(Photo: Courtesy of Highland Park United Methodist Church)
Thousands of people have taken part in an online survey done by a United Methodist Church commission which was about the issue of gender descriptions and images people use for God.
The UMC General Commission on the Status and Role of Women posted the survey online, garnering about 3,700 respondents until it officially closed on Thursday.
Of the 3,700+ respondents, 40 percent of them were male and 60 percent female, with 65 percent being laity and 35 percent being clerics or people undergoing the process of becoming clerics.
Audrey J. Krumbach, GCSRW director of Gender Justice and Education, told The Christian Post that the response from the survey was well above the amount expected.
"Previous open-response surveys by United Methodists usually receive between 800 and 1100 responses," said Krumbach, adding that the 800-1100 range was their original response goal.
"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."
Krumbach also told CP that over the next couple of months, the data collected will be analyzed and is "only one part of a larger project to develop a useful Bible study about how Christians name God and how those names help us to understand God."
"We are pleased with the range of opinions and ideas expressed by the survey participants who were neither overwhelming in support or opposed to the use of images and names for God which are both masculine and feminine as reflected in Christian scriptures," said Krumbach.
"We look forward to learning more as we delve deeply into the comments and trends which the survey will reveal."
In the 1980s, UMC leadership decided to implement a policy of using "gender inclusive" language to describe God. This included changing hymn texts like "God of our Fathers" to "God of the Ages" and clerics preaching sermons where they use "God's" and "God" in places where they once said "His" or "Him."
Masculine words describing God have not been fully eradicated from UMC congregations, however, as for example most still pray the "Our Father" and the occasional hymn text remains unedited.
John Lomperis, director of the United Methodist program at The Institute on Religion and Democracy, told The Christian Post that he believed most UMC members have no issue using masculine titles to describe God.
"I expect that the overwhelming majority of United Methodists have little to no problem using words like 'Father,' 'He,' or 'Him' and are in congregations where that is the language used in worship," said Lomperis.
Lomperis also told CP that he believed the survey will "be rather skewed in a direction that will portray United Methodists as much more liberal" for multiple reasons.
"The English-language online survey format means that it will largely exclude overseas United Methodists, even though we are a global denomination with Americans now making up less than two-thirds of our membership," said Lomperis.
"Non-US members of our church tend to be overwhelmingly orthodox, but many do not speak English or have the sort of technology access urban professional Americans take for granted."
Lomperis added to this by arguing that older, conservative Methodists in rural areas that lack good Internet access will not be included as well.
"The support base CoSRoW has built up for itself is largely limited to just the most theologically liberal faction of U.S. United Methodists," said Lomperis.
"So it's that liberal support base who will mainly be positively interested in any sort of survey or other project of CoSRoW's."