My brother asked me to write a response to an article in the Birmingham News about the Presbyterian Church USA’s acceptance of a report that would allow PCUSA churches to refer to the Trinity as “Compassionate mother, beloved child and lifegiving womb.” He posted my response on his blog, but I thought it would be good to post it here too…
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has recently validated a report entitled “The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing” which explores alternative terms for the persons of the trinity. Traditional the Church in its various forms (Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) have nearly all professed the triune God in terms of Father, Son and Spirit. The report from the PCUSA, which has been accepted by the denomination, gives churches within that tradition the freedom to describe the trinity as “Rainbow of Promise, Ark of Salvation and Dove of Peace” or “compassionate mother, beloved child and lif-giving womb” in their teaching and their liturgy.
Such an exploration into new terms for the members of the Trinity constitutes a stark theological turn for the PCUSA. The Church from its inception has used the formula – “Father, Son & Spirit” to describe the one, true living God. In the face of heresy in the fourth century, the Church created a creed in 325 AD—the Nicene Creed, which established a tradition and rule of faith regarding the triune nature of God. Specifically, the rule became that the members of the trinity are Father, Son & Spirit. The question to consider in reference to the recent action in the PCUSA is whether or not a reformulation is necessary or harmful.
The nature of the theological enterprise is such that requires Christian thinkers and leaders to constantly reword doctrinal statements in order to remain faithful to the missional call of the church to proclaim the truth of God through Christ to the world. The truth of the trinity does not change, but the cultural context does change. The challenge for theologians is to reword theological statements so that the words use communicate the meaning that they are intended to point back to without changing the truth itself.
The problem’s with the PCUSA exploration of new terms for the trinity, especially feminine terms does more than meet cultural expectation—it messes with the theology. Nothing is more sacred and more central to Christian theology than the Trinity. Any terms used to describe the persons outside of the biblical and creedal terms—Father, Son and Spirit—change the theology. For example, terms like “Rainbow of Promise and “Ark of Salvation” tend to reify the members of the trinity, making them things, instead of persons.
The most controversial of terms, that is, calling God the Father, “compassionate mother” also changes historical, orthodox theology in an unnecessary way. God is not a mother. Furthermore, God does not have a gender, so any attempt to make him more feminine (or masculine) is unnecessary. God does not have a gender, but God is a person and person’s have genders. So Jesus revealed God as Father, as a person with a personality. If Jesus had revealed God as Mother, then I would jump on the sacred feminine bandwagon, but he did not. God as revealed as “Father” does not imply that masculinity is of more value than femininity, but it is the manner in which Jesus revealed him to us and for me, I am sticking with Jesus.