Episcopal Committee Hears Call to Revise Book of Common Prayer, Replacing Masculine Terms for God, Mankind

Photo Credit: Gary Bridgman

AUSTIN, Texas — A committee tasked with hearing desired revisions to the Book of Common Prayer listened to remarks on Wednesday from Episcopalian leaders and others who want to make the historical book’s text more gender-neutral by removing masculine nouns and pronouns for God and mankind. Some Episcopalians disagree, and have presented a resolution asking that no changes be made to the book, but rather that deeper devotion be given to the existing text.

“As long as a masculine God remains at the top of the pyramid, nothing else we do matters. We construct a theological framework in which we talk about gender equality … then we say that which is most holy in the universe is only and exclusively male. That just undoes some of the key theology that says we are equal in God’s sight, we are fully created in God’s image,” Wil Gafney, a Hebrew Bible professor at Brite Divinity School in Texas, who is among those calling for the change, told The Washington Post.

According to the Episcopal News Service, among those who spoke before the “Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169” (referring to a 2015 resolution calling for the changes) were two women who identify as men, Ian Stanford of the Diocese of Oregon and the Cameron Partridge of the Diocese of California. They asserted that gendered language is an hindrance to the youth that they seek to bring into the church.

Stanford said that she was worried about how the young people will receive the language they hear during the services.

“What am I inviting them into?” she asked.

Kathleen Moore, a seminarian from the Diocese of Vermont, similarly told the committee that gender specific language is an impediment to her work to reach youth.

“Let’s let God be God,” she said.

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Rowan Pantalena, who identifies as “non-binary transgender” and a candidate for the Diocese of Connecticut, contended, “I am not your brother or your sister. I am your sibling.” Pantalena asked for language that would expand on the existing text, rather than a complete overhaul.

The listening period took place during the 79th General Convention, which will continue through July 13. A subcommittee regarding how to move forward has now been formed, citing two proposed resolutions, one of which specifically calls for “inclusive and expansive language” in the Book of Common Prayer.

“That the 79th General Convention recognize the urgent pastoral and evangelical need for revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, particularly in regard to the use of inclusive and expansive language for humanity and divinity, continuing work which began even as the 1979 BCP was being developed,” Resolution 36 reads.

Read the resolution in full here.

However, while some support the concept of revising the Book of Common Prayer, others have presented a resolution to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music that calls for deeper study of the Book within congregations for the next three years.

It asks that the “Episcopal Church … devote the next triennium to deep engagement with the structure, content, language and theological thrust of The Book of Common Prayer (1979), with a view to increasing the Church’s familiarity with the book in its entirety; and directs the SCLM to develop materials to aid local dioceses, congregations, seminaries, and schools in the process of this deep engagement, focusing particularly on the use of the Prayer Book as an instrument for the catechesis and spiritual formation of the whole people of God.”

Read Resolution 69 in full here.

As previously reported, in 2015, when a group of women known as WATCH moved for the Church of England to start referring to God as a “she” during the weekly liturgy, stating that to make mention of God solely in the male pronoun is sexist, some expressed strong opposition.

“Referring to God as ‘mother’ drives a horse and cart through Scripture. Such an innovation is guaranteed to split the C of E as never before,” wrote Damian Thompson in the Daily Mail.

“Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has warned us that the church could be extinct in 25 years’ time unless services become more spiritually fulfilling. Calling God ‘she’ will not achieve that fulfillment,” he stated. “The proposed twist of language will do nothing to stop the decline of Christian faith in this country. On the contrary, it will make worshippers squirm. And nothing empties pews faster than that.”

1 John 4:14 reads, “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.”

Jesus also said in John 15:26, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me.”

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