“To say that God is not male or female is to deny the divinity of Jesus! It denies the Trinity!”
Not true. My theologically orthodox seminary professor husband and I both got up on our annual conference floor to explain the absurdity of this position:
The “scandal of particularity” is that God chose to be incarnated as a 1st-century Jewish Palestinian male —- but that does not mean that God is limited to a particular time, place, language, culture, religion, or gender. We don’t say “God is short with brown eyes” (although Jesus was likely short with brown eyes), so why are we insisting that the maleness of Jesus means that God as Three-in-One and One-in-Three is male? Affirming Jesus’ divinity means affirming that Jesus is simultaneously particularized and beyond particularity.
But passionate speeches by St. Augustine nerds didn’t matter. Fear about the gender of God — and what “gender” means for humans — caused two constitutional amendments to fail to be ratified.
The United Methodist Young Clergy Women immediately sprang into action. We crowdsourced a letter to the church, which we invite United Methodist clergywomen of all ages and ministries to sign.
The letter’s highlights include:
“…The two constitutional amendments relating most closely to women and gender justice were not approved… We have pledged our lives to a denomination which, in response, will not affirm women in its constitution.
…Ambiguity over the word “gender” is part of why these amendments were voted down… However, to offer the clarity that some are seeking would mean abandoning our transgender and gender nonconforming United Methodists who have dealt with exponentially more discrimination in this denomination. We refuse to do this.
…We urge United Methodists to look first at problems of misogyny in our respective areas before pointing out the speck in the eye of any other place.
…We must repent of our unwillingness to allow the Holy Spirit to move us on toward perfection, even in this life.
…Since the formation of our denomination, United Methodists have repeatedly brought to the General Conference amendments supporting people regardless of sex or gender. Each one of these proposed amendments has failed.
Therefore, we urge every United Methodist in every Annual Conference to participate in stopping this cycle in 2020. To stop the cycle means teaching and preaching about the God who is beyond gender. We commend the free curricula offered by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW): “God of the Bible” and “Women Called to Ministry.”
We United Methodists have statements in both the Social Principles and the Book of Resolutions that have passed by a majority vote at General Conference. Our inability to achieve equality in our Constitution is a sign that these resolutions have not been fully incorporated into our denomination.
We therefore challenge people to study, internalize, and act according to “Every Barrier Down: Toward Full Embrace of All Women in Church and Society” (2016 Book of Resolutions, ¶3442). This includes
- listening to women, especially women of color;
- refusing to tolerate sexual violence, harassment, or abuse;
- engaging women in shaping and teaching church doctrine; and
- evaluating progress in each context of dismantling institutional sexism…”
Within just a few days, over 800 clergywomen have signed the letter, including clergywomen from every single conference in the United States and several from the Philippines. Please share this with the UM clergywomen you know, especially those outside of the United States.
We have had many men ask if they can sign. Our response? Write your own letter. Speak up as men about gender justice. Teach and preach about the God beyond gender. Talk about how sexism and patriarchy are not just “women’s issues.” Humbly listen to women. Ask what we need from you. This is not women’s work that you get to sign on to. This is men’s work, too.
News then broke that Amendment 1 had mistakenly included a line deleted by General Conference. That corrected amendment is now returning to the annual conferences for a re-vote.
We need to note that this new amendment does not:
- address the gender of God
- specify inclusion in worship, sacraments, or church governance
- include ability, age, or marital status
These are important oversights.
And yet, I whole-heartedly agree with this statement, again crowdsourced by the United Methodist Young Clergy Women:
“The news of this re-vote means that we United Methodists have a rare opportunity to right an injustice. While this doesn’t erase the painful message sent by the first vote, the United Methodist Church has the opportunity to send a new message. We urge those who voted against Amendment I to listen to women and learn why it matters to them that God made them in the Divine image. We also urge all disappointed by the original vote to remember that Amendment I failed by a margin of fewer than one hundred votes. In light of this, we urge all clergy and lay members to vote at your respective Annual Conferences. Your vote matters. Show up. Vote. Affirm that God has created each gender equal in God’s image.“
Maybe someday we’ll be able to affirm in our founding documents that the God who is beyond gender has made people of all genders in God’s image.
And maybe someday we will assert that marital status, gender, ability, and age (along with race, color, national origin, and economic condition) are not barriers to participation in the life, worship, and governance of the church.
Until then, nevertheless, we persist.