Years ago, when I would come home to visit my family in Indiana, my mother almost always made a point of asking me to say grace before the requisite family dinner, where all my stray sisters, brothers and in laws would gather to see the latest incarnation of “john”. My mother’s preference was to pick a “man”, as in the male gender, to say the prayer because she held to a strictly paternalistic view of God and the Universe. Don’t miss the irony here that it was SHE who did the choosing, and if any of my siblings disagree with me that my mother was the unchallenged head-of-the-house, then, they are either lying or deluded.
I remember the final time she asked me to say grace, because when I started the prayer, instead of using the salutation I was taught as a child: “Dear Heavenly Father”, I used the alternate salutation: “Mother-Father God”. No one said a word to challenge me, and I was very pleased with myself for holding true to my new-found religion of fairness, equality, and pluralism. It would take some time and later visits home to notice I had been dropped from the list of acceptable grace givers.
In my boyhood home and church there was no question about the sex of God. God was a man, so he was naturally strong, fierce, vengeful, and hard. Now, God was also loving and protective, especially in the form of his offspring, Jesus, but his love was like that of a father for his children; not like a mother. The closest thing we had to a feminine deity was Mary, and being Baptist, we necessarily rejected the adoration given her by “papists”.
Hidden somewhere in my early training is the idea that perhaps God is not really a person at all, certainly not a human person. Maybe he’s a force, or some sort of sex-less, ethereal being. God certainly had no use for any genitalia, and neither did the angels who were represented alternately as beautiful women or beautiful male eunuchs, depending on which Sunday school book you opened.
We had no idea that the Hebrew version of the Holy Spirit is necessarily feminine, which also complicates the impregnation of the Virgin Mary by the female spirit of God. Early Christianity became fiercely paternalistic because it was dominated by fiercely paternalistic church leaders, coming from the Judaic tradition that Jesus roundly criticized.
The inclusive and egalitarian Jesus was replaced by men who were raised to view women as property or less, and while Jesus was clearly ahead of his time concerning the treatment and place of women in society and spiritual learning, the male leaders who crafted the early form of the Jesus movement were victims of their time. It is almost miraculous that the truth about what Jesus intended peeps out through the text and the traditions that have been handed down to us by men.
It takes very little searching to notice that Jesus was followed and supported by a number of women; that makes them disciples. It is grudgingly admitted that he favored his beloved Mary Magdelene over his male disciples, even appearing to her first after the resurrection, which by Catholic lore makes her the leader of the new Christian church. And many historical sources, including the Gnostic gospels, point to the likelihood that she was not a harlot but a respected and educated woman, with some resources, out of the mystery school tradition in Egypt.
When Jesus said he did not come “to abolish the law” but to fulfill it, he was saying that you have it all wrong because you don’t even understand what the law is for. So he was turning the Judaic law on its head in order to get to the underlying truth, and that is what got him killed. One of the truths he pointed to was the inclusion of women in every part of the body of Christ, and the remembering of the feminine in the nature of God.