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The Creation of Adam

Is God non-binary? An investigation

The Church of England is considering whether they should use gender-neutral terms to describe God

The Church of England is considering whether God is an enby.

The question of God’s gender has been a hotly-discussed topic among theologians for literally thousands of years, but is set to be scrutinised more closely as part of a new project which is set to launch in spring. 

The project was created in response to a question posed by Rev Joanna Stobart who asked if it was time for an update on “more inclusive language” in Church of England services which would refer to God in a “non-gendered way”. At present, God is generally spoken about in masculine terms and referred to as our ‘Father’. He (They?) is (are?) also often depicted in paintings as masculine. Additionally, Jesus is also traditionally represented as masculine.

The Rev Dr Michael Ipgrave has said that the project will begin this spring, with the Liturgical Commission working alongside the Faith and Order Commission to look at these theological questions for the next five years.

Naturally, some people have already decried the idea of a They/Them God. Rev Dr Ian Paul told The Telegraph that changing God’s pronouns would represent an abandonment of the Church’s own doctrine. Other religious leaders have been more receptive to the idea: back in 2018, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that “God is not male or female. God is not definable”.

We spoke to Dr Christopher Greenough, reader in social sciences at Edge Hill University and author of Queer Theologies, to ask: is God non-binary?

What do you think of the Church of England's proposal to describe God in gender-neutral terms? 

Dr Christopher Greenough: For academics and theologians, this isn’t really anything new! Feminist theologians from the 1960s onwards looked at the gendered language used to describe God, with Mary Daly stating how ‘If God is male, then male is the God’ to describe the patriarchy that is embedded in organised religion. So, women and other groups already do describe God in different ways. To use gender-neutral terms is actually more accurate in biblical terms, as God’s maleness was always an incorrect assumption.

While describing God in gender-neutral terms is a progressive move, more needs to be done in the Church of England to address the harm it has done and continues to do to LGBTQ+ people.

“To use gender-neutral terms is actually more accurate in biblical terms, as God’s maleness was always an incorrect assumption”

Is there anything in the Bible or other religious scriptures which suggests God should be thought of as non-binary?

Dr Christopher Greenough: Genesis 1:27 tells us that ‘God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ So, God is bi-gendered.

If we are talking about the God of the Hebrew Bible – the Christian Old Testament – Yahweh, despite the widespread use of masculine pronouns in translations of the Bible, there’s actually a lot of female imagery used to describe God in various biblical passages: ‘As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem’ (Isaiah 66.13), ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you’ (Isaiah 49.15), ‘Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers?’ (Numbers 11.12). So what we have is a God who adopts imagery from both male and female genders.

Is there anything which suggests we should be accepting of gender nonconformity more broadly?

Dr Christopher Greenough: Within the biblical text, eunuchs were often used in debates about gender identity. They were often people who were unable to reproduce. Jesus references eunuchs in Matthew 19:12, ‘there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others — and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’

It is a controversial example, though, as Jesus’ words imply, many eunuchs may have been genitally mutilated by their masters, as they were often enslaved people and therefore not having children meant they could continue to work well for the household. Some scholars have looked at eunuchs to speak about trans and/or intersex bodies more broadly.

Also, in the New Testament, in Galatians 3:28, Paul makes a startling statement: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’. Paul therefore points to there being no gender in the heavenly realms.

Thank you, Christopher. 

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