Category Archives: Feminism

Learning to Call God Mother

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Chari...

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – Charity (1878) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Maybe you need to work on your God image,” my spiritual director said. “Have you given much thought to God as Mother?” The candle between us glowed as a reminder of God with us, directing us.

“Some. But it’s a leap. Even as a feminist, I have always said that I called God Father because Jesus did,” I replied.

“Why don’t you try Mother for a change? See what happens.”

I was having trouble trusting God back in those days, the first year of my marriage and the first year in Oregon, having moved from a city and community I loved. My spiritual director suspected that opening up to the more feminine aspects of God could help me.

I didn’t expect to get an opportunity to take the Mother God leap so soon, but my husband began to lead a liturgical prayer group in which, every other time, we would use “Mother” language for God. Just the practice of affirming God-as-mother in a group helped me open my mind.

That was ten years ago, and I am still on the journey of incorporating the name Mother into my relationship with God. When I do, I find a sense of God affirming and comprehending who I am, that I don’t have when I say “Father.” It’s not that I am all-mother in my own identity. It’s that being female is a part of who I am that “Father” doesn’t encompass. “Mother God” gets me on a level that “Father God” doesn’t seem to.

After all, both are just metaphors for a God who understands us all, more deeply than we can imagine. A metaphor that opens a locked door to God’s nature can only help both men and women feel more deeply loved and understand God better.

So, how did I get past the fact that Jesus didn’t refer to God as Mother? I read a book by Paul Smith, a Baptist pastor, called Is It Okay to Call God Mother? Considering the Feminine Face of God. Smith’s church affirms God as mother (as well as father and many other metaphors), and he cites enough Biblical precedent and cultural understanding to back up that decision.

His take on Jesus is that

he couldn’t call God mother. It would have been too great a break with the existing culture…Calling God mother in a culture which considered women the property of their husbands would be like calling God ‘slave’ instead of ‘master.’ But of course, Jesus was about to change even the slavery image because he took on the form of a slave and forever changed our understanding of God. But naming God more directly as Mother waited upon the results of Jesus’ transforming model, the challenging of the war on women, and a culture where both mother and father are beginning to share the qualities and powers that were only ascribed to fathers in Jesus’ day (p. 144).

In his chapter “Bible Verses You Never Memorized,” Smith shows how even in a day and culture when women were in a decidedly inferior social position to men, the Biblical writers embraced feminine imagery for God. Here are just two from the Old Testament:

Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he the child I delight in? As often as I speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore, my womb trembles for him; I will surely have motherly-compassion upon him, says the Lord (Jer. 31:20).

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth (lit. ‘belly’ beten), carried from the womb (racham); even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save (Is. 46:3-4).

Smith also embraces the importance of fighting the commonly held assumption that God is, in fact, male. He writes:

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley wrote ‘Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth.’ Many more times in the life time of the average Christian…God is called Father, King, he him, his and himself. And each time, the deeply-imprinted, ‘felt’ masculine picture of God is subtly reinforced. No amount of explanation or reassurance that ‘we all know God is not male’ can prevent this felt image from profoundly embedding itself in our psyche. The sheer magnitude of the repetition of masculine words prevents any other image from getting a foothold.” (p. 152)

Yet, our image of God is key to our relationship to God, says Smith, and so said my spiritual director ten years ago. I think it is also key to our self-image. What does it mean to women (and men) that God is rarely described in feminine or female terms? We implicitly believe that God is described in male terms because to be masculine is to be powerful and competent—god-like—and to be feminine or female is not. Almost every church service reinforces this unspoken assumption.

And that is one reason the shift to Mother God can be difficult. Plus, there is such a tendency toward mother-blame and self-blame in moms and other women that we can struggle to see ourselves as anything at all like God.

Men may stumble over this as well. When I was in a doctor of psychology program, my proposed thesis was to find out how praying to God as Mother would change self-esteem in women over time. A professor questioned how we could see God as “Almighty Mother,” when I brought up that phrase as a title for God. He at first thought I felt dubious myself, but I was only pointing out the difficulty we have with seeing women as powerful. His own bias was so strong he couldn’t see my point. It seemed unthinkably paradoxical to him to even say such a thing: Almighty Mother? Yet I am sure he felt that way about his own mother when he was a child.

In fact, that may be the best way to imagine God as Mother: take Jesus’ advice and “become like little children” (Matt. 18:3). God can then come to us however She wants to.

What is your experience with God as Mother?

