27 January 2011

Creating Godde in my own image

I’m coming out of the closet: I have decided to create God in my own image. Really, I have.

I’m going to call Her Godde. Godde is a white middle class woman. Or, in your case, Godde might be an African-Caribbean young woman, or a disabled elderly Latina.

Someone else’s God might be a 3-month old Asian boy with a congenital heart defect or even a white, middle-aged, middle-class man.

I’m absolutely, utterly serious. Here’s the deal.

Christian theology has long asserted that God has no gender and that God is neither male nor female. Yet, if we’re being honest, Western Christianity traditionally pictures God as a powerful white male who is not elderly but old enough to have power and influence and still be physically virile. The CEO of Exxon, perhaps.

Jesus, despite his ethnicity and cultural context, we have pictured as a younger version of the CEO-God. Of course, Jesus was certainly male. And we’ve also been happy to envisage him as white and powerful, a sort of up-and-coming CEO to God’s Chairman of the Board image.

So, if Jesus is divine and male then God must also be male. And Jesus called God his Father, so that must be the way that Jesus wanted all his followers forever after to refer to the first person of the Trinity, right?


British Methodism – I speak only for the tradition in which I was ordained rather than trying to speak for other traditions – affirms that every person is made in the image of God and that we each bear that image within us.

Bearing the Imago Dei does not mean that any one of us bears God’s complete image. Scripture tells us that God created both male and female in God’s image. Thus, woman is not a complete image of God. And man is not a complete image of God. But together we complement each other and bear something that is closer to the image of God than one gender or the other on its own.

Many conservative Christians are not only happy – but indeed eager – to point out this complementarity of gender when it suits their purposes.

So, tell me why tradition, and much of conservatism, insists that we must think of God as male and that we must conceive of the male human being as being a complete image of God and the female as representing no aspect of God whatsoever?

But here is why I am really creating Godde in my own image: because I realised that I have spent over 50 years not being able to get in touch with the Imago Dei in which I was created because “everyone knows” that God is a man.

Did I think that God is a man? No, I did not think that. Did I believe that God is a man? I didn’t believe that in my head, but I sure believed it in my heart and in my gut. God could not be part of me because God is not a woman. Even if I have “received the Holy Spirit” and the Spirit is in me, the Spirit is a man (not in Greek or Hebrew, but certainly in popular Western thought).

Of course, God is not black either. Or disabled. Or gay. Or transgendered. If you’re any of those things, you have to think that the Imago Dei inside you is a straight white male. A foreign invader. Not really part of you. You bear no image of the divinity. But if you are ready to confess to God your sin of being female, black, gay, disabled, or whatever, then God will be happy to put his “normal” corrective image within your field of vision, even though you will never be able to change the way you are.

So, I have decided to create Godde in my own image. And I hope that you too will create God/Godde in your own image in the same way. I’m not going to pretend any more that God is a powerful, white middle class male CEO. And if you don’t believe that either, maybe together we can begin to change the world one person at a time.


PamBG said...

Waiting for the inevitable **** to fly. :-)

Fat Prophet said...

I found this post very interesting and yes there will probably be a few asterisks flying about and already Doug formerly known as DH has commented over on Connexions - not sure if he has read all of this or just the bit that Richard posted.

PamBG said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Ian!

Pamela said...

Thanks for this Pam.
In any relationship, including the relationship with God, when love and trust are present then "gender" isn't an issue. "Father" is a word used in the Christian sense to denote a loving, caring presence. We are all aware, though, that "father" can have very negative vibes for some. As can "mother". We have to call God something, I don't have a particular problem with "he" and it doesn't mean I think of God as "male".

Anonymous said...


(AR - from Facebook)

"It is incorrect to say, for example, that Jesus is black. It is also incorrect to say that Jesus is not black. But it is correct to say: Jesus is not not black. And likewise: we cannot say that Jesus is female, nor should we say he is not female. What we should say is that he is not not female. And so on for all human attributes that the particular and historical Jesus did not himself possess. Further, while it is true to say that Jesus is Jewish, let us add that he is not only Jewish. While it is true to say that Jesus is male, let us add that he is not only male."

PamBG said...

Interesting comment, AR.

Although in my terminology - the terminology I'm using here - "Jesus" is the historical person.

I'm using the terminology God and Godde to speak of the "I Am", the "I will be what I will be", the One whose face we do not see who we have largely insisted is male and thought of as white.

I'm getting confused by the link which appears to conflate "Jesus" with some aspect of his divinity. If you'd care to elaborate on that to help me see it differently, please do because I'm just a bit puzzled right now. Thanks.

Pamela said...

