The gender-specific words “Father,” “King,” and “Lord” are often used in hymn and liturgy when referring to a Christian God. Feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson, interviewed in U.S. Catholic magazine, is trying to change that. Johnson objects to more than the perception of God as a male (read: worldly and finite) being. She also takes issue with the paternalistic view of religion that the words instill. According to Johnson, the gendered language reinforces outdated perceptions of God that are straining the vital connection between people and spirituality.
This strain on people’s spirituality, according to Johnson, runs through two common yet conflicting views of Christianity. Many Christians believe in God either as as a guiding parental force, or as a mysterious, supreme being. And both views are incomplete. Treating God as a parent or “Father,” with a give-and-take relationship based on maxims and obligations, can give people an accessible view of faith and duty. The problem is, according to Johnson, it reduces God to a mere idol. On the other hand, Johnson believes that worshipping a “theistic” God or “Lord,” whose involvement in our lives is minimal, is equally damaging.
A balanced view is of a God incarnate, who is present in every aspect of the world without being of it. That balance is difficult to find, Johnson concedes, but it’s necessary for a fulfilling religious existence.