August 4, 2016

God the Father & Transgenderism

Recently Pope Francis criticized, as he has in the past, transgender ideology, especially teaching children they can choose their own gender, observing to an audience of Polish bishops: “We are living at a time when humankind as the image of God is being annihilated.”

The Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si last year warned, on the same issue, that “thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”

Transgenderism as a movement, like all utopian ideologies that seek to reinvent creation, will eventually fade, but only after leading further astray and doing great harm to many souls.  The church’s duty against such temporarily fashionable ideologies of the world is always to affirm the unchanging truth of human dignity bequeathed through bearing God’s image.

Within parts of liberal Protestantism, these desires to reinvent creation are often closely aligned with reinventing the Creator.  This past Father’s Day, the sermon at a prominent Washington, DC United Methodist congregation, delivered by the previous United Methodist chaplain at a local university, sought to minimize God the Father as only “metaphor,” no less useable than God the Mother.

In a way then, according to this perspective, God is Himself/Herself transgendered, not a permanent reality.  Transgender ideology asserts that each autonomous, empowered individual may subjectively choose a gender, permanently or momentarily, that all others must fully accept.  But evidently God, who in the Jewish-Christian tradition reveals Himself only as Father and not as Mother, does not have this same freedom.  God must instead yield to whatever “metaphor” others assign.

As this former campus chaplain explained:  “When we embrace the metaphors, we can sing those Father hymns with newfound gusto, knowing that they do not bind us in the way we conceive of God. Knowing that God is Mother is no less true.”  These “metaphors” are just “signposts” pointing to a larger mystery, he insisted. Other “metaphors” include “CHRIST IS A SON, BELIEVERS ARE A FAMILY, HUMAN BEINGS ARE CHILDREN,” he added, with this claim in all caps, presumably for emphasis.

This kind of assumption is standard 20th century Western Protestant liberalism, and it hasn’t evinced much staying power because, among other problems, it ends up making the Deity more remote and unknowable, and ultimately implies that God is possibly not much more than a projection.

Traditional Christianity, whose claims have more trans generational and transcultural staying power, has always asserted a more concrete message about a Deity who reveals Himself in pretty dependable, knowable ways, not as an amorphous transgender cloud, but as the Father of all creation, who is in eternal union with His co-equal Son and His co-equal Holy Spirit. As one theologian remarked after reading the Father’s Day sermon:

Abba, Father, is the name by which Jesus referred to God. It is a name in that it not only identifies the god we’re talking about, but also that which identifies the relationship intrinsic between Father and Son. A denial of this language is a denial of the relationship between the Persons of the Triune Godhead. It leads to heresies that deny God’s work in the world in session to the uniqueness of Jesus.

So the theological issues and stakes are significantly greater than the selection of comfortable metaphors. C.S. Lewis had this explanation:

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…We know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life different from that of a Christian child.

The church’s theology of the Trinity and of God as Father is ancient, rich, and endlessly transformative, offering far more hope, and affirmation of human equality and dignity, than the more transitory narratives offered by declining liberal Protestantism.

God as revealed in Scripture and through the life of the universal church is very tangible. He was a Father long before there were earthly fathers, who are themselves a shadow and projection of the one true Father.  The term Father is not merely a “signpost” to some greater but unknowable cosmic reality. Instead, loving earthly fathers are called to be signposts to the eternal Father, who is love Himself.

Likewise, human persons are not merely self-actualized individuals who must will themselves into gender identities only recently conceived by a branch of Western secularism.  Instead, each person is lovingly created male and female in the divine image, with divine purpose, with cosmic, eternal importance, and organic to all creation.

Transgender ideology may seek the “absolute power over creation” against which Pope Francis warned.  But God the Father and Creator, in His mercy, has spared us that undesirable possibility.

3 Responses to God the Father & Transgenderism

  1. Jacob Liston says:

    Wow, that sermon is cringey.

  2. Namyriah says:

    I can recall the period – mid to late 1970s – when you proved how cool and enlightened you were by praying to “Dear Heavenly Parent.” That trend passed, but the stupid ideology behind it did not.

  3. Raymond Wilson says:

    Just stumbled upon this via Aquila Report and wanted to offer a quick pointer to some resources that could begin to supply a better answer to the issues of divine paternity, gender, metaphor, and analogy from a Thomistic perspective that is (on these issues) inclusive of both Catholics and Protestants.

    From Gilles Emery’s “The Trinitarian Theology of St Thomas Aquinas,” 156, 162:

    “Divine paternity includes the features which belong to mothers, in creatures: conception, childbirth, caring for the child. In accordance with Scripture, maternal traits are ascribed to the Father: the Word is born ‘from his womb’ (ex utero), and he remains ‘in the heart of the Father’ (in sinu Patris). And it is ‘for a mother to conceive and give birth’ In line with Scripture, St Thomas accepts maternal expressions like this, but, nevertheless, keeps the name Father for God. The ‘things which belong distinctly to the father or to the mother in fleshly generation, in the generation of the Word are all attributed to the Father by sacred Scripture; for the Father is said not only “to give life to the Son’ but also “to conceive” and to “bring forth” ‘ Likewise, he uses the maternal image of childbirth to describe creation. And he also uses the image of the wise-woman to describe the providential activity of God, who does not just create the world, but cares for his creatures by leading them where they will flourish. These maternal features are integrated into the description of the name Father….”

    And a little further,

    “From one perspective, human fatherhood is a participation in the paternity of the Father. And although St Thomas does not put it in these words (he is in this respect a child of his times, and depends on antiquated ideas which are now outdated), the same participation primarily effects human maternity, since Scripture attributes to the Father, in the generation of the Son, all of that which, in the physical generation of children, belongs to the father and the mother.’ This applies to parental paternity and maternity, and also extends, by analogy, to spiritual paternity and maternity: someone who
    leads someone else to an act of life, such as acting well, knowledge, willing, loving, deserves to be called “father” ‘ In all of the areas of what we today describe as the progress of human dignity, or concern for life, St Thomas invites us to find a participation in the Father’s paternity.”

    Also, for a more nuanced response (via analogy) to *metaphor* arguments, Gregory Rocca’s “Speaking the Incomprehensible God” is a good place to start. See especially, his large footnote on pages 320-321 in response to certain feminist theologians or those that do not make the distinction between metaphor and analogy.

    In sum, since God does not have a gender at least some of the discussion with liberal Christianity can be mitigated through appeals to analogy, participation, and the principled inter-relations of the Trinity–calling foul when univocal and anthropocentric reasoning is being used. These ways of thinking seem to be where some of the fault lines depart between orthodoxy and those we are calling back.

    Hopefully, this helps a few people and especially those coming from The Aquila Report.

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