Church of England plans to make God ‘gender neutral’ are opposed by almost two-thirds of the public, an exclusive poll for MailOnline shows.
Breaking with centuries of tradition, bishops announced earlier this month that they are launching a major ‘project on gendered language’ this spring.
It may suggest that priests can stop using the male pronouns ‘He’ and ‘Him’ when referring to God in some prayers, or even that they can drop the famous phrase ‘our Father’ from the start of the Lord’s Prayer.
But polling by Redfield and Wilton Strategies for this website found that 65 per cent of the public were against the plan, with just 15 per cent supporting it.
Support for the move varied with age, with support of more than a quarter (26 per cent) of 18 to 24-year-olds, but just six per cent of those aged 55-64.
Such a radical rewriting would have to be agreed by the whole of the church’s governing body, the General Synod, and would be fiercely resisted by traditionalists for breaking away from the words of the Bible.
The landmark move was revealed in a question presented to the committee that develops the wording used in church services, called the Liturgical Commission.
The Rev Joanna Stobart, a vicar in the diocese of Guildford, Surrey, said that some clergy want to refer to God without saying He or Him, particularly in prayers of forgiveness for sins.
She asked: ‘Please could the Liturgical Commission provide an update on the steps being taken to develop more inclusive language in our authorised liturgy and to provide more options for those who wish to use authorised liturgy and speak of God in a non-gendered way, particularly in authorised absolutions where many of the prayers offered for use refer to God using male pronouns?’
In response, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev Michael Ipgrave, said: ‘We have been exploring the use of gendered language in relation to God for several years, in collaboration with the Faith and Order Commission.
‘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.’
The proposal was welcomed by a group that campaigns for ‘gender justice’ in the Church of England.
But Synod member Rev Dr Ian Paul said: ‘The fact that God is called ‘Father’ can’t be substituted by ‘Mother’ without changing meaning, nor can it be gender-neutralized to ‘Parent’ without loss of meaning. Fathers and mothers are not interchangeable but relate to their offspring in different ways.
‘If the Liturgical Commission seek to change this, then in an important way they will be moving the doctrine of the Church away from being ‘grounded in the Scriptures’.’
He added that although male pronouns have always been used to refer to God, Christians do not believe that God has a specific gender.
‘The Bible uses feminine imagery and metaphors of God, but primarily identifies God using masculine pronouns, names, and imagery. Male and female imagery is not interchangeable,’ he said.