Women are more likely than men to believe God is male, according to a Harris Poll released earlier this week.
The survey of 2,250 adults in the United States revealed that 43 percent of women and 34 percent of men believe God is male.
Overall, 39 percent of Americans believe God is male, 31 percent believe God is neither male nor female, 10 percent believe God is both genders and one percent believe God is female.
Men (34 percent) are more likely than women (28 percent) to believe God is neither male nor female.
David Allen, dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, says God is a "non-corporeal being" and as such is neither male nor female.
On one hand the question of God's gender is "absurd," Allen says, because, as Jesus points out in John 4:24, "God is spirit" and not a physical being like a man or woman. On the other hand it is significant, because in the last 25 years the feminist movement and liberal Christianity have tried to make the scriptures gender neutral, he says, particularly when it comes to descriptions of God.
"The reason this matters is this is ultimately an issue of biblical authority and not a gender issue," said Allen. "It's ultimately a question of, are we going to let God define and describe His nature and person, or are we going to let culture do it?"
The names of God and the personal pronouns used to describe God in the Bible are all masculine, says Allen, but at the same time it would be a "false leap in logic" to conclude that God is male. It also does not mean that women and men aren't equally valued by God, though Allen says God has assigned men and women different gender roles.
"This whole issue has nothing to do with the issue of equality, and men and women as they stand before God in terms of essence and being," he said. "Of course they are equal – that's not the issue at all. The only difference, the gender difference, is evidence also of a role distinction that men and women play in life – particularly in marriage."
Allen also pointed out that while God is spirit, in the incarnation Jesus Christ became a man.
This year the United Methodist Church's General Commission on the Status and Role of Women conducted an online open survey concerning the way Christians describe God, The Christian Post previously reported. UMC leaders decided in the 1980s that the denomination should use "gender inclusive" language when describing God, and according to an August blog post one of the goals of the survey was to help the commission better understand the impact of inclusive language movements.
Audrey J. Krumbach, GCSRW director of Gender Justice and Education, previously told CP that the number of people who responded to the survey was much greater than the usual response to UMC open-response surveys. More than 3,700 people responded – 40 percent male and 60 percent female – though the group's original goal had been to collect between 800 and 1,100 responses.
"We believe this overwhelming response indicates a very high level of interest in talking about who God is, how we relate to God, and what it means that humanity is created in God's image," said Krumbach at the time.
Susan Keaton, communications director for GCSRW, told CP in an email that the survey, which was not conducted using "scientifically random sampling," will be used "to inform future research or study rather than to garner statistics." Keaton says the organization hopes to publish some early results from the English language survey in January.