Comments: Opinion - 21 May 2016

Kelvin, if a non-binary 'God', then also a non-binary 'Goddess'.

Both terms are heavy-laden with gender-suggesting terminology, so neither term seems ideal.

I use God, as a term of convenience, as it has probably been used in the article, but I prefer the term 'Godde' which not only hearkens back to ancient times, but is also precisely straight down the middle between the masculine 'God' and the feminine 'Goddess'.

When speaking about gender and Godde, I think we need to be very careful not to erase gender (gender all the way along a spectrum). Personally, I believe that Godde understands, contains, and experiences everything it is to be male... and understands, contains, and experiences everything it is to be female.

And then, as suggested in the article, *transcends* them.

To me, Godde is everything that genders offers, and then far more beyond it.

As a transsexual woman, although I find certain psychological expression natural to me and profoundly helpful - female, femme, receptive - at the same time, having experienced life at different social and personal polarities, I've come to conclude that 'personhood' is what matters.

Godde as personal, and relational (while at the same time being sometimes distant, numinous, exploring love through distance as well as closeness).

But having said all that, gender is not bad. It can be delightful. For me, Godde is often like a female friend, who comes in through the unlocked back door of my house and shares coffee and conversation at the kitchen table. At other times, Godde is like a playful girl, impulsively jumping out at me from the wild hedgerow in the springtime, laughing gaily. And then again, sometimes Godde is an ardent male lover, a father, a boy.

Godde can express all these things. I do agree that we have a lot to learn from people who identify as non-binary. In the process, perhaps we start to dismantle the necessity of sexual partners being 'one male and one female', while still recognising the fabulous loveliness of heterosexual love.

The Church has a way to go in exploring these concepts. We can't just stop in the Bronze Age 'because it is written'.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 21 May 2016 at 11:57am BST

Kelvin Holdsworth tries and for that he deserves credit but once again IMO he misses the mark. This time he wrongly conflates gender and gender identity. Then he conflates them both (or just one?) with sex by allowing the question of Gender with the verses of Genesis which talk about sex.

It's a common mistake.

For instance, how many people know that it is entirely legal for two people of the same sex to marry in the Church of England so long as their paperwork says they are not the same gender? I wonder how GAFCON would react if they realised that CofE does permit same sex marriage? I am guessing that the Scottish Episcopal survey (reportedly) asks about gender rather than sex for the same reason, or did Kelvin mis-report the terminology used?

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 21 May 2016 at 12:25pm BST

Then there is the question of whether or not God is male. Kelvin Holdsworth thinks not.

Kelvin suggests - rightly I think - that the gender identity of each member of the congregation should be respected according to their personal definition. So why should we not extend the same courtesy to God? He suggests God has male and female attributes. Maybe. But even if that is true, that speaks to God's gender not to His gender identity and, I would suggest, our best evidence is that God identifies as male. (This question then points to the far deeper questions as to whether God has a gender identity and what gender means in the context God.)

The idea that we shouldn't address God as Father seems to me to be rooted in second-wave feminism: right-thinking women reject paternalism, so reject God as Father. It is a logic based on late 20th century gender politics rather than theology. It is an argument based on female insecurity.

As a woman, I do not feel threatened by the idea of a non-binary or male God who has indicated to us that He prefers to be addressed using male pronouns. Gender is such a significant part of His creation, that I think it would be unduly hasty to abandon the concept of God as a gendered being, even if the concept of Godly gender is beyond our (present) earthly understanding.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 21 May 2016 at 1:31pm BST

Thank you for the Kelvin Holdsworth article.
I think he came up with a marvelous solution to the census survey.
Regarding God, the Hebrew language assigns all sorts of nouns as either male or female, similar to numerous languages around the planet, and assigns a male pronoun to God.
Fair enough for the time in which it was written, I suppose, but I have for some time seen God as neither and both male and female.
Sex is necessary for reproduction, but God is eternal. God does not need to reproduce in order to continue God's existence. Even the Christian concept of God the Son isn't about reproduction, as it is about understanding the nature of God, the nature of Jesus of Nazareth.
So, God is neither male nor female.
Ages ago, in a computer course, the instructor explained that people cannot program computers to aid in particular topics, like bookkeeping or oil exploration or celestial navigation, if the programmer does not already know those subjects. Just as a person cannot make a cake, or a piece of ceramics, if they are not familiar with baking or pottery.
The Bible says God created us male and female. In the image of God, God created us.
Therefore, God is both male and female.

