“Our Parent, who art in heaven,” says Giles Fraser in UnHerd. “It has rather lost something, don’t you think?” It’s the “language of the census”, not of intimacy and protection. Yet the Church of England is now considering using gender-neutral language for the Almighty. Advocates have a point – gendered nouns probably do influence how we think. People see God as synonymous with “ultimate reality”, so using “He” could be a way of “projecting male superiority in the very nature of things”. But apart from children, does anyone really think of the Judeo-Christian God as a man with a white beard? “Father” is a metaphor, like “rock” or “lamb”.
Since “God is beyond gender”, using the odd “she/her” pronoun might be helpful, as it undermines any single “fixed idea of what God is”. This isn’t a new notion. “God is our Mother as truly as He is our Father,” wrote Julian of Norwich in the 14th century. But swapping “our Father” for “our Parent”? “Heaven help us.” The traditional language of the Church is unobtrusive: it drops away “as attention is directed to the beyond”. “Our Parent”, with its clinical overtones, keeps us mired in the messiness of all-too-human culture wars. If we are thinking of pronouns, remember what the burning bush told Moses: “I am what I am.” It’s suitably inscrutable. “God, I/me.”