By Richard N. Ostling
Delegates of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are scheduled to vote Monday on whether to adopt gender-inclusive language for worship of the divine Trinity along with the traditional "Father, Son and Holy Spirit." A study panel said the classical language for the Trinity shouldn't be diminished, but advocated "fresh ways to speak of the mystery of the triune God" to "expand the church's vocabulary of praise and wonder."
One reason is that language limited to the Father and Son "has been used to support the idea that God is male and that men are superior to women," the panel said.
Conservatives object that the church should stick close to the way God is named in the Bible.
Among the feminist-inspired, gender-inclusive options:
- "Mother, Child and Womb"
- "Lover, Beloved, Love"
- "Creator, Saviour, Sanctifier"
- "Rock, Redeemer, Friend"
- "King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love."
Two professors at the Presbyterians' Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Andrew Purves and Charles Partee, said there is potential danger that "we not only lose the ground for our language for God, we in fact lose the Trinity. We lose God."
"We do not need a diluted, metaphorical Trinity; rather, we need our confidence in the Christian doctrine of God to be restored," they said.
Other critics noted that Jesus' most famous prayer begins by addressing "Our Father."
On Tuesday the assembly takes up a dispute that has the potential to ultimately split the denomination: a bill to give local congregations and regional "presbyteries" some leeway in deciding whether to ordain clergy and lay officers living in gay relationships.
Ten conservative Presbyterian groups have warned jointly that approval of what they call "local option" would "promote schism by permitting the disregard of clear standards of Scripture." A separate floor committee voted 30-28 to keep on the books the national church law mandating that lay officers and clergy restrict sexual activity to heterosexual marriage.
Presbyterians have debated sexual morals since a 1970 assembly agreed by a tiny majority that "adultery, prostitution, fornication and/or the practice of homosexuality is sin."
In a 1997 referendum, 57 percent of regional presbyteries approved the existing ban as church law. Two bids to overturn it were defeated by 67 percent, then 73 percent of presbyteries. Conservatives say the Tuesday proposal is an illicit bid to rewrite legal policy and circumvent presbytery voting. Liberal caucuses have also complained because the plan leaves what they regard as injustice in church law.
This month, the denomination reported a net loss of 48,474 members since last year, the 40th annual decline in a row, leaving 2.3 million active members.