While I am a Methodist, I went to a Presbyterian (U.S.A.) seminary, and hope to return there in the fall of 2007 to pursue a Masters of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy. So, especially considering my discomfort with exclusively masculine images of God (they deny women participation in the imago dei, image of God) and non-literal approach to Trinitarian theology (the Trinity as a metaphor used to describe God rather than a literally true description of God), I was delighted when I read this article by the AP's Richard N. Ostling:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The divine Trinity -- "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" -- could also be known as "Mother, Child and Womb" or "Rock, Redeemer, Friend" at some Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) services under an action yesterday by the church's national assembly.
Delegates to the meeting voted to "receive" a policy paper on gender-inclusive language for the Trinity, a step short of approving it.
That means officials with the Louisville-based denomination can propose experimental liturgies with alternative phrasings for the Trinity, but congregations won't be required to use them.
"This does not alter the church's theological position but provides an educational resource to enhance the spiritual life of our membership," legislative committee chair Nancy Olthoff, an Iowa laywoman, said during yesterday's debate on the Trinity.
The assembly narrowly defeated a conservative bid to refer the paper back for further study.
A panel that has worked on the idea since 2000 said the classical language for the Trinity should still be used, but Presbyterians also should seek "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 responded that the church should stick close to the way God is named in the Bible and noted that Jesus' most famous prayer was addressed to "Our Father."
Besides "Mother, Child and Womb" and "Rock, Redeemer, Friend," proposed Trinity options drawn from biblical material include:
Â "Lover, Beloved, Love"
Â "Creator, Savior, Sanctifier"
Â "King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love."
Early in yesterday's business session, the Presbyterian assembly sang a revised version of a familiar doxology, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," that avoided male nouns and pronouns for God.
Youth delegate Dorothy Hill, a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, was uncomfortable with changing the Trinity wording.
The paper "suggests viewpoints that seem to be in tension with what our church has always held to be true about our Trinitarian God," she said.
Hill reminded delegates that the Ten Commandments say "the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."
The Rev. Deborah Funke of Montana warned that the paper would be "theologically confusing and divisive" at a time when the denomination of 2.3 million members faces other troublesome issues.
On Tuesday, the assembly will vote on a proposal to give local congregations and regional presbyteries some leeway on ordaining 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."
Perhaps my friend Amy, a Masters of Divinity student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary who was at the General Assembly in question could leave some comments explaining this more. In the meantime, I am very encouraged that a mainline denomination is exploring this. I wish that the United Methodist Church would look at this, as well, because I'm tired of secretly changing the liturgy and doxology myself, confusing the people in the pews around me.
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