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Saturday, 21 May 2016 at 8:57pm BST

Kate: "our best evidence is that God identifies as male".

There is no evidence that "God identifies", full stop. Self-identification is a human characteristic. The God the Old Testament writers arrived at, the meaning that Jesus seems to have related to, is the One who creates and sustains the universe. The notion that God, this foundational feature of reality, has human characteristics is one of the most insidious and damaging consequences of the idea of divine incarnation. Of course use of the male pronoun runs through the whole Bible, because the texts (or at least our translations) are entirely the product of patriarchal cultures.

There is a simple solution: we could stop using pronouns for God. Any number of apparent contradictions dissolve when we do, not least this bizarre pre-occupation with God's gender. What better way to acknowledge and communicate the unique otherness of God than to never refer to God except as God? It is trivially easy, and very soon becomes not hard to do without breaching linguistic style conventions.

For what it's worth I think non-binary is as bizarre as masculine or feminine. If what we mean by God is not simply beyond such associations, we have completely lost touch with the biblical reality.

Posted by David Marshall at Saturday, 21 May 2016 at 9:57pm BST

Christians believe that God is three persons in one being. This I believe. I don't believe God is a substitute Daddy in the Sky even as I have no problem addressing God as "Father". We have a book, God's book, the Bible which is not easy to understand. We feel love for God which is so necessary for our walk. God's love is available freely to all people. Isn't that enough?

Sensitivity about gender identity on bureaucratic forms is necessary in these days of acceptance of diversity.

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 21 May 2016 at 11:20pm BST

I love the idea of God as 'Abba, Father'. This has a particular connotation in Scripture. But then, Jesus (who is at one with God) also speaks of wishing he were like a mother hen, who would take her young under her wings. God is great and wonderful Mystery, unkown in reality, I suspect, this side of Heaven.

All good to think about on Trinity Sunday!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 22 May 2016 at 10:55am BST

Pam: "Christians believe that God is three persons in one being".

OK, you don't think I'm a Christian. Yet I'm baptised and confirmed in the Church of England. My theological thinking is mostly a product of involvement with its various traditions. From a broader historical perspective others probably would refer to me as Christian. I'm not complaining, just noting that you're using a less than universal definition of Christian.

"Isn't [a simple understanding] enough?"

For a personal faith, absolutely, if it works for you. But as the basis for a religion enshrined in the law of the land, no, it is not enough. At least, not if that religion and its institutions are to have credibility with a population that includes those who expect settled belief to have at least a plausible foundation in reality.

Posted by David Marshall at Sunday, 22 May 2016 at 1:44pm BST

"The notion that God, this foundational feature of reality, has human characteristics is one of the most insidious and damaging consequences of the idea of divine incarnation."

Thank you, David Marshall! We humans are too tempted to make God in our own image.

Just as one example, the notion of God, which I have heard in some churches, as being a pure white masculine figure with a long-flowing pure white beard, and long-flowing pure white hair, wearing pure white robes, sitting on a pure white throne, next to a pure white crystal sea, ...
Leaves me snow-blind.

You say you try to avoid pronouns when referring to God. I sometimes find them easier to use, but use "S/He" or "His/Her".

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Sunday, 22 May 2016 at 8:05pm BST

Sorry but may I gently say "persons" is not used in the 4th century decrees in the modern sense of the word. And that the Bible (as the very word indicates) is a collection of - human - writings - evolving over time, with many authors. And if God's love is freely available to all people, those who suffer sickness and great pain, accidents, violence, war and hunger, including fine Christians, wonder why God does not show that more "love" clearly. Again, not all Christians believe that God is three persons in one substance or indeed that we could possibly know that. Some, from Jesus himself and the early Jewish Christians, to radical reformers in the 16th and 17th centuries (some executed for their heresy) to modern unitarian Christians (including Anglican and other Protestants) do not believe the DOCTRINE of the Trinity at all - in the light of what we can know of the truly human Jesus seen behind the Synoptic Gospels, and in the light of what we now of the nature of the human body etc. We are called simply, though sometimes in costly ways, to care for our neighbour as the Samaritan did, thereby finding "eternal life" (St Luke 10.25-28) or as an earlier Jewish prophet put it, all God requires is to love kindness, to act justly, and to walk humbly with our God. Isn't that enough ?

