Church defends decision to refer to Jesus with gender-neutral pronouns
A Swedish church has defended its decision to refer to Jesus using gender-neutral pronouns.
The church in Västerås, Sweden, had infuriated traditionalists with a poster for a Christmas service.
The poster referred to Jesus using the pronoun ‘hen’, a gender-neutral pronoun often used by non-binary people or when a person’s gender is not known.
Susann Senter, dean at the church, defended the decision in a statement.
According to TheLocal.Se, she said: “The word ‘hen’ is a way to give a new perspective”.
She clarified that the church was not suggesting that Jesus was not a man, but used gender neutral pronouns because “his gender was not a defining aspect of his identity”.
The dean apologised to anyone who had been offended, but stuck by the choice, saying: “The religious Christ is greater [than the historical person] and needs to be described and talked about in each era, with new words and new songs.
“The desire behind the use of new words is to find a language of our time which opens up to the holy.”
The Church of Sweden recently advised its clergy to stop referring to God using male pronouns.
Sweden’s national church, an Evangelical Lutheran denomination, made the switch as part of a modernisation push.
It advised members of the clergy to avoid referring to God using male identifiers such as ‘he’, ‘Father’ and ‘the Lord’.
Instead of using the phrase “the Father, son and Holy Spirit” during church services, clergy will be able to use the phrase “in the name of God and the Holy Trinity”.
The changes to the church handbook for services are aimed at reforming the church’s role in a more gender-inclusive society.
Priests who won’t be penalised for sticking to the old lingo – but the Primate in Sweden will strongly encourage them to make the change.
Antje Jackelen, the Archbishop of Uppsala and Primate of the Church of Sweden, explained that the Church has always taught about God using a mixture of male and female attributes.
She told PBS NewsHour: “God is beyond our human categories of gender. It’s actually already in the Prophet Isaiah in the 11 Chapter.
“God says, I am God, and not human or a man. God is beyond that, and we need help to remind us of that, because due to the restrictions of our brains, we tend to think of God in very human categories.
“We are not worshipping political correctness. We are worshipping God, the creator of the universe.”
The Archbishop added: “We are not going to give up our tradition. But in the tradition, there are all these elements already present.
“Like Julian of Norwich in the 14th century said, as sure as God is our father, God is our mother.
“So, I mean, this is not something that’s newly invented. It’s part of our tradition.”
Lena Sjostrand, the chaplain of Lund Cathedral, added: “I don’t think that God is a big mother or a father sitting up in the sky.
“I don’t think that makes sense. God is something much bigger than this.”
“We have consciousness about gender questions, which is stronger in our time than it has been before.
“Of course, this has had an impact on theology and on church life and pastoral reflection.”
The move has naturally led to grumblings from conservatives in the country.
Pastor Mikael Lowegren said: “God being the father means he has a son.
“The name of the God is what God has revealed. It’s the father, and the son and the Holy Spirit.
“You don’t play lightly with these things. You don’t play lightly with the creed. You don’t play lightly with the liturgy of the church.
“Being part of a tradition means that you come from somewhere.
“You have a history, and that forms you and makes you what you are.
“And if you lose contact with your roots, you run the risk of losing your own identity.”
Sweden is not the only place where Christianity is modernising.
A Church of England bishop this week launched a new charity that will campaign for LGBT inclusive Christianity.
The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, was named Chair of the Ozanne Foundation, a new charity that will work with religious organisations around the world to eliminate discrimination based on sexuality or gender.
The Foundation will work within religious organisations that are opposed to non-heterosexual relationships. In addition, it will look to foster good relations inside religious organisations that hold conflicting views on sexuality and gender issues.
Speaking about his decision to chair this new foundation, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes said: “The Church of England has committed herself to what our Archbishops have called radical new Christian inclusion, and has publicly stated that we are against all forms of homophobia.
“If we mean this, and I believe we do, then we need to find appropriate ways of welcoming and affirming LGBTI people who want their love recognised by the Church.”
In an interview with the Guardian, the Bishop contrasted his views with those of evangelical Christians in the US who have backed the Trump administration as it aims to undermine LGBT rights protections and broader equality.
He said: “People who call themselves evangelical in the US seem to be uncritically accepting [of Trump].
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“Some quite significant so-called evangelical leaders are uncritically supporting people in ways that imply they are colluding or playing down the seriousness of things which in other parts of their lives [they] would see as really important.”
He added: “Some of the things that have been said by religious leaders seem to collude with a system that marginalises the poor, a system which builds walls instead of bridges, a system which says people on the margins of society should be excluded, a system which says we’re not welcoming people any more into our country.
“Whenever people say those kinds of things, they need to be able to justify that they’re saying those things as Christians, and I do not believe it’s justifiable.”
Evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham and Tony Perkins were influential in building support for the Trump campaign, and right-wing Christian lobbying groups have been a crucial factor in the Trump administration’s shift against LGBT rights.
The Bishop recently admitted that some of his ultra-conservative colleagues refuse to be in the same room as him.
Rt Rev Paul Bayes wrote in a blog post: “My own experience, since I began speaking out for the beginnings of change in the Church, is that I am profoundly suspected by many who disagree with me and that indeed some of them cannot in conscience remain in the same room as me, or work with me.
“This has not made me change my mind, but it does help me to understand still further what it is to be a bishop, a bastard bishop, in the Church today.”