Church of England considering gender-neutral terms as it says ‘God is neither male nor female’
Critics say the move would represent an abandonment of the Church’s own doctrine
The Church said it would explore the matter in a new project in the spring which will decide whether or not to propose any changes, although the specifics of the project are not yet clear.
The project has been launched in response to a question asked at synod by Rev Joanna Stobart, vicar of Ilminster and Whitelackington in Somerset at synod, about the progress on developing “more inclusive language” in services.
Any potential alterations would mark a departure from traditional Jewish and Christian teachings dating back millennia, and would have to be approved by synod, the Church’s decision-making body.
The Rt Rev Dr Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield and vice-chair of the liturgical commission responsible for the matter, said the Church had been “exploring the use of gendered language in relation to God for several years”.
He said: “After some dialogue between the two Commissions in this area, a new joint project on gendered language will begin this spring. In common with other potential changes to authorised liturgical provision, changing the wording and number of authorised forms of absolution would require a full Synodical process for approval.”
It is currently unclear what would replace the term Our Father in the Lord’s Prayer - the central Christian prayer which Jesus Christ is said to have instructed his followers to say together down the generations.
The potential changes have been hit with scrutiny by conservative critics, with the Rev Dr Ian Paul telling the Telegraph that they would represent an abandonment of the Church’s own doctrine.
He said: “The fact that God is called ‘Father’ can’t be substituted by ‘Mother’ without changing meaning, nor can it be gender-neutralised to ‘Parent’ without loss of meaning.
“Fathers and mothers are not interchangeable but relate to their offspring in different ways. If the liturgical commission seeks to change this, then in an important way they will be moving the doctrine of the Church away from being grounded in the scriptures.”
A spokesman for the Church of England said: “This is nothing new. Christians have recognised since ancient times that God is neither male nor female, yet the variety of ways of addressing and describing God found in scripture has not always been reflected in our worship.
“There has been greater interest in exploring new language since the introduction of our current forms of service in contemporary language more than 20 years ago. As part of its regular programme of work for the next five years, the Liturgical Commission has asked the Faith and Order Commission to work with it on looking at these questions.
“There are absolutely no plans to abolish or substantially revise currently authorised liturgies, and no such changes could be made without extensive legislation.”