DC Episcopal Diocese Scraps 'Gendered Language' for God, Opens Activities Based on Gender ID

Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on May 30, 2008. |

The Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., formally resolved Saturday to eliminate all gendered references to God, and open their gender-specific activities and public facilities based on gender identity.

The Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy reported on its blog Monday that the Diocese of Washington for the Episcopal Church passed three resolutions over the weekend at a gathering at Washington National Cathedral. Delegates to the 123rd Diocesan Convention moved within one hour to adopt proposals titled "On Becoming a Sanctuary Diocese: Offering Sacred Welcome to Immigrants," "On Inclusion of Transgender People," and "On the Gendered Language for God."

The resolution about language for God emphasized replacing gendered references to God with gender neutral language and pronouns wherever possible.

The measure was subsequently amended to say "... if revision of the Book of Common Prayer [a liturgical prayer book used by Anglicans worldwide] is authorized, to utilize expansive language for God from the rich sources of feminine, masculine, and non-binary imagery for God found in Scripture and tradition and, when possible, to avoid the use of gendered pronouns for God."

The understanding of God and of language has evolved over time, drafters of the resolution maintained, and current gender roles inhibit such understanding.

"By expanding our language for God, we will expand our image of God and the nature of God. Our new Book of Common Prayer needs to reflect the language of the people and our society," reiterating that "language should not be limited by gendered pronouns when avoidable."

A pastoral delegate at the diosecan convention who studied feminist theology in graduate school reportedly brandished a copy of The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation and inquired when the Church would embrace it.

The Inclusive Bible was published in 2004 and written by a group called Priests for Equality, which, according to the Amazon description, is a project of the Quixote Center in Brentwood, Maryland, and is a "grass-roots organization committed to creating a culture where sexism and exclusion are left behind and equality and full participation are the order of the day."

In Genesis 17, the passage of scripture where God makes the Covenant of Circumcision with Abram, the Hebrew "El Shaddai" is traditionally translated as "God Almighty;" the Inclusive Bible renders it "the breasted one."

The resolution "On Inclusion of Transgender People" asks the diocese to "encourage all parishes to remove all obstacles to full participation in congregational life by making all gender-specific facilities and activities fully accessible, regardless of gender identity and expression."

IRD further reported that the drafters of this resolution — which was adopted with no debate or discussion — referenced the language in the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church as a basis for transgender advocacy: "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?"

"The statement quickly dived into intersectionality theory, charging 'that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia give rise to discrimination," IRD said. "Fixed boundaries of gender identity are being challenged and churches need to respond."

IRD has been tracking the theological, philosophical, and political trends developments in mainline churches since their inception in 1981.

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