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Friday, March 13, 2015

Isn't the Catholic Church sexist for calling God "Father"?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,     
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

 “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus” --Pope Francis  (Evangelii Gaudium, #120)

Question:  Isn't the Catholic Church sexist for calling God "Father"?  Isn't it rather offensive to say God is male and exclude 50% of the population?

Short answer: If the Catholic Church is offensive for calling God "Father", then so is Jesus, right?  For doesn't Jesus teach us to do this in Matthew, when He teaches us to pray, "OurFather, who art in heaven"?

Incidentally, the Church doesn't state that "God is male", (although, of course, Jesus, is male--no one can deny that.) The Church teaches only what God has revealed:  God is masculine, but that is not the same as saying God is male.  God is neither male nor female. God has no gender.  

But God has revealed Himself, first to the Jews, then through Christ to the rest of the world, as masculine in nature.

As Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft says:  at the heart of divine revelation is the simple fact that the First Person of the Trinity has chosen to reveal himself to us as Father. This is a category which transcends human biology (male and female), and of which human fatherhood is a shadow (cf. Eph 3.14).

Many feminist theologians object to calling God "Father", criticizing the Church for being sexist and exclusive, arguing"Calling God ‘Father’, without adding that God is also Mother, unfairly exalts one image for God above all others and ignores the culturally conditioned nature of all our images of God."  Yet, the fact is:  that is how God has revealed Himself--He is our Father.  Over and over again in the New Testament Jesus refers to God as "Father"...Abba, or "Daddy".

Some feminists also argue that since so many Catholics have had such poor example of fatherhood in their own human fathers--perhaps even suffering with abusive fathers, it's uncomfortable for many to identify God as "Father".  To them, references to a father only bring bad images to mind.

This may be true, but rather than changing our view of God to more pedestrian terms, shouldn't we elevate our view of human fatherhood?   In other words, the fact that some human fathers may not act very "fatherly" ought not vitiate the supreme fatherhood of God. Why bring God down to our inadequate levels?  Rather, let's elevate our views of fatherhood to what it ought to be!

Finally, some may argue that while God is indeed referred to in masculine terms in Scripture, there are also numerous references to God in feminine terms in the Bible.  For example, from Matthew 23: 37 "How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." And from Isaiah 42: 14 "I have kept silent for a long time, I have kept still and restrained Myself. Now like a woman in labor I will groan, I will both gasp and pant. 

Apologist Mark Brumley responds 
The fact is, whenever the Bible uses feminine language for God, it never applies it to Him in the same way masculine language is used of Him. Thus, the primary image of God in Scripture remains masculine, even when feminine similes are used: God is never called "She" or "Her." As Protestant theologian John W. Miller puts it in Biblical Faith and Fathering: "Not once in the Bible is God addressed as mother, said to be mother, or referred to with feminine pronouns. On the contrary, gender usage throughout clearly specifies that the root metaphor is masculine-father."

In fact, the Bible ascribes feminine characteristics to God in exactly the same way it sometimes ascribes such traits to human males. For example, in Numbers 11:12 Moses asks, "Have I given birth to this people?" Do we conclude from this maternal image that Scripture here is "depatriarchalize" Moses. Obviously, Moses uses here a maternal metaphor for himself; he is not making a statement about his "gender identity." Likewise, in the New Testament, both Jesus (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34) and Paul (Galatians 4:19) likened themselves to mothers, though they are men. Why, then, should we think that on those relatively rare occasions when the Bible uses feminine metaphors for God anything more is at work there than with Moses, Jesus and Paul?

[For the inspired writers of Scripture] masculine language is the primary way we speak of God. Feminine language is applied to God as if it were being used of a masculine being.
The Catholic Church ought not go the way of the modernists who want to change the language we use, perhaps justifiably, in secular matters (i.e. mailman has become "letter carrier"; police man to "police officer").  Rather, the Church stands firm in declaring that she has no right to change what God has revealed.  The Church is God's mailman (er, letter carrier); she delivers His Word.  The Church is not His editor.  

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15  

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