God is Not a Straight White Dude

God is not a dude.
God is not a man.
God is not a He.

Growing up, I was taught that “He” most certainly was all of those things—and it has taken decades to comprehend how toxic and dangerous and limiting an idea that was—and to have God right-sized in my head.

Imagining God as male, first creating a man (out of which was created a woman), not only justifies all sorts of misogyny and sexism both inside and outside the Church, but gives license to all manner of ignorance regarding the breadth of gender identity and sexual orientation that actually exists. So much of the fear-fueled violence Christians have generated toward LGBTQ human beings for centuries, comes from the limiting story we’ve told ourselves.

A Christian reader, incensed at my support for transgender human beings, recently left this comment on my blog; one of many variations on this theme:

“John, God knew what He was doing. He created people either male or female. That old, gay talking point of gender fluidity is so tired.”

Yes, that “old, tired, gay talking point” that Christians can’t stand—the one from the Bible.

It says all people are made in God’s image. Genesis’ creation story (the one these folks fervent cling to and defend to the death as literal and binding), quotes God as saying, 

“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26)

Humans are all made in the image of a God, who defines themselves in the act of creation—in plurality.

Some Biblical scholars contend this declaration of God as “us,” is actually a Trinitarian conversation (God, Son, and Holy Spirit talking to one another, for some unstated reason.) Others point to constraints in the translation from Hebrew to Greek, that demand a plural pronoun (a sort of royal “We.”) But even if one accepts one of these explanations as suitable for the word used, there is still a question to answer:

Is the God of the Bible, maker of Humanity—simply male or female?
If only male, then women couldn’t truly be made in God’s image.
If solely female, then men couldn’t.

The only way every disparate human being could be made in the likeness of God (if we’re to use the same Bible these homophobic/transphobic Christians use), is if God both transcends and encompasses gender. If God is both male and female and neither male nor female—then this God (to quote my reader) is a “tired gay talking point.”

The truth is, even though the Bible appears on the surface, to reflect a limited and binary understanding of human sexuality befitting its ancient genesis, it uses images of and language for God, that aren’t strictly male:

Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. – God, Isaiah 49:15

As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.  – God, Isaiah 66:13

But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. – David, speaking of God in Psalm 131:2

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.  Jesus, Matthew 23:37

Ruach, the name for the Spirit of God in the original Old Testament Hebrew is feminine. The femininity of God is everywhere: Divinity transcending one gender.

I know that for many Christians reading this, these words feel confrontational, provocative—and quite blasphemous. If you are among them, that may be an alarm, that you’re hearing something you know rings true and is challenging the lens you’ve looked at God and other people through for your entire life. I get how terrifying such an existential crisis can be, but that fear is worth facing and the verses worth studying and the idea worth entertaining—because ultimately, understanding God as a heterosexual man, shrinks God into something comfortable, something easily managed—and something far too small to be God, if we’re honest with ourselves.

If we really believe God made every human being who has ever walked the planet, and that each of these people bears the DNA of their Creator—there is simply no way this God could simply be male or cisgender-heterosexual.

Maybe this whole gender identity and sexual orientation thing is a little more complex and expansive than we can glean from a 4,000-year old poem, and maybe we should stop using it to destroy other people. Maybe, rather than shrinking God, we need to release God from that confining space inside our heads.

And as difficult as it is maybe we should expand our very image of God in a way that argues with our learned theology, because if we do, it might make us far more willing to treat the diverse humanity that crosses our paths—with the reverence and respect each one of them deserves—as made of God.

 

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38 thoughts on “God is Not a Straight White Dude

  1. Thank you for this article. I am supportive of all you are saying and go , perhaps, a step further in that when we define God in human terms, we God trivial and feel like we can control and demand and command god to meet our needs. My prayer life is not to ask God for anything other than life the fullest life I can and glorify God as it unfolds and thank God for all I experience the good, the bad and even the ugly. As an Episcopal Priest I often have disagreement with the prayers in our Book of Common Prayer.

  2. Thank you, John, for this article and the peace and sanity it brings me and countless others. Thank you for all you share. Appreciated more than I can say.

