When The Faith We Sing was first released, containing inclusive language and images for God in six different songs, there was a short-lived protest against the collection. The songbook has gone on to enjoy solid sales in the denomination and continues to sell well. In examining the collection, including these six songs, I was able to identify only one song that broke new theological ground in the songs that we sing. That new ground was no. 2122, "She Comes Sailing on the Wind," in which for the first time in a collection intended for United Methodist congregations, the text referred to the Holy Spirit with a feminine pronoun. (See "The Holy Spirit, She")
What does it mean to refer to God as father, mother, he, she, "womb of life," or any other gender-specific term? Are we saying that God is male or female? Are we saying that God's characteristics include the physical presence of X and Y chromosomes? Obviously not. What we are saying is that we humans experience and know God in different ways that sometimes resemble human characteristics and relationships that are both male and female. Perhaps it is appropriate to use both when talking about God.
How will these images and metaphors inform current and future United Methodist congregational singing? I expect more examples of gender-inclusive language in future hymns, hymnals, and songbooks. I expect composers and hymn writers will increasingly explore a variety of images. United Methodists of good faith and standing do not all agree on this issue, but I believe they will include this language in their hymns, songs, choir anthems, and solos.
May we remember that hymn and song language -- pronouns, images, metaphors -- are a reflection on the human experience and perception of God and not a claim on the physical nature of God which, of course, transcends such matters. Genesis 1:27 tells us, "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." Our male-ness and female-ness are the very image of God. Should our hymns and songs reflect anything other?