I had just arrived at the dinner table this evening, having finished up my reading of Katia Adams’ Equal and Lucy Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women. Both are remarkable works that, through careful exegesis, conclude that women and men are uniquely suited for equal roles of leadership and authority in the life of the church. As I joined my wife and daughter for a simple supper, my head was still spinning from two of their opening lines. Adams asserts that the “whole world is waiting for Christians to stand up and lend their voice to bringing freedom and equality to both men and women.” Peppiatt declares that “there is an increasing conviction that the Christian faith, rightly understood, contributes to the overturning of an entrenched patriarchal order in the world.”
This “entrenched patriarchal order” that Peppiatt speaks of was formed by powerful men, reinforced by powerful men, and, to this day, is accepted as doctrinal truth by many American Christian women and men. While I’m with Adams and Peppiatt in their biblical take on gender equity, I’m left to wonder: when we’ve gotten it so wrong for so long, is the world really waiting on Christians to get this right? Or has it moved on? And when you consider even a few of the egregious statements by the original purveyors of Christian theology, can we blame the world from moving on if it has?
Men should not sit and listen to a woman…even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is the of little consequence, since it came from the mouth of a woman. ~Origen
And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On accoung of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die. ~Tertullian
…the (female) sex is weak and fickle…. ~Chrysostom
. . . the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that that whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred separately to her quality of help-meet, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God; but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one. ~Augustine
With these thoughts in mind, I directed a question at my daughter: “Do you think it’s okay for women to be pastors?”
“Of course,” she responded without delay. With the accompaniment of many other strong women pastors and leaders, we’ve been raising her to be an alpha female. Her theology on this issue is solid.
“Do you think God is a man?” was my next question. This one stumped her a bit more.
“Well, Jesus was a man. And God is referred to as “he” in the Bible. So…maybe….” It was more of a question than a statement.
Since that conversation, I’ve been wondering about the construction of God that led the early fathers to assume and then indoctrinate the idea of the superiority of men over women. Did they believe that God was a man? Peppiatt explores this question in detail, concluding that the use of the male pronoun for God is not a gender assignment, but is an emphasis on “the experience of the presence of God, (and) the idea of God’s nearness, protection, watchfulness, and even embrace….” Again, I like her exegesis, but it doesn’t get to how God was perceived by the patriarchs.
Six years ago, I sat in the home of Haddasseh Fromman. She is the widow of Rabbi Manachem Fromman who was referred to throughout the Middle East as the “Peacemaking Rabbi.” Her influence on contemporary Judaism within Israel is as strong, if not stronger, than his ever was. There is one moment from that encounter that has stuck with me. In a conversation about peacemaking in the midst of the conflicts we find ourselves in, she said, “Our understanding of the divine is far too informed by maleness. ‘God is a warrior.’ ‘God is a vengeful judge and a stern father.’ If we’re going to join the divine in healing the world, then we must discover the Mother Heart of God.”
I had no idea what she as talking about.
The image of God I had been given and had been reinforced through mentors and literature was that God was white, male, and powerful. I had never questioned the incompleteness nor implications of the “Father” image of God…I had no reason to. First, I was privileged to be cherished by my dad and the experience shaped my understanding of God as a good, kind, loving Father. Second, I knew that the Scriptures were written and compiled by men in patriarchal contexts and featured a lot of men. Third, as a dominant culture male, this understanding of God served me well. Why question it?
Yet her comment struck a chord for me and propelled me into a journey that is remaking my understanding and experience of God. As we consider again the maternal attributes of God that Peppiatt lists out for us, as well as the ways in which Jesus subverted misogyny in every encounter with women, perhaps we will discover that rather than gender-less, God is gender-full. If we do, then maybe we’ll also encounter the Mother heart of God in a way that will dismantle the patriarchy that has atrophied our souls. The Mother heart of God received not as a replacement to the Father image, but as completion to it could cause us to become what the world is looking for.
Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.” ~Julian of Norwich
 Katia Adams, Equal: What the Bible Says about Women, Men, and Authority. David C. Cook, 2019. 24.
 Lucy Peppiatt, Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts. IVP, 2019. 2.
 Origen, Fragments on 1 Corinthians. https://steveharris0.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/origen-on-1-corinthians-fragments-1-5-11-english.pdf (Accessed March 16, 2020).
 Peppiatt, 21.
 Ibid., 19-20.