family, who day and night scrambles for a living, feeds a wife and children, says his daily prayers, and as master of the house has the final word at home.  That Jesus used the term Father tells us that Jesus stood in intimate relation with the God of Israel, and that his relationship with God was not that of a vassal to a monarch, but deeper and more personal.  The socio-cultural resonances of the term are of lesser importance.

That also does not mean that your personal relationship with your own father has any bearing on your relationship with God.   The leftist canard is often pitched out that calling God "Father" will drive away people who had a bad relationship with their own father or with male authority figures.   Yeah, and calling God "Mother" is better, 'cause we know that everyone has a healthy and totally functional relationship with their moms and/or the women in their lives.   Human beings who aren't hopelessly trapped in dysfunction have imaginations and the ability to emotionally and rationally understand that just because a particular relationship is bad, it doesn't mean that all relationships are bad.

God is not like your dad.  Or your mom.   Our relationship with God goes well beyond genetics and nurture, down to the foundations of our material existence and up past the heights of our awareness as sentient beings.

But from within the limitations of human language, and the conceptual boundaries of how we understand love and care and authority and rootedness and self, Father works just fine.   Which is probably why Jesus used it.