If you’ve ever thought it was odd that God was always given male pronouns when God seems bigger than all that, the Church of Sweden agrees. In late November, the church decided to stop referring to God as “Him” or “the Lord.” But when it comes to the gender of God, not everyone is convinced God’s not male.
On Nov. 23, the 251-member ruling body of the Church of Sweden made the decision to refer to Yahweh as “God,” rejecting the masculine words like “He” or “Lord.” Church of Sweden spokesperson Sofija Pedersen said about the gender of God:
We talk about Jesus Christ, but in a few places we have changed it to say ‘God’ instead of ‘he.’ We have some prayer options that are more gender-neutral than others.
Current head of the church Archbishop Antje Jackelen defended the decision. She was elected in 2013 as Sweden’s first female archbishop. Archbishop Jackelen said, “Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations. God is not human.”
And she’s not wrong — not that an Archbishop would be about religious matters. In Hebrew, there is no gender-neutral pronoun. So while in the original text, God does have masculine pronouns, so do books, for example. In Hebrew, the word for “animal” is feminine — so whenever an animal is referred to, it’s as “she,” regardless of the actual gender of the animal.
Even the Catholic Church agrees God has no gender — even though it uses male pronouns. The catechism says, “God is neither man nor woman: He is God.” (The Church of Sweden is Lutheran.)
According to Archbishop Jackelen, the change in language had been discussed as early as 1986.
The move has had its detractors. Associate theology professor at Lund University in Sweden Christer Pahlmblad said the move “[undermined] the doctrine of the Trinity and the community with the other Christian churches.”
He added, “It really isn’t smart if the Church of Sweden becomes known as a church that does not respect the common theology heritage.”
But is tradition a good enough reason for imprecise language?
The change will officially be made May 20, during Pentecost.
Featured photo of Archbishop Antje Jackelen by Jan Norden courtesy of the Church of Sweden