Two of the top divinity schools in the United States have asked faculty to use "more inclusive" language when talking about God - meaning professors must now use "gender-neutral" terms when discussing Him as to not offend students.
According to Heat Street, the divinity schools at Vanderbilt and Duke recently published guidelines on language to be used in their curriculums - even though in both the Old and New Testaments, God is clearly referred to as "the father" and "He" (Matt. 6:9, 1 Cor. 8:6, Eph. 4:6).
The outlet quotes Vanderbilt's divinity school's course catalog as stating: "The Vanderbilt Divinity School commits continuously and explicitly to include gender as an analyzed category and to mitigate sexism in the Divinity School's curricula ... This includes consistent attention to the use of inclusive language, especially in relation to the Divine."
When questioned by Heat Street, the school's associate dean for academic affairs, Melissa Snarr, said the use of "inclusive language" has been part of the school's policy since 1999. That document states, in part, that "masculine titles, pronouns, and imagery for God have served as a cornerstone for the patriarchy" and recommended "exploration of fresh language for God."
However, Snarr said the guidelines "are up to the individual professor's interpretation for their classes and is suggestive rather than mandatory."
In turn, the Duke guidelines said that "exclusively gendered language" can be "harmful and exclusionary."
"'Man' is now viewed as what we call an 'exclusive' use of language; that is, it is seen as excluding women," reads the guidelines. "Therefore, we recommend that you find other ways to refer to humankind in general and use terms that are inclusive. For example, instead of man and mankind, consider using: humans, people, persons, everyone, men and women, children of God, etc."
The four-page guide acknowledges that referring to God in gender-neutral language "can sound clumsy," but says that is "largely due to the fact that we are in a transitional period with our use of language."
"Imagination, patience, and diligence are required in order to use language that expands and enriches our understanding of God," it concludes.
In an op-ed for Charisma News, editor Jennifer LeClaire slammed the idea that God is gender-neutral, calling it "disturbing" and evidence of a "wave of deception sweeping through the church." She points out that throughout the Bible, God is described as our Father (not our mother) and Jesus, the expression of God on the earth, was a man (not a woman).
She argues that the Bible is full of "diverse terms" for God, including "the Alpha, the Branch, the Bridegroom, the Chief Shepherd, the Consolation of Israel, the Dayspring, the Bread of Life, the Desire of Nations, Emmanuel, the Faithful and True Witness" - and gender neutral terms aren't needed.
"Make no mistake, God is not a woman," LeClaire concludes. "He never has been and He never will be. This, though, is just another symptom of a greater problem-a perversion of the Word of God that will lead many astray and even into a Great Falling away. I beseech you in this hour to be a lover of the truth, speak the truth in love, and pray for the church in this hour."