The Power of God: “No Gender and All Genders at Once”

By Jessica Church ’21 M.Div.

Mother of the Mountains, Fire of Sinai, Ark of Safety—these are just a few divine titles from a new translation of scripture that I’ve contemplated lately in my worship and participation at the church I attend in Washington, D.C. At the start of this liturgical calendar, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church shifted its lectionary source to Episcopal priest and womanist scholar Wilda Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church.[1] For the next three years, we plan to read and pray and worship from this recent book, which builds from the ground up, offering fresh translations of images from biblical and deuterocanonical sources, with the goal of telling “the story of God and God’s people through the most marginalized characters in the text,” A worthy pursuit indeed.

I am full of awe for a God that contains multitudes, a God who is immeasurable and limitless. I do not worship a God of binaries. I worship a vast and expansive God.

This lectionary unapologetically centers women’s stories where they haven’t been centered before. We are asked to consider the matrilineal heritage of biblical figures and imagine prophecies directed at women. To cite one example, from Isaiah 60: Arise, daughter; shine, daughter; for your light has come, daughter. I’ve enjoyed reading these new translations that center women—it is always a gift to feel seen—but even more than delighting in the place of women, I have savored the various God names and divine titles found throughout the sacred texts.

Both Fierce and Playful

There are divine names that invoke comfort and others that appeal to God’s fierceness. Some I’ve heard before, while others are new to me (Warrior Protectrix!!). Many of these names are gendered female, like Mother of Creation. Others are not gendered at all. You might say that, with this practice, we are queering The Holy One, playing with genders and trying various identities on for size.

This playfulness and openness isn’t done out of irreverence. No, quite the opposite. I am full of awe for a God that contains multitudes, a God who is immeasurable and limitless. Put another way, I do not worship a God of binaries. I worship a vast and expansive God.

Hateful Policies

Great and fateful consequences flow from the divine images we choose to honor and uphold or reject—political consequences, ethical ramifications, graceful or lethal outcomes. This year the nation is facing a wave of anti-trans hostility. At least eight states have enacted dangerous anti-trans legislation into law already, and many others are considering it. The bills range from banning drag performance to outlawing gender-affirming care for minors. Though political ideology supplies the public rationale, at the root of all of it is a small, limited, and narrow-minded conception of God. Each piece of legislation that denigrates our trans siblings insults the vastness of God and all that God has created. Regrettably, these hateful policies are often thrust forward by people in the name of Christian faith. Let me tell you, it is not a version of Christianity I recognize.

It has been both a provocative and stirring exercise to play around with God’s pronouns in these times. Recently, I was assigned the task of writing a collect—a prayer to gather our intentions and focus the worship—for a particular Sunday service and, as I meditated on the week’s lectionary readings, a beautiful vision of God blossomed before me. This God hears our prayers and prickles at our pain, dances in our joy and quivers at our anger. This God is not male, but isn’t female either. This God is not just genderless, but simultaneously contains all genders and exists beyond and outside of gender.

“There Is Only God”

I do not always need God to be my Warrior Protectrix, but imagine the comfort that likeness brings when a person feels like they or their people are under attack. Or consider the way an embodied prayer to the Womb of Life might wrap someone in a warm, comforting embrace. When I think of the “future of God,” which itself is an idea that misapprehends God’s timelessness, I am led to consider the other ways that God shatters the boundaries of binary thinking—black and white, us and them, good and bad. There is no past or future of God. There is only God. And there is no male or female God. There is only God, at once male and female and all genders and no gender.

So it follows, if we take seriously that we are made in God’s image, imbued with the imago dei, then we as humans can embrace a fuller spectrum of humanity, including gender identity. That is precisely the power of God. To be no gender and all genders at once. Just as we acknowledge God’s expansiveness and timelessness, I am reminded that a world without trans people has never existed. They’ve been with us, many of them walking with us on a journey of faith, all along. It’s only a question of whether society is open enough to receive, accept, and love them in the fullness of their being.

You are divinely made. I am divinely made. Our divine images matter if we are going to embrace the full story and benevolence of God, our Mother of the Mountains, Fire of Sinai, and Ark of Safety.

Jessica Church ’21 M.Div. has extensive experience in political advocacy and campaigning, including work at End Citizens United, the National Women’s Law Center, the Poor People’s Campaign, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and the South Carolina Democratic Party. 

[1] Wilda C. Gafney, A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church (Church Publishing, 2021), p. xxiii.