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Priestesses and goddesses in the church?

What gender language “monitoring” at the United Methodist General Conference reveals

Rev. Izzy Alvaran and others pray on May 1 after the 2024 United Methodist General Conference meeting in Charlotte, N.C. Flickr/Photo by Paul Jeffrey/UM News

Priestesses and goddesses in the church?
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Headlines out of the 2024 United Methodist General Conference announced the denomination’s apostasy, as votes by an overwhelming majority led the UMC to abandon the Bible and 2,000 years of Christian tradition in a capitulation to the LGBTQ revolution. What has received less attention, however, is another egregious error on display at the UMC’s General Conference, an error C. S. Lewis warned against in his own denominational context three-quarters of a century ago.

Written in opposition to women’s ordination to the priesthood in the Anglican church in 1948, Lewis’s essay “Priestesses in the Church?” contains prescient insight. For Lewis, the question of women’s ordination is not merely about what we think women can do in the church. It also implicates the nature of the church, the nature of men and women, how we think about the authority and inspiration of God’s revelation, and, ultimately, how we think about God himself.

Lewis’s reasoning is compelling. If a church disregards God’s revelation with respect to Biblical qualifications for ordination, it is only a small step to disregarding God’s own self-revelation. Lewis makes this connection clear:

Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to “Our Mother which art in heaven” as to “Our Father.” Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does.

Not surprisingly, this is the exact same error that accompanied the UMC’s LGBTQ capitulation. Ahead of the conference’s first session, one UMC representative stood up and warned that the language delegates used to speak of God would be “monitored”:

Remember friends: Monitoring is not policing. It is challenging to have self-awareness and inviting us to care for others. In addition to these guiding principles, be mindful of the following boundaries. ... Language: Be respectful of the choice of language that is used, including avoiding exclusively male language for God.

One cannot help but think about how our Lord Jesus, exclusively masculine at his incarnation, taught his disciples to pray using exclusively masculine language, “Our Father ...” (Matthew 6:9–13). Apparently, Jesus Himself would have been chastised by the UMC “monitors.”

Apparently, Jesus Himself would have been chastised by the UMC “monitors.”

But the UMC General Conference is not the only place where God’s self-revelation is being disregarded. Wheaton College professor Amy Peeler’s recent book Women and the Gender of God promotes essentially the same heterodox language “monitoring” when she writes,

Hence, exclusive use of paternal language for God cannot be justified on what Scripture and the ancient and widespread theological tradition point to concerning the eternally begotten relationship in God. Addressing the personal and eternal divine source of the Son as ‘Parent’ rather than ‘Father’ may more correctly name this relationship (p. 101).

In full alignment with the biblical text, God may be called upon metaphorically as Father just as God may be addressed metaphorically as Mother (p. 102).

Neither the doctrine of creation nor the Trinity nor salvation necessitate exclusively masculine paternal language for the first person. In fact, they all prohibit it (p. 103).

To return to Lewis, this represents nothing short of a departure from historic Christianity:

Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion. Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity. Common sense, disregarding the discomfort, or even the horror, which the idea of turning all our theological language into the feminine gender arouses in most Christians, will ask "Why not? Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?"

But Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity.

What relates women’s ordination, using unbiblical language to speak of God, and moral capitulation to the LGBTQ revolution? They all represent a disregard for God’s revelation in Nature and Scripture. The impulse to downplay male-female difference and treat men and women interchangeably against God’s clear revelation—in the home, in the church, in marriage, and in society—is the same impulse that attempts to approach God on one’s own terms, making God in one’s own interchangeable image. This is the definition of idolatry, the opposite of Christianity.

It is no wonder that a denomination confused about what a man or a woman is, even to the point of coercing delegates to announce their “preferred pronouns” every time they got up to speak, would be confused about God’s “preferred pronouns.”

Colin J. Smothers

Colin J. Smothers serves as executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and executive editor of CBMW’s Eikon: A Journal for Biblical Anthropology. He also serves as director of the Kenwood Institute and is an adjunct professor at Boyce College. He is the author of several essays and books, most recently co-authoring an eight-week curriculum, Male & Female He Created Them (Christian Focus, 2023). Colin and his wife Elise live in Louisville, Ky. with their six children.

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