To Be or Not to Be Called a Feminist


Last week I read an article by a 14 year old girl named Anne G., entitled, “Feminism’s Not Dying, But it May be Changing a Little.” She brings a millennial perspective to a recent survey by HuffPost/YouGov which found that a majority of respondents (81%) claim that “women and men should be social, political, and economic equals.” Yet, only 20% embrace the term “feminist.” Notably, CBS polls show this has been true for the past 20 years—around 20% call themselves feminist, with a far higher number when feminism is defined as a belief in equality.

My first reaction to that statistic was pleasant surprise. I never expected that kind of strong minority to identify with such a radical term. “Feminist” is a committed word, like “evangelical.” It implies much more than the definition of feminism as “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” It brings to mind someone who is willing to apply that theory. Someone willing to make waves, speak up, change rules and laws, make people unhappy if necessary—an activist who is willing to talk about the hard stuff about the way women are treated in society, or in a family, and do something about it.

Alexandra at, notes that people are scared of feminists, because “the first harbinger of change” is “the women in protest, rejecting her assumed docility and with it our entire gendered world in its current form.”

I agree. A lot of men and women do not like the traditional “angry feminist.” These days she might be wearing high heels and lipstick and referring to her “girlfriends,” but it doesn’t matter. And that’s a part of the problem feminists address: men can get angry and still be good men–or not, but good women must exude sweetness and light, with a smiley face after any truth-telling statement. If we do not behave, there is a boat-load of nasty labels waiting for us. One of them might be “feminist.” 

Yet, it is the fighting spirit in women that has brought about the economic, political and social changes we benefit from, over the last 150 years. We act as though these have always been: women’s right to vote; to attend a university; to work outside the home in a variety of professions; to earn a (more) equal wage; to be (more or less) protected by the police when husbands and boyfriends abuse. All of these changes took place through women and men boldly, passionately, and intelligently speaking out in hostile environments. Susan Faludi says, “The meaning of the word ‘feminist’ has not really changed since it first appeared in a book review in the Athenaeum of April 27, 1895, describing a woman who ‘has in her the capacity of fighting her way back to independence.’”

I remember the moment I decided to become a feminist, in college, in 1989. I was sitting by a window in a class called “Music, Poetry and Ideas” taught by a feminist music professor. I knew her mainly as “pro-choice” because I was actively pro-life. As she spoke about the prevalence of husbands abusing wives, young men mistreating girlfriends, I felt deeply moved in a way that only a 20-year old can. I made a conscious decision to become a feminist and take the baggage with the term, which for me included being misunderstood on the issue of abortion and misunderstood by my evangelical community. But when I said “yes” to “feminist,” I said yes to women, to the never-ending discomfort of intentionally making myself aware of injustice against women, and to being sometimes stereotyped. I never expected to be in a majority.

Yet, in a sense, I now am. Another bit of happy news from that poll is that, thanks to feminists, 81% of those surveyed have a new normal when it comes to women–they expect equal rights in all spheres. In a CBS poll from 2009, 77% of women said their opportunities are greater than their mothers’ were, and they credit the women’s movement with that. In fact, 69% said the women’s movement “had improved their lives.” This is remarkable in that, in 1983, only 25% of women said the same.

The women’s movement was and is made of feminist activists. That brilliant 14-year old girl I mentioned in the first paragraph notes that a changing feminism flourishes among the Millennial generation. For example, her high school supports a Young Feminist Club and hosted a SlutWalk. (If you need to understand why feminists feel angry, read the SlutWalk link, an article by a man who walked with his boys.) Though she says that for her the term “feminist” is inconsequential compared to the ideology, for me, the word can be embraced by all who know there is still a lot to be pro-actively compassionate and angry about.

For just one example, the soil of the Internet has unearthed a new men’s movement (Men’s Rights Activists) that is not only about men’s rights, but is often actively misogynist. Woman-hate has in fact become so mainstream that Facebook didn’t object to ads promoting rape and violence against women until companies began removing their own ads in protest. And this is with Sheryl Sandberg in charge.

As Anne G. notes, even within the feminist movement itself, we need women’s voices speaking out, because there are ways to be more inclusive, ways to empower the women who are least likely to be heard, kinder ways to speak to each other. It’s okay for women to notice injustice, be angry about it, and voice it. It is the time-honored role of the prophetess or prophet to speak truth to power, or from places of power.

We need feminist men’s voices, too, as they are still more likely to actually be heard. We respect and honor a male feminist; they surprise and delight us; and they are out there doing the work, too.

Let’s keep the “feminist” label if we can wear it proudly, with an understanding of its amazing history—one that most of us appreciate. Being known as a feminist predictably means being misunderstood, marginalized or even despised, by some men and institutions that do not want the balance of power to change too much. And also, sadly, by some of the women who have benefited from the women’s movement.

That very resistance to us is why society still needs our unrelenting, prophetic—and righteously angry—feminist voices.

What do you think? Do you call yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

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