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ChurchWatch: Craig von Buseck

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june 22, 2006

"Mother, Child and Womb": Presbyterian Church (USA) Considers Alternative Names for the Trinity

Instead of the "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," some Presbyterian churches are now referring to the Holy Trinity as "Mother, Child and Womb".

According to the Associated Press, delegates to the national assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted this week to "receive" a policy paper on sex-inclusive language for the Trinity, a step short of approving it. Church officials are enabled to propose "experimental liturgies" with "alternative phrasings" for the Trinity, but congregations won't be required to use them. The vote was 282 to 212, with 7 abstentions.

Besides "Mother, Child and Womb" and "Rock, Redeemer, Friend," options now include:

• "Lover, Beloved, Love"
• "Creator, Savior, Sanctifier"
• "King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love"

"This does not alter the church's theological position, but provides an educational resource to enhance the spiritual life of our membership," legislative committee chairman Nancy Olthoff, an Iowa laywoman, said during debate on the changes.

The assembly narrowly defeated a conservative bid to send the paper back for further study, which would have killed it.

A panel that worked on the issue since 2000 said the classical language for the Trinity still should be used, but Presbyterians should seek "fresh ways to speak of the mystery of the triune God" to "expand the church's vocabulary of praise and wonder."

The language used for hundreds of years to describe the Father and Son "has been used to support the idea that God is male and that men are superior to women," the panel said.

Conservatives responded that the church should stick close to the way that God is referred to in the Bible and noted that the Lord's Prayer, which Christ instructed his followers to say, was addressed to "Our Father."

The delegates sang a revised version of the familiar Doxology, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" that avoids male nouns and pronouns for God.

Youth delegate Dorothy Hill, a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, protested that the paper proposing changing the language of the Trinity "suggests viewpoints that seem to be in tension with what our church has always held to be true about our Trinitarian God."

Miss Hill reminded delegates that the Ten Commandments say "the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name."

The Rev. Deborah Funke of Montana warned that the paper would be "theologically confusing and divisive" at a time when the denomination of 2.3 million members faces other troublesome issues.

By a vote of 298-221 (57% to 43%), the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) also voted to give local congregations and regional "presbyteries" leeway on ordaining clergy and lay officers living in homosexual relationships. Ten conservative Presbyterian groups have warned jointly that approval of what they call "local option" would "promote schism by permitting the disregard of clear standards of Scripture."

Related Blog: Episcopal Leaders Want to Have it Both Ways -- While Presbyterians (USA) Approve Homosexual Ordination

What do you think?: What are your thoughts on the ordination of openly gay ministers in the Episcopal and Presbyterian (USA) denominations in America?

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