September 7, 2010
A new order of service produced by the Scottish Episcopal Church has caused controversy by removing masculine references to God.
The new form of worship, which removes words such as "Lord, he, his, him" and "mankind" from services, has been written by the church in an attempt to acknowledge that God is "beyond human gender".
Episcopalian bishops have approved the introduction of more "inclusive" language, which deliberately removes references suggesting that God is of male gender.
The new order of service, which can be used by priests if they have difficulties with a male God, has been produced by the church's Liturgy Committee in consultation with the Faith & Order Board of General Synod and the College of Bishops.
The controversial changes were discussed at the church's General Synod recently. The minutes of the synod reveal that female priests had asked why God was still referred to as a man.
The altered version of the 1982 Liturgy sees masculine pronouns removed when they refer to God and the new approach has even been extended to humans. For example, the word "mankind" has been taken out and replaced with "world".
Some senior religious figures have objected to the new form of words. "It is political correctness," said Rev Stuart Hall of the Scottish Prayer Book Society and Honorary Professor of Divinity at the University of St Andrews
"It is quite unnecessary. The word man in English - especially among scientists - is inclusive of both sexes.
"Those who try to minimise references to God as the Father and Christ as his Son have great difficulties, because the New Testament is shot through with these references."
Direct quotations from the Bible have been spared change, because of a reluctance to interfere with the word of God. However, the blessing at the end of services has been changed by some ministers from "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" to "Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier".
"The changing of God language is a little tricky," admitted Rev Darren McFarland, convener of the church's liturgy committee.
"It is then that opinion is much more divided. We have really tried not to mess around with the descriptions of God in the biblical text. But what we want to see is generous language when it comes to gender. God is above and beyond human gender.
"We are not saying God is not masculine. God is also feminine. The problem is trying to use human language to describe the indescribable.
"The bishops have permitted these changes, people do not have to use this form. But we are trying to honour the breadth of descriptions of God in a way that's helpful to the church and its membership."
Should the US Episcopal Church do the same thing? What do you think?