Contributed by Rev. Debbie Kelsey
Men’s brains have the capacity to think of one thing at a time, they tell me. Their brains are like a series of little boxes, and they open them one at a time. Women’s brains are an intricately woven network of wires, all of which are connected. When women think of one person or thing, they automatically think of another person or thing related to the first person or thing. Buzz; buzz; buzz our brains go! This is a generalization, and it is true that a few men and women work mostly out of the model that is considered atypical for their group.
As misogyny made the news in May in the U.S. based on a shooting rampage in California, I wondered how this theory might get our brains buzzing to formulate an appropriate response. What occurred to me will not be a new idea for many, but perhaps it is time to speak up for the connections that exist between words used, thought patterns, and behavior.
Until I was in seminary, I only heard God referred to in masculine forms. The Sunday school pictures of Bible stories portrayed God as male. To top it off, I was taught: “Man is a word that can mean human. Yes, sometimes it means one man, but it can also mean all of us—men and women.” I bought into this box-like approach for a time. I thought that to hold this way of communicating and listening in my head, although odd to me, was just a matter of being smart. It was a box, but I had the capacity to store the box back in the corner of my mind.
Now, I am a woman, and like the Ford Mustang, I turn 50 this year. I have carried and given birth to two children. My body produced the only milk they knew for their first three months of life. Together with my husband and by God’s grace, the children are both adults now.
I will no longer deny the connection: There is something holy in being female. I have worked with women exploited in prostitution and seen how the abuse of their sexuality tries to distort the femininity God gave them, but being female is sacred. Nothing about the sacredness of being female excludes the sacredness of being male.
But, when we connect to God only as “He” or “Him” and call God’s attributes only “His”, we connect godliness to maleness in our brains. Why would we hotwire our children’s minds in such a way? When we talk about humankind as “mankind”, we fail to make the connection for girls and for boys between the equal blessing of being human whether male or female. While inclusive language and gender-neutral language for God can seem bulky, does not the ongoing problem with misogyny in our country, even among some young people, call us to put in the extra effort?
God, forgive us for putting you in a male box. Forgive us for failing to teach respect for all people made in your image demonstrated in the sparkling brilliance of being made a sexual being. Birth in us a word that will bless your world that struggles to let go of hierarchy. Lead us to a day of shared life under your sheltering wings. Amen.
Rev. Debbie Kelsey is Intentional Interim Pastor of First Baptist Church, Syracuse, NY. Prior to pastoral ministry, Debbie served with International Ministries, ABCUSA, focusing for many years on ministry to women in prostitution and on addressing human trafficking.