Posted by John Bunyan at Monday, 23 May 2016 at 6:46am BST

To David: I was not attempting to imply you are not a Christian. My wording may be at fault!

To John: The Creed of St Athanasius is my source for the word "persons" to describe the trinity. I'm not ready to discard this Creed, even if it's considered outdated by some (or many) people. Re God's love being freely available to all - I would agree it's challenging when things aren't great for us, but that's the time faith in God's constancy comes into its own. Just my thinking.

Posted by Pam at Monday, 23 May 2016 at 9:43am BST

Comment on Andrew's article - Andrew, your PCC Meeting discussions are a cut above the average, I must say. I share your concerns about the Church Commissioners. Andrew Chandler's excellent history of the Church of England in the 20th century would provide further evidence and discussion material in which to ground your well-founded concerns. Excellent article, meanwhile...

Posted by Martyn Percy at Monday, 23 May 2016 at 10:02am BST

"We are called simply, though sometimes in costly ways, to care for our neighbour as the Samaritan did, thereby finding "eternal life" (St Luke 10.25-28) or as an earlier Jewish prophet put it, all God requires is to love kindness, to act justly, and to walk humbly with our God. Isn't that enough ?"

I don't believe it is because the greater commandment is to love God with all our might. Addressing Him using the pronouns used in the Bible is something I see as important. In fact, I would regard using male pronouns as probably more important than arguments about same sex marriage.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 23 May 2016 at 1:17pm BST

The trouble IMHO with the non-binary argument is that, in the end, *we are all different* so, really, each of us should have our own category.
But for surveys and for some other legitimate purposes, we have to put people into broader categories and, give the very low prevalence of biological intersex, the biological status of our body is one such simple category.
For 99.9% of us it was not "assigned at birth" it developed in our mother's womb. Even if we don't identify with our body's gender psychologically it is what it is, and it will determine much about our lives.

Posted by RevDave at Monday, 23 May 2016 at 10:19pm BST

One of the strands of the book of Genesis (for example) fairly consistently uses plural pronouns for God.

I'd be interested to know from Kate how she can be sure that God wants to be called Him given that the bible simply isn't consistent on pronouns for the divine.

Kate says that "Gender is such a significant part of His creation, that I think it would be unduly hasty to abandon the concept of God as a gendered being"

However, the text just doesn't back her up - the creation stories don't actually all speak of god in gendered terms at all.

Just to correct another misrepresentation above - there is no Scottish Episcopal survey. The Census came from elsewhere.

Posted by Kelvin Holdsworth at Tuesday, 24 May 2016 at 9:08am BST

I like several things you have said there, Rev Dave :) to which I would add some others.

Yes, we are all different: each one of us is unique, called into being by the creative will of God, to become who we alone can uniquely become.

In this sense, I tend to see every single human being as 'queer' (in the sense of individually defined and quirky in our own ways) and reflect that perhaps God(de) is queer as well in that sense - not just some homogenous 'spirit' thing, but a personal being with quirks and traits and individuality (well, three, in the case of God/de).

Posted by Susannah Clark at Tuesday, 24 May 2016 at 9:38am BST

The other point, if I understand you correctly Rev Dave, which I thought was a point well made is this:

However much (and rightly so) we make the case for diversity, and the reality that not everyone feels comfortable with identifying as 'male' or 'female'... nevertheless, it is fair to observe that the vast majority of the world find those terms useful, and understandably so.

For evolutionary and reproductive purposes, our species (and others like ours) has developed over hundreds of millions of years... to reproduce and survive. And to that end, male and female have been differentiated biologically, and accentuated, both in terms of reproductive organs and hormone receptivity.

