For Christian feminist theologians fighting patriarchy within the church and within the larger Christian religious tradition, the patriarchal image of God is an issue of primacy. As many battles as feminists and egalitarian reformers may win, whether it be the ordination of women or a simple revocation of the one-sided dictate for wives to submit to their husbands, the ultimate head of the church remains a patriarchal deity. Woman remains therefore, symbolically if not spiritually and practically, subordinate to man. To reconcile this inequity between man and woman as imago Dei, theologians have turned to the scriptures (canonical and apocryphal) and to the history of scriptural interpretation and lived faith to determine whether Christianity is an intrinsically patriarchal tradition or if it has simply been hijacked by men “who have made God in their own image” (Engelsman 1994, 156). If god is not wholly male, in image and in nature, then the Christian tradition is not intrinsically patriarchal and can evolve to meet modern standards of equality.
This post will not explore the concept of the Judeo-Christian god as a necessarily literal being having a set gender or nature. Herein the concept of god will receive treatment as a mythic character, subject to the mores of changing culture and evolving tradition. The nature of this god is best described as unknowable, transcending understanding, without limitation. Therefore, when we speak of the gender of god we are speaking not of literal gender but of the metaphors used to describe some divine attribute in a way that humankind can relate to it. When exclusively male-gender god metaphors are used, women are excluded from the central religious body and relegated to a lower spiritual standing than men. If female-gender god metaphors exist, and have existed from the beginning of the tradition, then the patriarchy of the current tradition is a construct not of the founders of the faith but of later men with an agenda and ideology askew of the tradition’s original intent.