My blogpal Mark recently posted on the dilemma of congregational resistance to inclusive language for God .
I myself, when I write prayers or sermons, try to avoid unrelenting male language and imagery for God. So far I haven't encountered any negative reaction to this. But I recall, awhile back, attending a retreat where one of our pastor-mentors gave an impassioned plea for inclusive language. Looking around the room at my fellow retreatants, I saw narrowed eyes, thinned lips, a throbbing neck vein or two, and thought, "Uh-oh...this isn't going well." And, indeed, when it came time for lay participants to join in extemporaneous prayer, it seemed that many people deliberately, contrarily chose masculine invocations and pronouns.
Why this reaction -- even when people are shown non-male images of God directly from Scripture, even when it's explained to them that the language used in the Judeo-Christian tradition to describe God is essentially male-default language -- because it was developed in a patriarchal context, but also because we don't have adequate nouns and pronouns to describe a God who is bigger than our human constructs of gender -- whose character encompasses the best of what we tend to assign to one gender or the other?
Thinking about this yesterday, as I responded to Mark's post, I was reminded of something my pastor had said to me one day as we were talking about ministerial stuff. "A large part of pastoring," he told me, "is just anxiety management."
Is resistance to inclusive Godtalk a symptom of internalized sexism? Probably in part. Is it an attempt to retain comforting words and images from our early religious life? Maybe. Is it a natural reaction to rewording of liturgy and hymns that can be jarring or awkward? Sure. But I suspect that part of the resistance is grounded in fear.
I think that a lot of us, at heart, have a hard time believing that God loves us and means us well. I think that, deep down, a lot of us fear that not saying the right words or thinking the right thoughts about God will cause God to reject us. Like our pagan ancestors who worried about appeasing their capricious and demanding deities through acceptable rituals and sacrifices and incantations, we harbor a similar primal anxiety, even if we can't articulate it. And stress over inclusifying the language of worship is just one example; we inclusive folk have our own set of anxieties about God that suggest God's grace is contingent on our doing or saying or thinking "right" things.
Sometimes I think the good news of a God who loves us, who in Christ has redeemed us and who calls us into a relationship with God that allows us to live and love boldly, is just too good for us to believe.