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Evangelical Leader Blasts Churches' Gender-Neutral Language

The largest Episcopal church in Tucson, Ariz., is removing all power imagery, including the word 'Lord,' from its services, saying it conveys hierarchical power over things but that's not who Jesus
( [email protected] ) Apr 27, 2007 05:13 PM EDT

The largest Episcopal church in Tucson, Ariz., is removing all power imagery, including the word "Lord," from its services.

"The way our service reads, the theology is that God is love, period," Thomas Lindell, deacon at St. Philip's in the Hills, told Arizona Daily Star. "Our service has done everything it can to get rid of power imagery. We do not pray as though we expect the big guy in the sky to come and fix everything."

The church's associate rector, Susan Anderson-Smith, said "Lord" conveys hierarchical power over things but that's not who Jesus understood himself to be, she told the local newspaper.

"Jesus was for an egalitarian community. He did not have room for titles or status. And it is recorded that many of the disciples called him Lord. But they had a different idea about worshipping him," she said. "Jesus was a rabbi and teacher. It was a relationship of mentoring, looking up to him for that kind of companionship."

Prominent evangelical leader the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the comments absurd.

"Jesus – the Lord – called His disciples to follow Him. He did not follow them ... He was not a mere 'mentor' and 'companion,'" Mohler wrote in his weblog on Friday.

And removing "power imagery" from worship services is rather hard to do, Mohler noted.

"If God is not all-powerful, why worship?" he wrote. "Without an acknowledgment of God's power, we are left with little to say. A God who is not powerful cannot help, much less save. What can you then sing? 'O God our [well-intended but less-than-sovereign Spirit of helpfulness] in ages past?'"

St. Philip's is joined by First Congregational United Church of Christ in Midtown, which uses the word "Lord" on occasion. The pastor of the church, Briget Nicholson, said they are "suspicious" of the word. Some of their hymns have a verse that say "Father" and "God" which is followed by a verse that then says "Mother" and "God."

"It's gender-balanced," the pastor explained to the local newspaper.

Mohler argued in his radio segment on Tuesday, "What did Jesus himself say? When you pray, say 'Our Father.' There is no parallel verse about mother anywhere in Scripture. Period."

"It's not that God is male, it's that he is Father. It's not talking about physicality here, but function and role," he added. "And when God names Himself, He has the right to say what we should call Him."

The churches reflect a movement toward gender-neutral language in the church. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country, last year "received" a paper that gave alternatives to the names of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some of the alternatives, which opponents have called "metaphorical triads," include "Sun, Light and Burning Ray" and “Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-Giving Womb."

While some said the paper, titled "The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing," is helpful in answering questions a new member of a congregation might have, the Rev. Alan Gray of Abingdon Presbytery said, "This paper confuses the clear message of Scripture. The reason we call God Father is that He identifies Himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Similarly, Mohler concluded about the major denominational churches in the recent report, "If you call God something different, you're talking about a different god."