Church may follow liberal Jews in making God gender neutral

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Church may follow liberal Jews in making God gender neutral

Proposed change to 'They' instead of 'He' would mirror amendments made by Liberal Judaism a generation ago

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (left) with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at the Western Wall
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (left) with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at the Western Wall

The Church of England is considering whether to follow in the footsteps of Liberal Judaism by introducing gender-neutral language in religious services, including by referring to God as “they”.

Rabbi Charley Baginsky, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, said: “We welcome this move from the Church of England. In 1995, in Siddur Lev Chadash, we introduced gender-inclusive language which is now used in all Liberal Jewish services.

“Any change, particularly when it comes to liturgy, is very difficult. But from our experience, it’s clear that the process is often harder than the practice. Once the change is made, it becomes the norm.”

In Judaism, words for God are – in different places – male, female, singular, and plural, and Baginsky said language “has the power to create – that concept is there right at the start of the Bible”.

Baginsky added: “The second we use language that is distinctively male, such as ‘father’ and ‘Lord’, we are giving God male human characteristics and we are narrowing our vision of God. If we want to be inclusive of people’s relationship with God, then we need to shift the language we use.”

It comes after priests asked to be allowed to use gender-neutral terms instead of the more traditional male derogations. The Church said it would look into the matter in the spring, to decide whether to propose changes or not. Any change would have to be approved by the Synod, the Church’s decision-making body.

A spokesman for the Church said: “This is nothing new. Christians have recognised since ancient times that God is neither male nor female, yet the variety of ways of addressing and describing God found in scripture has not always been reflected in our worship.

“There has been greater interest in exploring new language since the introduction of our current forms of service in contemporary language more than 20 years ago.

“As part of its regular programme of work for the next five years, the Liturgical Commission has asked the Faith and Order Commission to work with it on looking at these questions.

“There are absolutely no plans to abolish or substantially revise currently authorised liturgies, and no such changes could be made without extensive legislation.”

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