I had thought about giving myself another day off of the Sunday blog, but then, the “Universe” or someone delivered this article up, as of first importance, into my inbox. I had already been reading the lections for today, and it was just too perfect to ignore. The title, in case you haven’t yet clicked the link, is “Lord’s Prayer opening may be ‘problematic’, says Archbishop.” No, not the Archbishop of Canterbury, not yet anyway. This time it’s the Archbishop of York. Then the Guardian, for that is where this delightful gem may be found, before getting into the substance of the thing, declares, “Archbishop of York tells General Synod that ‘Our Father’ has patriarchal connotations.” You don’t say, Church of England clerics…you don’t say.
Verily verily, let’s just go straight into the thing—it’s not too long–and then we will easily arrive at Jesus’ pithy response:
The archbishop of York has suggested that opening words of the Lord’s Prayer, recited by Christians all over the world for 2,000 years, may be “problematic” because of their patriarchal association. In his opening address to a meeting of the Church of England’s ruling body, the General Synod, Stephen Cottrell dwelt on the words “Our Father”, the start of the prayer based on Matthew 6:9–13 and Luke 11:2–4 in the New Testament. “I know the word ‘father’ is problematic for those whose experience of earthly fathers has been destructive and abusive, and for all of us who have laboured rather too much from an oppressively patriarchal grip on life,” he said.
Forsooth! Has the Archbishop of York been caught in some overly oppressive patriarchal grip? What happened to make things so difficult for him? Was it ascending to the very top of a comfortable and elite church hierarchy without having to acknowledge the most basic tenets of the faith he took vows to uphold? How oppressive.
Actually, you know what’s oppressive? What’s really abusive? Lying about who God is and what he is like. Inviting the person who happens to wander into a church building to judge God, to question God, rather than to allow God’s good judgments the air to breathe.
As Matt said somewhere online, riffing off Chris Sugden, could it be possible that God, who knows the very creatures whom he has made, and the kinds of oppression they will mete out upon each other, could have also understood, before time, the pastoral implications of choosing to call himself “Father?” I wonder when was the last time the Archbishop of York actually read all the way through the Bible, from start to finish. I bet it would blow his mind. Anyway, the Guardian goes on:
His comment – a brief aside in a speech that focused on the need for unity – will divide members of the C of E, a body whose differences on issues of sexuality, identity and equality have been highly visible for years. After Cottrell’s speech, Canon Dr Chris Sugden, chair of the conservative Anglican Mainstream group, pointed out that in the Bible Jesus urged people to pray to “our father”. He said: “Is the archbishop of York saying Jesus was wrong, or that Jesus was not pastorally aware? It seems to be emblematic of the approach of some church leaders to take their cues from culture rather than scripture.” Rev Christina Rees, who campaigned for female bishops, said Cottrell had “put his finger on an issue that’s a really live issue for Christians and has been for many years”. She added: “The big question is, do we really believe that God believes that male human beings bear his image more fully and accurately than women? The answer is absolutely not.”
No, I’m sorry La Rees, that is manifestly not the question. Literally no one is saying that male human beings bear the image of God more fully than women. Also, what a ridiculous sentence. Why not just say “men?” Is “male image bearer” going to be the thing we say now? Instead of just “men?” When you begin to think that even referring to people in a gendered way is oppressive, you might want to stop and think for a bit about what kind of person you are.
The question is, do you think that God himself can speak to you across the distance of time and space through the power of his own Word? Do you think that God even exists? That he has the right to say anything? Do you believe in Truth? Do you believe in Jesus?
Rather than searching the scriptures, where Life is to be found, the Church of England has formed a commission on gendered language to try to figure out how best to address God:
In February, the C of E said it would consider whether to stop referring to God as “he”, after priests asked to be allowed to use gender-neutral terms instead. It agreed to launch a commission on gendered language, saying “Christians have recognised since ancient times that God is neither male nor female, yet the variety of ways of addressing and describing God found in scripture has not always been reflected in our worship”.
I suppose it will take this commission only a few minutes to decide that even though God, throughout the scriptures, is very clear about a lot of things, including how he would like to be addressed, it will still be more expedient to start calling him “Mother.” They will also continue to lament about how few people come to church. Because, and this must be a cruel joke, when you change things based on what people say they need and want, without submitting yourself to the authority of God’s own Word, those people don’t come to church, because God doesn’t bother to draw them. Anyway, then there was this ominous note:
Most of Cottrell’s speech was devoted to the word “our” rather than “father”, as a way of urging the fractious members of the synod to be a little more brotherly and sisterly in their discussions. He told members of the synod: “We remain stubbornly unreconciled, appear complacent about division, and often also appear all too ready to divide again […] We have got used to disunity. We think it’s normal when in fact, it is a disgrace, an affront to Christ and all he came to give us.”
How on earth does he know any of the things “Christ” came to give us? It obviously isn’t from reading any of the things he–the actual Lord and Christ–has said. If you happen by an Anglican Church in North America this morning, the readings have already been chosen, and they shed some bright light on the matter. First of all, in the Old Testament, God has the temerity to address his people as “daughter of Zion” and then he tells them what they may soon expect, what he himself is going to give them—a King. Gather yourself together on your fainting couch, administer the smelling salts, for here is the divine promise through the pen of Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River[ to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
You can see, here, of course, that God cares nothing for the imago dei of women, and only wants to oppress everyone all the time. Or at least did until the Archbishop of York reminded him that words like “King” and “rule” and “battle” are upsetting to some people. What we really need, see, is not to be rescued from the enslaving yoke of sin, death, selfishness, blindness, pride, hypocrisy, and people who keep scooping out the substance of the scriptures while refusing to take off the robes and hat and go away to work in a shop but instead persisting in leading the faithful into the very darkness. No, we just need to find names for God that will more fully and completely reflect back to us our own desires. Anyway, if you’re still in church and have endured the trauma of the Old Testament, someone will probably stand up and read the Gospel. Jesus—it is too too bad—hadn’t had the blessing of the Church of England to explain to him that some words are very ‘problematic.’ He takes up his discourse and uses almost every single word:
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
How strange of Jesus to think he might actually know God—the Father…his Father. How ironic, for us even today, that he would thank the Father for hiding the most precious truth about himself from “the wise” and instead reveal them to “little children.” That’s a bit like being “a daughter,” someone so beloved that the Father will spare no effort to save her from all that might destroy her, including “the wise.” All you have to do is go to Jesus and then—and this is such an astonishing thing—he repairs your relationship with his Father, with God himself, by taking the burden of your sin and ruin and shame and hurt all the way to the cross and paying it all off in his own blood. So that, however painful it is to even think of all your wretched earthly fathers, including corrupt church clerics, who have lied and told you you don’t matter, who have hurt and abused you, you can now lift up your countenance to the real Father who never lies. In fact, when you come to Jesus, you will find the thing you most need—rest, forgiveness, mercy, true and perfect restoration.
And now I must stagger off to church, for there are the words of life, and the light and easy burden of true Communion. Hope to see you there!
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