Male and female are the default models in the human species: and most people are heterosexual, and operate on a combination of sex and gender identities to further the species. They accept that there are men and there are women. They find those terms informative.

While fully affirming the reality of diverse experiences and expressions of gender and sex, I think it is important not to erase what actually works and operates what works for the majority of people. Binary is less normative than male or female. In a sense, though God(de) transcends both male and female, that does not necessarily make non-binary the default. Because in my opinion, God(de) is powerfully endowed with gender characteristics that have also been given to us in whichever form.

Moving beyond what you were writing about, Rev Dave...

Personally I regard God(de) as possessing desire in the love that is extended to us: desire of a sort of sexual nature, transcended to the divine level (beyond the reproductive function). I believe that in that sense, God(de) is supremely sexual, and gender-capable, as some who report mystical union have suggested.

Gender should not be erased from God/de's identity or our species. Equally, it should maybe be seen as a wonderful part of a deeper, transcended personhood. But to limit God(de) to just one gender seems more a product of culture and patriarchal religious systems: male AND female God made us in his/her/their image. It stands to reason that God(de) feels the whole of both, and far more beyond as well.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Tuesday, 24 May 2016 at 9:40am BST

Me, typing too fast:

'Binary is less normative than male or female.'

*head bang*

I meant of course 'NON-binary'.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Tuesday, 24 May 2016 at 9:44am BST

Martyn / Andrew I raised the level of senior Church Commissioners' salaries in General Synod in November 2013 and this was the answer I received:

Mr Malcolm Halliday (Bradford) asked the Church Commissioners: In the light of the recent suggestion by the Chair of the Charity Commission that high salaries risked bringing
charities into disrepute, and of the vocational aspect of the work of the National Church
(a) how many staff of Church Commissioners are paid salaries in excess of £100,000;
(b) how many appointments of such staff have been made within the last three years and
how many such posts are currently vacant;
(c) what benchmarks are used by Church Commissioners to determine salary levels; and
(d) how do the Church Commissioners ensure that salary levels take account of salary
levels at diocesan and parish level?
The First Church Estates Commissioner: Of those staff employed by or whose managing employer is the Church Commissioners, six are paid above £100,000 per annum.
One appointment at this level has been made within the past three years. There are no vacant posts at this level.
The Church Commissioners benchmark their salaries against all sectors using AON Hewitt,
which has the largest salary database in the UK. The Commissioners’ aim is to pay no more –
but also no less – than is needed to secure and retain professional staff of the necessary
We have no access to salary information from dioceses or parishes beyond what is published
in their annual accounts.
Mr Malcolm Halliday (Bradford): Thank you for that answer. In this current economic climate would it not be more appropriate to use a benchmark towards charity rather than a commercial public sector range of benchmarking, particularly in relation to at least knowing
what dioceses can afford to pay?
The First Church Estates Commissioner: I have sympathy with the point Mr Halliday makes but the fact is that, whether one likes it or not, the Church Commissioners’ business is largely commercial, which is the managing of a very large portfolio of securities and property. We have to employ people who work in that sector, and their salaries are as you will well know.

Posted by Malcolm at Tuesday, 24 May 2016 at 11:18am BST

RevDave, how would you feel if the only two options on a form were female and intersex? Which would you tick? There is zero justification for a church survey not including a non-binary option. I can understand that an hospital admission form might ask only about male and female to decide ward assignments, but we are not talking about that.

And as for incidence, have you seen how many options there are under race on most forms? In comparison adding a non-binary option to sex on diversity monitoring surveys is hardly disproportionate.

As to your comments about the womb, all foetuses are initially female but if an X chromosome is present may swap to male. Like all processes based on genetics, it is not totally reliable so some aspects of physiology might remain female and of course karyotype is neither as simple as just XX / XY, nor is it fully determinative. But anyway, as a man (I presume) your body has already been through one gender reassignment. Sort of sets things into context doesn't it?

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 24 May 2016 at 1:02pm BST

Kate: "... I would suggest, our best evidence is that God identifies as male."

Huh? Evidence? What on earth are you talking about?