Um, Anonymous (& Pam)
We're all really hung up on "theology" aren't we. When the "man/woman in the street" just wants a loving relationship with God. No wonder people don't go to church anymore.

Pamela said...

btw, Pam,
Thanks for all your support at Connexions, that bastion of white male supremacy.

PamBG said...

Hi Pamela. I'm not really getting what you're saying in either post, sorry.

Ref post one above: I do actually enjoy theology a lot. I like thinking about "God stuff" and talking about "God stuff". I don't think it's the core of spiritual life or faith but my current job has proven to me that one really does need to know one's theology in difficult situations. Last week, I had a spouse point to their unconscious, about-to-die spouse, and asked me to tell that dying person how to find God. Not something I could have made up on the spur of the moment if I didn't already know what I thought and believed. And very MUCH "theology".

Ref your second post above: I'm not sure if you're being serious or facetious.

Pamela said...

Hi Pam
I've had a difficult time at Connexions, that's all. Just my take.
Yes, I guess thinking about "theology" is interesting. I just prefer to have a personal relationship with God. I'm sure you've been in some tricky situations where theology has helped.
Grace and peace.

PamBG said...

Pamela, I know a number of the British people who post there in person, so it might be a question of perception. But I'm truly sorry that you feel uncomfortable there.

Allan R. Bevere said...

On another blog Kim Fabricius writes, "As a male, Pam, who feels implicitly complicit in the baleful history of patriarchy, I certainly respect your seriousness and intent, but, in good faith, I do think that simply complementing or displacing male imagery with female imagery in God-talk actually has the effect of endorsing patriarchy in new forms (not least due to cultural stereotyping of the imagery). And I have come to this this view largely through studying the works of women theologians themeselves like Sarah Coakley, Janet Martin Soskice, and Kathryn Tanner."

Your response?

Richard said...

>> "Connexions, that bastion of white male supremacy"

A bit of a low blow, surely?

Rachel said...

Richard: maybe a bit of a low blow, but then I know what Pamela means. I think it's because the natural style of many of your regular commentators is pretty combative. Without wishing to stereotype, that's not the style of many women who wish to comment on blogs. That's an observation rather than a criticism. (But then I don't want to take this thread away from it's original topic onto a discussion about Connexions).

PamBG said...

Can I point out that "Pamela" is a different person from me. I didn't write the bit about "white male supremacy".

@Alan, if there is an implied question in Kim's response - which I doubt - my reply on Connexions was to ask where I have implied "displacing male imagery with female imagery in God-talk actually has the effect of endorsing patriarchy in new forms".

The word "displacing" is actually quite interesting because I don't think I'm doing that. I'm inviting a range of different images. Unless Kim means we need a God-image that is totally devoid of any and all human characteristics.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for clarifying. I now understand.

tortoise said...

PamBG: I'm inviting a range of different images

If this means we all share in accessing the full range of images, it's something I would support. "What is not assumed is not redeemed", as Gregory of Nazianzus put it. And, as you rightly put it, together we complement each other and bear something that is closer to the image of God than one gender or the other on its own.

But I'd ask you to clarify that, as your other remarks in the original post seems to point in a rather different direction. I'm going to call Her... Or, in your case... Someone else's God might be... suggests not so much a range of images, more an outright individualisation of God-talk. You have your image (which suits you), I have mine (which suits me) - especially under the headline Creating Godde in my own image it comes across as more akin to the postmodern spiritual marketplace, from which we pick and choose what 'works' for us, than to the God of revelation, who "is God and no mortal" (Hosea 11.9), who declares "my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways" (Isaiah 55.8).

On this basis I think it's fair to raise a concern about possible displacing of imagery (albeit perhaps not in quite the way Kim and you have been talking about). Your invitation to everyone to create God[de] in her or his own image, is bound up with a call to reject the imposition of inherited God-imagery that does not tally with her or his sense of identity. Such rejection, even at an individualised level, is surely displacement; to allay this I'd want to see you say more about encouraging a shared pool of God-imagery reflecting (or better, reflected in) the breadth of human identity.

And call me Reformed, but yes, I would affirm that the indwelling of God's Spirit can indeed be like a foreign invader - at times painfully in opposition to my own will, yet utterly benevolent. Whilst I cannot escape the conviction that the imago Dei within me is presently tarnished and dimmed by the Fall, but by God's grace shall be "changed from glory into glory".

kim fabricius said...

