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Episcopal Church considers adding gender-neutral language regarding God to its book of prayers

The Episcopal Church will consider adding gender-neutral language to its Book of Common Prayer at its convention in Austin. (Getty Images)

The Episcopal Church will consider whether to add gender-neutral language regarding God to its Book of Common Prayer at its 79th General Convention, which starts Thursday in Austin, Texas.

The debate is centered on making sure that the faith's prayer book is clear that God, the supreme being, is genderless. The proposed changes will be considered at the eight-day convention, the Washington Post reported.

The church has always addressed God through the use of masculine terms such as Him, Father, and King, among others.

In the New Testament, Jesus taught his disciples to pray using male pronouns.

"And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth," Jesus said in Luke 11:2.

What are the resolutions?

One resolution asks for a complete overhaul of the Book of Common Prayer. The most common reason for the changes is gender-neutral language, according to the Post.

Others want to add language that includes a Christian’s duty to conserve the Earth; a ceremony to celebrate the adoption of a transgender person's new name; same-sex marriage ceremonies since the church has been performing such weddings for years; and updating the calendar of saints to include important figures named as saints since 1979,  the Post reported.

It could take several years to complete the revision if passed. The book wouldn't be ready for use until 2030, according to the church. It's been 39 years since the last revision.

The other resolution asks for the church to forgo updating the Book of Prayer, which has roots back to the first Anglican prayer book which was published in 1549.

Instead, it calls for the church to spend the next three years studying the existing book.

What do those in favor of the revisions say?

The Rev. Wil Gafney told the Post that she sometimes changes the words of the Book of Common Prayer when she preaches. She uses words such as "Creator" or Ruler" in place of "King" or replaces "He" with "She."

Episcopal priests aren't formally allowed to change the language.

“As long as ‘men’ and ‘God’ are in the same category, our work toward equity will not just be incomplete. I honestly think it won’t matter in some ways,” Gafney, a professor of the Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, said.

Gafney sits on the committee that is recommending a change to the gendered language in the prayer book.

What do the critics say?

Chicago Bishop Jeffery Lee, who supports the second resolution, told the newspaper that the Book of Common Prayer "really constitutes the Episcopal church in significant ways. Our theology is what we pray."

Lee told the Post he believes the church should listen to the women who are asking for gender-neutral language.

"In the culture, the whole #MeToo movement, I think, has really raised in sharp relief how much we do need to examine our assumptions about language and particularly the way we imagine God," he said. "If a language for God is exclusively male and a certain kind of image of what power means, it's certainly an incomplete picture of God. We can't define God. We can say something profoundly true about God, but the mystery we dare to call God is always bigger than anything we can imagine."

What else?

The Reform Jewish movement changed its language regarding God to gender-neutral terms in 2007.

The United Methodist Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have also debated the use of gender-related language for God.

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