Use of ‘he’ when referring to God to be examined by new a commission in spring
The Church of England is considering whether to stop referring to God as “he”, after priests asked to be allowed to use gender-neutral terms instead.
The church said it would launch a new commission on the matter in the spring. Any potential alterations, which would mark a departure from traditional teachings dating back millennia, would have to be approved by synod, the Church’s decision-making body.
The Rt Rev Dr Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield and vice-chair of the liturgical commission responsible for the matter, said the church had been “exploring the use of gendered language in relation to God for several years”.
“After some dialogue between the two commissions in this area, a new joint project on gendered language will begin this spring,” he said. “In common with other potential changes to authorised liturgical provision, changing the wording and number of authorised forms of absolution would require a full synodical process for approval.”
The specifics of the project are as yet unclear.
The bishop’s comments came in response to a question asked at synod by the Revd Joanna Stobart, vicar of Ilminster and Whitelackington in Somerset, about the progress on developing “more inclusive language” in services.
It is unclear what would replace the term Our Father in the Lord’s Prayer, the central Christian prayer that Jesus is said to have instructed his followers to say together down the generations.
Conservative critics have hit back at the possibility of changes, with the Rev Dr Ian Paul telling the Telegraph that they would represent an abandonment of the Church’s own doctrine.
He said: “The fact that God is called ‘Father’ can’t be substituted by ‘Mother’ without changing meaning, nor can it be gender-neutralised to ‘Parent’ without loss of meaning.
“Fathers and mothers are not interchangeable but relate to their offspring in different ways.”
A spokesperson for the Church of England said: “This is nothing new. Christians have recognised since ancient times that God is neither male nor female, yet the variety of ways of addressing and describing God found in scripture has not always been reflected in our worship.
“There has been greater interest in exploring new language since the introduction of our current forms of service in contemporary language more than 20 years ago.
“There are absolutely no plans to abolish or substantially revise currently authorised liturgies, and no such changes could be made without extensive legislation.”