Yes, Pam, thanks for clarifying. I'm all for "a range of different images", for fluidity and excess, if not for anarchy. So the question becomes one of criteria, and for criteria we have to go to Jesus. Indeed we can only speak of God as Father in non-idolatrous ways because Jesus is the Son. So, for example, I judge that CEO image God to be inadmissable - especially for CEOs! Why? Because the image speaks of hierarchy, domination, control, coercion, even violence, while Jesus speaks of equality, humility, sacrifice, and peace. And that, by the way, is why image-anarchy won't do, because in a free-for-all the powerful prevail, and that too is not the way of Jesus.

Does that make sense? And is it helpful? I hope so, because I think that, ultimately, we are on the same side here, in search of a theology/spitituality which informs a praxis of freedom and shalom.

PamBG said...

Kim: so, spiritually speaking and in prayer, a woman may not conceive of God in any way other than male? And I hope all men are being very careful to image a Middle Eastern Semite Head of Household - which is very probably what Jesus was talking about.

Or how do you see that working?

PamBG said...

Tortoise: Interesting points. I'll get back later.

kim fabricius said...

I just said, with you I'm for a range of images. For women too. I do not think it helpful for a woman just to think of God as a woman, anymore than it is helpful for a male just to think of God as a male. Moreover, we have to ask what kind of a male - and what kind of a woman. As Soskice observes, feminists themselves "are surely right to reject what Sarah Coakley has called 'mawkish and sentimenatlised versions of the feminine' as both providing warrant for a particular stereotype of the feminine and at the same time feeding the unorthodox suggestion that there is sexual differentiation in the Trinity." More bluntly, "fathers" may be bastards, and "mothers" may be bitches.

And I certainly don't need to tell you that women are not just women. There are questions of ethnicity and class, among others, to consider in God-talk that is liberative. So, for example, African-American Christian feminists do not seem to have as much of a problem with father imagery as white Christian feminists.

Your manifesto is a great broadside, as long as we all understand that the issues here are very complex, and while they certainly and importantly include one's personal feelings, they cannot be reduced to personal feelings, for reasons to which Tortoise gestures, but also because we are talking here about the political as well as the individual.

PamBG said...

Kim: I think we broadly agree. I think we're approaching this conversations with very different presuppositions and I really am incapable of answering you further because I don't understand your presuppositions, I can't identify them and trying to communicate with you in any meaningful way is just too exhausting. I don't mean that as a broadside, but just as a statement of fact about where I'm coming from

PamBG said...


Thanks for some good comments which made me think.

I'm starting this conversation with the assumption that we all conceive of God, we all visualize God in some way. And that the culturally-approved way of doing so is still that God is a powerful white male. I appreciate that this is changing somewhat, but I don't think it's actually changed all that much.

And certainly for me personally - which is what this post is about - my default image of God is as a white male. I was brought up in a denomination that insisted that God was male (the "white" was implied) and that no other image was permitted.

Yes, I most certainly think we all need access to a range of images for God. And I genuinely do think that our male image of God matters if we see an elderly black woman with Alzheimers and our belief is that it is impossible to see anything of God in her because she is "the wrong type of person".

This is the most interesting item of all in your post to me: And call me Reformed, but yes, I would affirm that the indwelling of God's Spirit can indeed be like a foreign invader - at times painfully in opposition to my own will, yet utterly benevolent. Whilst I cannot escape the conviction that the imago Dei within me is presently tarnished and dimmed by the Fall, but by God's grace shall be "changed from glory into glory".

Part of my point would be that a strong white male, a white male, or even just a male doesn't need to see the Spirit as a holy invader because our teachings are that God is somehow male in a way that God is not somehow female.

I'd argue that cultural norms mean that over half the population have a knee-jerk reaction that "Access to God is difficult for me because there is nothing about God that even ressembles who I am" and the other "half-ish" of the population has an unconscious and knee-jerk reaction that there IS something about God that is just like them, no matter how faint that image might be.

So how does a male human being know that he is totally unGodlike and has no image of God in him? Or, on the other hand, how does a female human being know that there is a faint image of God in her. (I'll give you a hint to the last question under the traditional view: she has to imagine herself as a male. Which is another part of my issue with the male-only image)

J A Y B said...

Hi Pam

I agree with your sentiments.

I do not have an image Gog God. God is spirit not physical. God is neither male nor female, mentally or physically.

Jesus was a man and was born in the Middle East. God's only begotten Son, so he had human male attributes. Spiritual divine attributes.

We use Father from Jesus to pray though he was using, I believe, the infantile term Abba, daddy. To explain not masculinity but parenthood. A father figure in those far off days, and even now in some parts of the world, including the Middle East, see Daddy as the protector, the leader, the guy to go to when in trouble. The guy Mum loves, hopefully:), and trusts to do what is right with her and for her,and their children, visa - versa me thinks.

