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Update: Church approves prayer book revision for gender-neutral God

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As I have previously written, the has been a concerted, decades-long effort among a growing segment within the Episcopal Church to strip the Word of its masculine references to God, beginning with the 1973 publication of “Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation.”

These efforts to amend church materials in conformation to ideological post-modernist thought drew national attention this year after the Washington D.C. diocese adopted a resolution urging the national church’s General Convention to revise the prayer book and, when doing so, to remove the use of gendered pronouns for God in all future revisions. The Book of Common Prayer includes liturgies, prayers, the Bible’s Psalms, etc., was last revised in 1979.

A July 11, 2018, statement by the national Episcopal Church now informs us that this year’s General Convention has indeed concurred, passing a resolution that calls for the revision of the prayer book to include “inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity.”

♦Resolution A068: Plan for the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer declares:

Resolvedthe House of Deputies concurring, That the 79th General Convention, pursuant to Article X of the Constitution, authorize the ongoing work of liturgical and Prayer Book revision for the future of God’s mission through the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.

 

♦As the Episcopal News Service reported from the convention:

The Rev. Jane Johnson, deputy from Fond du Lac, said that since human beings, in all their diversity, are made in the image of God, then the church must move away from an image of God that is white and male. “God’s pronouns are them and their, not he,” she said.

 

The original resolution was re-worded by the House of Bishops. The adopted resolution utilizes language which is more palatable to the public, especially Bible-believing conservatives.

 

One inclusion in Resolution A068 which is, without doubt, an attempt to ease the concerns of conservatives, states (emphasis mine):

ResolvedThat this Convention memorialize the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as a Prayer Book of the church… 

 

♦Resolution A068 lays out a process through which prayer book revision will begin:

Resolvedthat our methodology be one of a dynamic process for discerning common worship, engaging all the baptized, while practicing accountability to The Episcopal Church….

ResolvedThat the 79th General Convention create a Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision (TFLPBR), the membership of which will be jointly appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, and will report to the appropriate legislative committee(s) of the 80th General Convention, ensuring that diverse voices of our church are active participants in this liturgical revision by constituting a group with leaders who represent the expertise, gender, age, theology, regional, and ethnic diversity of the church, to include, 10 laity, 10 priests or deacons, and 10 Bishops…

ResolvedThat bishops engage worshiping communities in experimentation and the creation of alternative texts to offer to the wider church, and that each diocese be urged to create a liturgical commission to collect, reflect, teach and share these resources with the TFLPBR…

 

Required components of the new, revised prayer book, according to Resolution A068, must include (emphasis mine):

ResolvedThat such revision utilize the riches of Holy Scripture and our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender, physical ability, class and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship; and be it further…

ResolvedThat our liturgical revision utilize inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity…

 

According to the Episcopal News Service, “In the process set out by the SCLM, a revised Book of Common Prayer will be created by 2024, with three years of trial use after that. Final adoption of that revision by two successive General Conventions would result in a new prayer book in 2030.”

 

The US Episcopal Church has, for decades now, published an inclusive supplement to the Book of Common prayer, entitled “Enriching Our Worship.” It appears that the Book of Common Prayer will be revised to further align with said inclusive supplemental material.

I have already reported on the problematic language used in Enriching Our Worship,” such as the alteration of Biblical Psalms and the changing of God’s pronouns, often resulting the resulting in the changing of tense of Biblical passages.

In addition, there are times when core Christian doctrine is either watered down or is voided by the text’s efforts at employing inclusive language.

♦As Father Brown of Trinity Church wrote in 2011 (emphasis mine):

The opening invocation of the Eucharist, “Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy [Spirit]…and blessed be his Kingdom now and forever” gives way to, “Blessed be the one, holy, and living God…Glory to God for ever and ever.”

This last example points to a more profound adjustment: the avoidance of the Trinitarian formula, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

 

♦In terms of the application of gender-neutral language for God, Father Brown explained (emphasis mine):

Can we affirm our divine adoption in Jesus without privileging the use of male language? Can we say the same thing with neutral terms such as “parent” and “child?” Actually, no. Not quite. Such neutral terms, become abstractions and generalities. By contrast when Jesus calls God, “Father,” he is being personal and specific. Jesus’ use of “Father” is part of a syntax of familial language that runs through Scripture. Jesus is the Son of the Father, who in turn is also Father of Israel in the Old Testament (Hosea 11:1). Through Jesus, we are adopted as sons, and share in the “Spirit of Sonship,” becoming “fellow heirs” – that is, “part of the family.”

This interweaving of familial language also includes nuptial imagery in which Israel is betrothed to God, who becomes her husband as a result of his Covenant. The prophets repeatedly denounce Israel’s proclivity to pagan idolatry as marital infidelity. Hence, in Jeremiah 31:32, God speaks of “my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband.”

If we are to be related to the God who reveals himself in Jesus, we must inhabit the linguistic syntax in which God has made himself known. That language has a certain fluidity. Father – Son, Husband – Wife, Bride – Bridegroom all intertwine in a way that only makes sense if they are understood analogically. In this way, Scripture provides a collation of “mixed metaphors” that work together to configure the divine – human relationship, as well as inner three-fold relations of the persons of the Trinity.

 

I would be a shame for those attending Episcopal churches around the country to be deprived of a familial relationship with God and with one another.

Time will reveal the fruits of this effort… In the meantime, let us pray for them.


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