Posted by Daniel Berry, NYC at Tuesday, 24 May 2016 at 6:58pm BST

"For 99.9% of us it was not "assigned at birth" it developed in our mother's womb. Even if we don't identify with our body's gender psychologically it is what it is, and it will determine much about our lives."

Posted by: RevDave on Monday, 23 May

I must say, Dave, this is a most insightful idea about the nature of our assigned gender identity. I guess only life experience can actually 'tell' us who we actually are - except that being 'In Christ', for Christians, is our basic identity. The rest is how we actually function as human beings.

(Taking a leaf our of Archbishop Justin's self-identification here)

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 24 May 2016 at 10:29pm BST

"Personally I regard God(de) as...".

What does this actually mean?

1) God(de) is a human projection? -- in the case of the 'res' being referred to with the language 'God(de)' this must surely be true: as you state it 'personally I regard X as';
2) the true God--does such a thing exist?--has no essential identity that has been disclosed and to which we must of necessity defer; at most we have accidents referring to some substance or 'res'
3) the nature and character of God has been definitively revealed, but this is a view held by people with whom we disagree or doubt their premises or their account of the matter.

Yours sounds like a species of 19th century liberal Protestantism, but more virulent in form. 'God' 'exists' only in human projection.

Is this correct? It makes it hard to know how any claims about God could be adjudicated, but maybe that is your point?

Posted by cseitz at Wednesday, 25 May 2016 at 9:40am BST

Daniel, He chose to incarnate in a male body as Jesus who taught us to pray, "Our Father..."

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 25 May 2016 at 9:50am BST

Susannah Clark: "Personally I regard God(de) as possessing desire in the love that is extended to us: desire of a sort of sexual nature, transcended to the divine level (beyond the reproductive function)."

Thing is, we can all "personally regard", that is, imagine God as having any characteristic we like. If we're story-telling for entertainment and we construct our characters well they may acquire a life of their own in popular imagination. But most people, the sane ones anyway, would consider it silly to rely on such a character's abilities in a hazardous real life situation.

Isn't that what faith is? The capacity to act on what we believe (about God, or anything else). If it is, then adding imaginary features, however desirable, to the essence of God that we can be sure of only makes our personal God(de) a fictional creation no-one can sensibly have faith in.

I suspect the long term decline of interest in traditional Christian teaching is at least in part due to widespead recognition that this process of adding desirable features to God is what the Church has been doing throughout its history, starting with the deification of Jesus. If we want to usefully reform and renew the Church, we have to stop doing that and rediscover/refocus on the essence of God we can know.

Posted by David Marshall at Wednesday, 25 May 2016 at 12:13pm BST

Christopher, I can only speak of Godde as I find them.

Godde does not 'exist' as a human projection. On the contrary, humans exist as the projection of Godde's mind and will.

However, Godde may be interpreted and understood in a multiplicity of ways by individuals and communities, through people's personal encounters, and the encounters recorded and reported in tradition.

In terms of Godde's identity, I think that is bound to be subjectively received, whether we 'defer' to the Bible. or defer to actual encounters of our own.

Godde seems many faceted, but personally approaching us, and yet at the same time withdrawn, beyond human projection or definition, numinous, vast, unfathomable.

On that basis, it is reasonable to speculate that there are many and diverse paths to approaching or responding to Godde. Perhaps Godde may be responded to in different ways, along different but sometimes converging paths, by different religions.

I tend to see Godde as present on a sort of mountain top. As humans we follow paths towards that mountain top (and the divine picnic and communion with our Godde in eternity). Different human groups follow different winding paths. We can sometimes see each other across the mountain, and wave cheerfully to each other. Occasionally our paths may even converge and cross. But we are winding our ways towards the company of Godde on the mountain top. In addition, of course, we may sense and believe that Godde is also with us on our journeys, each step of the way. On the mountain top - in eternal reality, if you like - I believe we converge and share food with Godde.

The Christian path is the way that seems to be assigned to me in my life. It is a way of making sense of encounter, just as biblical writers (fallibly) tried to make sense of encounters themselves.

Yet all this 'making sense' is partial. We 'see through a glass darkly'. We wait and gaze into the 'cloud of unknowing'.

