In Defense of

In the May 2002 issue of the TCPC newsletter, James R. Adams, our much admired former president, presented an article entitled, “In Defense of ‘Lord’ in Liturgy.” His arguments boil down to: Men have been comfortable with excluding women from full humanity for millennia, so it must be all right with God; the men of the patriarchy used “Lord” for centuries, and St. Paul advocated the use of the word “Lord” in the first century, so what was right in ancient times must be right for all people at all times and in all places, forever and ever amen; and substituting the phrase “our God” for “the Lord” just doesn’t feel right to him.

Fr. Adams also slightly misquotes the etymology of the word “lord” as “hlaford.” Its true origin is “halfweard,” guardian of the loaf (cf. “warden”). The etymology of the word “lady” is “hlafdig,” maker of the bread — surely a far more appropriate term to apply to the Deity who supplies all our human needs. “Women can be lords,” Fr. Adams says plaintively, as though the word “lady” never existed, and he pretends that the former Prime Minister of England is known to one and all as Lord Margaret Thatcher. Why can’t women be content to be “absorbed” into the masculine, he asks, and continue to read the Scriptures from their long-accustomed position as outsiders, subhumans who are just not as much like God as men are?

In other words, according to Fr. Adams’s reasoning, the bald statements of fact of Genesis 1:27, Genesis 5:1-2, and Galatians 3:28, among other verses, ought to continue to be ignored by the androcentric hierarchy of domination of the religious Establishment. Fr. Adams presents no argument that God, being Spirit, has an omnipresent, invisible Phallus. He also presents no argument that 4,000 years of sacralized misogyny should be countered by naming God the Creator and God the Comforter as “Lady” — although the first- or second-century Gospel of Philip and the second- or third-century Thunder, Perfect Mind had no trouble with the idea.

It is obvious that Fr. Adams has given a good ten or fifteen minutes of reflection to why the status quo should continue to reign. What Fr. Adams may not have considered as carefully is the opinion of Jesus, or as he and his friends thought of himself, Yeshua bar Maryam — not “Lord,” but “son of Mary” (Mark 6:3). The Christian Testament makes it clear over and over that one of the principal reasons that God chose to unite Godself with humanity was to oppose and bring down human structures of power and domination. “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asks us sharply. “No one is good but God alone.”

Over and over, Jesus tells us that God is not Lord but Abba (or Amma), a Parent who loves each one of us as tenderly as a mother loves a cherished baby. Over and over, Jesus tells us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s; that God is to be found not among the rich, powerful, and lordly, but among sinners, the diseased, sex workers, and tax-usury goons — the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the abused, the forgotten. In the next life, Jesus tells us, the rich, the powerful, and the “noble” will suffer while the poor, the downtrodden, and the ignored will be comforted. In God’s Commonwealth, Jesus promises us, all human beings will live in the equality promised to humanity in Genesis 2, before human ignorance and heedlessness resulted in the patriarchy. (“Who did this?” asked God. “It was all her fault, she held a gun to my head and forced me to do it!” whined the man. So Yahweh rewarded the man’s pusillanimity with dominion over the woman — and thus men’s domination over women must be sacred.)

Like the one God, our liturgy ought to live, rather than to be preserved in its errancy like a prehistoric insect in amber. Let us refer to “our God,” not “the Lord.” Let us refer to the Human One and the Heir of Humanity described by Ezekiel, rather than continuing to sacralize the notion that women ought not to be allowed full humanity because “we’ve always done it this way.” Let us refer to the Scion, rather than to the Son. Let us refer to the Promised One or the Chosen One, rather than confuse parishioners who think anointing must be rather like basting a turkey. And when we re-translate the Nicene Creed to reflect what it actually said, versus what men thought it said in the seventeenth century, let us remember one very basic truth: If Jesus is indeed the Scion of a virgin, then the one fact we can never forget is that he was not “begotten” — only conceived.

Let us admit that, while God does not have an omnipresent, invisible Womb, God also does not have an omnipresent, invisible Phallus. Let us refer not to the outdated, irrelevant “Kingdom of God,” but to what the New Zealand prayer book calls “God’s commonwealth of peace and freedom.” Let us admit that Genesis 1:27, Genesis 5:1-2, and Galatians 3:28 — and other, similar verses — are right.

I say, if God is “Lord,” then Matthew 25:31-46 is a lie, and God is not to be found among the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, and those who are alien to us.

And I envision a new version of Luke 16: “In Hades, where he was being tormented, the man who preferred ‘Lord’ looked up and saw Sarah far away with Laetitia by her side. He called out, ‘Mother Sarah, have mercy on me, and send Laetitia to dip the tip of her finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Sarah said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you were comfortable with God’s ‘lord’-ship, and Laetitia had to be content to be ‘absorbed’ into the masculine, a second-class citizen. But now she is comforted here, and you are in agony. Suck it up, as you compelled her to suck it up.”

All praise be to God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer — one God and Mother of us all!

Topics: Arts and Music and Worship & Liturgy. Resource Types: Articles.

Review & Commentary