Don't pray to a lord
JannAldredge-Clanton has published books of inclusive hymns for use in Christian worship. I invited her to write a guest blogpost. Jeanette
The words we sing and speak in worship matter. Words carry great power to contribute either to the Good News of peace and justice or to support unjust systems. In worship, words carry power because of the sacred value given to them; their power shapes belief and action. Combined with music, words become embedded in the memory of singers. I can recite from memory all stanzas of most songs in the hymnal used in the church where I grew up, but I have little recall of the sermons.
Christians should care about the names and images we use for Deity because our sacred symbols reflect and shape our deepest values. When our names for divinity are exclusively male, we give greatest worth to men. If we truly believe that women are equal, then we must include female names and images of Deity in our worship. But the language of litanies and hymns and visual images in most churches, synagogues, temples and in the culture at large reveal worship of a male God—the most powerful support imaginable for the dominance of men. Mary Daly put it succinctly,
If God is male, then male is God.
Excluding female images of divinity from worship gives the message that females are not created equally in the divine image. From these patriarchal practices follow patterns of dominance and subordination, resulting in the interlocking oppressions of sexism, racism, heterosexism, clericalism, classism, and rape of the earth.
When I first became aware of the importance of inclusive language, I began trying to change words as I sang along with the congregation. But this only brought me disapproving stares and feelings of futility, as my lone voice was drowned out by hundreds. I started advocating in my congregation for changing the exclusive words in these traditional hymns, but I heard cries that I was “tampering with the original texts.” I began trying my hand at writing new lyrics to the traditional hymn tunes I love, and I discovered a new creativity and a new call.
Now more than ever, I realize the power of inclusive language for humanity and divinity. Balancing male with female images lays the foundation in divine worship for realizing the Gospel values of liberation and equality. The Bible includes a wide variety of divine names and images that we can use in our worship to convey the sacredness of all people and all creation. Inclusive hymns and liturgies help churches and individuals to gain freedom from sexism and other injustices. Inclusive liturgy empowers women, men, and children of all races to become all we are created to be in the divine image.
Caryn Riswold in her book Feminism and Christianity clearly and strongly demonstrates that Christians should care about feminism and feminists should care about Christianity because they share the foundational ideal of egalitarian human life. She states,
Feminism is the radical idea that women are equally human, and Christians everywhere should care that throughout human history, and still today, people have not believed or acted as if this were the case.
And she makes a strong case that feminists should care about Christianity because this religion shares the egalitarian ideal and
because Christianity has been a major institution of patriarchy that remains a pervasive cultural force needing criticism.
Balancing female and male divine images contributes to our ideals of equality and justice in human relationships and right relationship with the earth, while expanding our experience of divinity.
See also Joan Chittister’s column about rape in the Congo for more reason to heed Jann’s words.