  3. Gender only exists to create species diversity in reproduction. Masculinity only exists because femininity exists. Asexual species do not have gender. Therefore, if God is a man, then there must have been a female. He must have had a mate. There must have been a female God.

    I find it odd that people can be so certain that God is a man, yet never ask themselves the obvious questions that would arise from that premise.

  4. Moving away from a “male-based” idea of God was a healing step for me. I believe God created everything and every human being in “his” image…………….strike the “his”…………God is greater than gender, God is greater than color……………… Any image of God – seeks to define/compartmentalize God ….. I understand that to be impossible. What helps me most is redefining God as a loving all encompassing entity greater than I can possible imagine who wants the best for me and everyone else, a God that is able, powerful, and true. Not limited in definition by anyone or anybody or any thing….

  5. Not to mention 1-2% of the world’s population is born Intersex, neither male nor female. Sometimes recognized as such at birth, other times not until infertility tests or chromosomal analysis is done. They too are made in God’s image.

  6. John can you explain then why not only does Jesus call God Father but instructs us to call Him Father. Image is more similar than exact. For instance our bodies are 3 dimensional while images are 2 dimensional. Some men look similar to women , some women are similar to men. How about twins one male one female both can look the same but be different genders. I’m sorry I feel your argument is week. I’ll side with Jesus.

  7. Reverend Keith Ward has made an interesting observation. The ancient Jews were not allowed to create a graven image of what God looks like because it is impossible for any man or woman to know what God looks like. Every attempt to do so would fail. Most likely, God looks like something that would be totally alien to how mere human beings might expect God to look.

    I think that is right.

  8. Pingback: God is Not a Straight Man – KitoDiaries

  9. John Eldredge makes a similar point in his book, Wild at Heart. The masculine heart has three desires: battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. The feminine heart also has three desires: to be loved , to be a priority to someone, and to unveil beauty.

    “And after years of hearing the heart-cry of women, I am convinced beyond a doubt of this: God wants to be loved. He wants to be a priority to someone. How could we have missed this? From cover to cover, from beginning to end, the cry of God’s heart is, “Why won’t you choose Me?” It is amazing to me how humble, how vulnerable God is on this point. “You will . . . find me,” says the Lord, “when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). In other words, “Look for me, pursue me — I want you to pursue me.” Amazing. As Tozer says, “God waits to be wanted.”
    ― John Eldredge, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul

    God’s heart demonstrates both the three core desires of the masculine heart and and the three core desires of the feminine heart. Recognizing this helped me understand Him better.

  10. It occurred to me while I was thinking about the beliefs I held that it made no sense for an omnipotent spiritual being to create an imperfect physical world. First of all this being would be completely ”self actualized” and therefore have no need to create companions. Second of all a perfect being would not be perfect if it made something imperfect. Finally this being as you mention created something in its own image and once again a physical being is far from the image of a spiritual being. The whole story of creation is simply an attempt by ancient people to explain their existence and is so full of logical inconsistencies that it cannot be taken seriously.

  11. “Some Biblical scholars contend this declaration of God as “us,” is actually a Trinitarian conversation … (a sort of royal “We.”) ”

    Even if this is so, it still says that mankind is made in God’s image, whether trinity, royal ‘we’ or whatever. This is the bit they ignore! 😀

  12. God is not a human being, but he who is God became a human being, a biologically male human being, born of a woman, under the law (Galatians 4:4; Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:5-11)—unless you’re going to deny that the Incarnation occurred as a fact of history, which would just confirm you to be a heretic rather than someone who is just confused and caught up in emotion.
    Further, by the citation of Genesis 1:26-28, you refuted your own assertion that there is something called “transgender”, since the imago Dei only resides upon that which God made to reflect him to himself and to each other: that which is male (zakar, biologically male) and female (neqebar, biologically female).
    And your ABUSE of a grammatically gendered language is positively criminal. By your logic a young girl, referred to in German as das Mädchen, which is grammatically neuter, has no gender.
    Of course, using that kind of absurd argumentation puts you at odds with Jesus who says of the Spirit (a grammatically neuter noun in Greek), that “He will convict the world concerning sin” (John 16:8)”.

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