And from the standpoint of Carmelite spirituality, which makes most sense to me, when Godde reveals in greater perfection, the 'identity' of Godde is almost beyond anything humans can 'project' or quantify: almost beyond personality and identity, and yet is a vast consciousness shared.


Posted by Susannah Clark at Wednesday, 25 May 2016 at 12:40pm BST

I don't know whether that is enough for you to term me 'liberal'. Or simply raving and deluded ;)

However, I find certain things about Christian tradition hugely helpful and informative: the Trinity is an astonishing disclosure. So is the disclosure of Godde in the person and life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We are called, I believe, into the divine relationship; even, into the divine consciousness. 'Relationship and love' is a huge concept, but in opening up to it, we may become more of who we were uniquely made to be, called into being (and 'projected') by Godde.

Godde is vast beyond any projections we can make of them. We may 'draw pictures' of what and who we see. We may use metaphors. Father is one of those, a delightful one. One of many.

You write: "the nature and character of God has been definitively revealed". I suggest that sounds dangerously finite. Revealed in Jesus Christ - yes I believe that. And yet still... we are gazing through clouds... we know in part... we interpret, try to make sense, try to open up to truth, to Godde.

Godde is other, Godde is far and apart... and yet Godde may also reside in us, share consciousness and awareness with us, call us more and more to find our being in Godde, in shared relationship, even as the Trinity of Godde share relationship, from everlasting to everlasting. Godde calls us to the original beauty that Godde has made us with, in which we are loved and known by God, in all eternity, from before the creation of the world, outside of time, in the nowness and reality of Heaven. We have original beauty, because the mind of Godde is original beauty, and all our lives in this time-stretched life we may seek to reclaim it, reclaim who we already are in all eternity.

We are the projections of the mind of Godde. Yet we also have personhood, experience gender, live with uniqueness. In multiple ways we encounter and express the personhood and the otherness of Godde. It is far from 'definitive' in that sense, because we can never fully 'define' Godde, or 'control' what is true and what is not.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Wednesday, 25 May 2016 at 12:44pm BST

That's all very interesting. It tells people a lot about your own mental imaginings.

How anyone could possibly verify it as an account of who God genuinely is, such that people can give their lives up to death for him, often in appalling circumstances and persecution, is beyond me.

It sounds more like a hall of mirrors.

Posted by cseitz at Wednesday, 25 May 2016 at 4:39pm BST

Dear Christopher,

I wouldn't for a moment suppose that my account of encounters with God would be taken as a basis for anyone else to know or encounter Godde. Indeed, I thought it was Godde who encountered people, and through that initiative, opened their hearts to faith.

Nor would I suggest that MY little path is THE path. It is just A christian path. There must be a multiplicity of ways that people encounter Godde.

I have simply been describing some of my own understandings of Godde, based on my Christian journey.

I guess you do the same sometimes.

We share our experiences and encounters, and people may take what they find helpful or true. Different accounts will resonate with different people.

The allusion to the 'hall of mirrors' is a very well-written one, because it implies that when I describe Godde I am only looking at myself again and again. I congratulate you on that very effective image, which puts across your case strongly and vividly. I like it.

Of course... that presupposes that Godde never discloses herself (or chooses to) in ways that work for an individual she loves.

It is entirely possible - if we believe in Godde, which we do - that Godde actually initiates some of our encounters, and that we are not looking at mirrors of ourselves (not always at least!) but are actually being looked at, loved, and treasured by a self-disclosing Godde.

Which Godde, be with you through today, and bring you love and grace, as I'm sure she does.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Thursday, 26 May 2016 at 9:28am BST

I feel a longing to affirm you along your journey Christopher, and I share this blessing; share it with other people who visit Thinking Anglicans, too.

May God (however we see God) bless us and draw us into the deep peace of God's strong and tender love.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Thursday, 26 May 2016 at 9:42am BST

I can't tell you, as a non-binary person, how truly JOYFUL Kelvin's blog post made me. Thanks be to (the non-binary) God!

"Male and female, God created me"

Posted by JCF at Sunday, 29 May 2016 at 5:59am BST
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.