The Holy Spirit when I was touched, oh boy was that something truly awesome, did not impart masculine or feminine attributes, just sheer power and joy, release from a burden as my whole body and mind was infused. Male or female? Neither nor actually, but power, love, and uplifting, trusting and certain.

I see where you and some of those commenting on your blog are coming from. Just adding my bit. If peeps are happy with the male female definition to make their understanding easier then so be it. Just don't try to say that it is the only 'understanding'that's applicable, 'tis not. Which is, erm, I think you were saying LOL.

Tim Chesterton said...

Hi Pam. I think that in your whole post the sentence that struck me the most was this one:

my heart and in my gut. God could not be part of me because God is not a woman.

The reason it struck me is that in all the years I have known God I have never thought that God is a part of me. I have always understood myself to be in relationship with God, not to be a part of God. And in my life I have strong relationships with both men and women.

I also think we have to be careful about sentimentalizing both male and female characteristics. In a very fine book called 'Jesus and the Constraints of History', Anthony Harvey points out that the main point of the 'Father/Son' relationship between Jesus and God is that in the ancient Middle East a son was seen as the authorized representative of the his father. That's very different from all the intimate and sentimental connotations we've given to the relationship between Jesus and his Father in heaven.

I guess another question I have for you is about the limits of this exploration. After all, a rich American militarist might decide that he can't relate to the God Jesus describes to us - Thor and Odin work better for him. By what criteria do you decide on the accuracy of the images you are using for God. This is a genuine question. I am so unsure of myself here that I hardly dare to enter an argument!

Amber said...

While a lot of the theological conversation in these comments goes over my head, I did want to put in my two cents.

As a twenty-something Caucasian woman raised in the American United Methodist Church, I never gave this topic much thought. Until as an adult during a pulpit exchange, our visiting pastor (a thirty-something Caucasian man) referred to God as She . It immediately got my attention, and the more I thought about it, the more it blew my mind. The variety of images of God has been something I have been rather passionate about ever since. Thank you!

PamBG said...

Amber, thanks for your straight-forward testimony as to how this pastor's use of language affected you. I wonder if it's just that bit less alarming for some people when a man uses such language instead of a woman? (An idle thought.)

Tim: Good point about not sentimentalizing human attributes. I think you point out here that we don't want to sentimentalize "Father" either. Which, of course, we do.

By what criteria do you decide on the accuracy of the images you are using for God.

It's a good question, but it's kind of missing my point because this is not an exercise in trying to paint an accurate picture of God. For a start, I'm not trying to do systematic academic theology. This is more in the realm of psychology, perception and possibly prayer and emotion.

The "pictures" we have of God in Scripture always seem to intend to tell us something about God's character. So, you'll forgive me if I think that the question "What does God think of armed conflict?" is of a different order than "Does God have a spiritual penis or spiritual vagina?" And we can't even seem to agree on the armed conflict question for which there is probably a lot more scriptural testimony.

It's interesting how we proclaim that God has no gender, but we're quite happy - very happy - even to proclaim male images of God. But even progressives here are squirming at the idea of God as having anything to do with femaleness.

To J A Y B and all others who say that God is genderless so gender language is neither here nor there, who among you would be happy to call God "Mother" or "Her" for my sake as a spiritual babe?

(P.S. to no one in particular: I gotta laugh that the word verification for this post is "squit"! LOL!)

J A Y B said...

"To J A Y B and all others who say that God is genderless so gender language is neither here nor there, who among you would be happy to call God "Mother" or "Her" for my sake as a spiritual babe?"

More than happy to call God Mother or Her if the 'need' arose. Ditto for Father and Him.

Personally I say dear Lord - genderless for me. Dear Jesus, male brother - Lord. Dear Holy Spirit, no gender for me to relate to, just Spirit.

If you have read "The Shack" by William P Young you'll get a good idea of where I am coming from.

Thanks for a brilliant blog Pam.

PamBG said...

Thanks for a brilliant blog Pam.

And thank you. :-)

It's funny. The thing I appreciated most about "The Shack" was not so much the various genders and races but rather how God's character was portrayed. However, those images are very similar to what I mean when I suggest trying to find God in people of all different shapes, races and genders.

Lorna said...

not sure where you get this from

Even if I have “received the Holy Spirit” and the Spirit is in me, the Spirit is a man (not in Greek or Hebrew, but certainly in popular Western thought).

I don't see the Spirit as male or female (or indeed God as having a gender)

for me it's helpful that He is abba Father because that is a nurturing relationship and the fact that I am a co-heir with Jesus - loved as much as the Son was/is ...

