BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day, led by Dr Revd Sam Wells on 10/03/2020

Good morning. Near the end of our Sunday service at St Martin’s we often have a slot called ‘Ask the Vicar.’ On Sunday a 14-year-old girl enquired, ‘Is God a woman?’

It’s not easy being a 14-year-old girl today. Many assert that the differences between the sexes are superficial; the world is there for your taking. Some maintain that there is a difference between men and women – suggesting women often have a caring side that men sometimes lack. Many lament the daily stories of powerful men who create a work or social environment that’s hostile for women. Others promote expectations about body image and attractiveness that seem unachievable. And insistent voices, questioning binaries, consider gender a self-designated rainbow with a myriad variety of identity and expression.

I sensed all of these pressures and ponderings behind this four-word question, ‘Is God a woman?’ What I answered was, ‘If you think of the differences between men and women as superficial, you’re likely to consider God beyond gender. It’s true that Jesus was a man and referred to his Father in heaven, but God as Trinity is neither male nor female. But if you sense that there are characteristics, such as care and nurture, that are more often female than male, then if you had to choose a sex for God, it would probably be female, because God cares for us utterly and eternally.’

As I reflected on the young woman’s question, my mind went back to why the early church grew so fast in the first century after Christ. You might wonder why an obscure story about a prophet who rose from the dead had so much appeal around the Mediterranean. Until you realise that in Roman society, the head of the household owned the bodies of all who dwelt in it – women, children, slaves; and he could assert that ownership any time and any way he wished. The people who joined the early church in such remarkable numbers were, in many cases, women and slaves. It’s not hard to see why. They saw Christianity as liberation from the oppression of Roman society: oppression that put their bodies in jeopardy every day.

When did it happen that Christianity stopped being associated with liberation and sanctuary from those who would control the body, and became synonymous with new forms of control? The dynamism that kicked Christianity off was a power in which women found they were valued and respected like nowhere else and like never before. What became of that power?

Maybe my questioner was really asking, ‘Is there a place in the church, or the world, for someone like me?’ I suspect she was somewhat surprised to hear the answer, ‘Yes.’