Does God Have a Gender?

The Lutheran Church of Sweden has recently voted to urge its leaders to stop referring to God as “He” or “The Lord.”

The change was created in attempt to create a more gender-inclusive atmosphere within the church. However, as with almost every change within religion, this vote did not come without skepticism from both the clergy and congregants. This is what took place:

What happened?

On Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017 the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden ended what had been an eight-day meeting of the church’s 251-member decision-making body of the church. The final result was a decision to call for the termination of the gender-identifying use of the words “He” or “The Lord” while referencing God by the clergy.

The move is only one of several taken by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in attempt to update its 31-year-old handbook that directs leaders how to conduct and what dialect to use during services. The manual instructs the clergy of what language to use, what liturgy to utilize and what hymnals to sing, according to the Telegraph UK.

“We talk about Jesus Christ, but in a few places we have changed it to say ‘God’ instead of ‘he,’” Church of Sweden spokesperson Sofija Pedersen Videke told The Telegraph.

What does the church think?

Archbishop Antje Jackelen spearheaded the changes to the handbook.

The church in which she serves, a former state church, is headquartered in Uppsala and holds 6.1 million baptized members in a country of 10 million. Although some were hesitant, a vast majority of congregants are in support of the change.

Jackelen has recently told news agencies that a more inclusive language has been discussed as early as the 1986 conference, so it was to little surprise that a change eventually came.

“Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations. God is not human,” Jackelen said.

The support of the Archbishop didn’t stop in Sweden, however. She recently traveled to the United States and stopped at universities to share her wisdom of religion and the recent changes to the Lutheran Church.

One such stop was at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. On Nov. 30, 2017 she spoke specifically of the importance of gender-inclusive language to an audience of mostly theology-centered students and faculty.

Concern of the clergy

Despite the support, not everyone was so open to the idea of a gender-inclusive church.

Christer Pahlmblad, an associate theology professor at Sweden’s Lund University, told a Danish newspaper that the change wasn’t wise.

“It really isn’t smart if the church of Sweden becomes known as a church that does not respect the common theology heritage,” he told The Guardian.

It is true that other churches, including those in Europe and in America, have made efforts to become more progressive. For example, the Church of England recently decided to use gender-neutral language during its services. However, that rule has yet to apply when discussing God.

A time of change

Despite the fact that most churches have yet to truly act on becoming more progressive, Jackelen hopes that these small, yet crucial changes will spark an impact on progressive religion worldwide.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church has decided to continue with the shift to a more gender-inclusive church. The changes will officially take effect on May 20, 2018 during Pentecost, a Christian holiday.

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