We are made in God's image (not God in ours) surely ... and that has far more to do with the attributes and character of God (we are becoming transformed into more and more Christlikeness) and nothing to do with God's gender (or ours)

PamBG said...

Lorna, it's interesting the different "pictures" of God that people have. A number of people in different places have commented that they don't picture God with a gender.

I believe you but I wonder how you manage to hear "no gender" when we say "he, he, he" constantly in our services.

I know of a few images that seem to depict the Holy Spirit as a female, but most of the images are male.

I suspect that if our culture at large - which is very different from individuals within the culture - really believed that God was genderless, I think we would be more careful to speak of God in a genderless manner.

Tim Chesterton said...

You are making me think, Pam. Thanks.

I think most of us use 'Father' and 'He when we talk about God simply because that's the language we find in the Bible. And to adopt the symbolic language of Paul, if God is named in masculine language then we (male or female) are named in feminine language as the Bride of Christ.

I suppose that when I pray to God as Father I do imagine him as male. But I certainly understand that this is an image and it has nothing to do with God having male sexual organs (even the 39 Articles say that God is a Spirit without 'body, parts, or passions').

I don't think I have anything else helpful to contribute to this discussion.

Mendip Nomad said...

"She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,
hovering on the chaos of the world's first day;...

For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
she is the key opening the scriptures,
enemy of apathy and heavenly dove.

from "Enemy of Apathy", a hymn by John L. Bell and Graham Maule.

I have known the above song for a long time, and it has a significant impact on my imaging of the Spirit as part of the Trinity - ask me to imagine the Spirit and I will use feminine descriptions in the main - though ask me to academically define the Spirit and I will, of course, defend its genderlessness.

I'd happily use "Mother" or "Her" to talk of God, indeed I have done, in the pulpit, in the pew, and in the world "out there". I do cringe at the fact that our liturgy is so overloaded with masculine adjectives (I love that one, which is better than nothing but still not enough, of the eucharistic prayers in the current Methodist Worship Book (UK) uses the term "God our Father and our Mother"), and try where I can in my academic work to form sentences where I can use God and Godself rather than define gender at all.

Much more I could, and would want to, say but don't have time. Certainly a thought-provoking post!

PamBG said...

@Mendip Nomad: I have not heard this song but I think JB and GM have a way with writing their theology into songs. Thank you for your comment and I have just bookmarked your blog. Remembering Cambridge somewhat fondly - some bits fondly, some not so much! ;-)

James said...

I think this is indicative of a certain mindset which is the death kneel of the Church in the UK. Theology and faith in God isn't about playing gamesand being fanciful.

PamBG said...

Thank you James from Durham University. Here's a suggestion for learning.

Helpful comments are ones that articulate which concepts one does not believe and why one does not believe them.

Saying "ideas like this are part of the downfall of Western Civilisation" might qualify one for the Rush Limbaugh show but not a lot else.

But thanks for playing and if you have an interesting rebuttal, I'd be happy to hear it. I'll also respect it a lot more if it's not anonymous.

James said...

Actually I just had a look through the comments on the blog that linked me to this one. Think I'll leave you guys to it lol

Anonymous said...

Can I just add a little paradoxical observation with regard to these gender related/inclusive language type issues that generate such a lot of hot air.

I’ve noticed that there are church leaders who expend significant amounts of energy wrangling over such issues, getting very uppity about what may or may not be helpful language for the wider world, and agonising over matters relating to inclusiveness. Then there are church leaders who give such matters little thought, and instead just concentrate on basic, Jesus-based gospel for the wider world, albeit sometimes using language and theological frameworks that many high-brow debaters might consider outmoded. I’ve observed that the former group tend to be leaders of mainstream denomination churches, many of which have significantly shrunk in the last 20 years, whereas the latter tend to be independent churches, many of which have enjoyed the opposite trend in the same time frame. How ironic that the churches that worry the least about inclusiveness specifically, seem to be the ones that end up embracing those sections of society that the mainstream denominations have largely lost contact with.

PamBG said...

Well, then I guess everyone has a reason to rejoice that I'm not the pastor of a church, since increasing numbers is obviously the measure of godliness and success.

The reactions to this post have been very interesting. Not just here but on friends' blogs and on facebook.

As a person who never gave feminism much thought and who often poo-pooed the idea of needing alternative images for God, if anything, this post has convinced me of the need. Suddenly I went from someone who was agnostic about feminism to - according to a number of people - apparently a radical feminist who is expending significant amounts of energy on the matter and being intolerant of alternative viewpoints. Who knew? But it certainly seems to touch a nerve.