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Male and Female You Created Us?

In NZ Anglicanism, the most-used Great Thanksgiving (the Eucharistic Prayer which consecrates the bread and wine of Holy Communion) has the words addressed to God:

male and female you created us

page 421 of A New Zealand Prayer He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa

In this prayer, these words date from 1984. They ring odd four decades later in a world where we realise that binary gender is often an unhelpful oversimplification and for many, many people, hurtful.

Priests and bishops in our Church vow and sign that they will use (and believe) the formularies. I have had conversations with clergy in a quandary: very conscious that this presupposition of binary gender is inaccurate, aware of members of the congregation who reject this and for whom it is painful, and yet very conscious of their own commitment to authorised common prayer, that clergy are praying and leading the prayer of the church.

From the 1966 revision to 1970, the line was, “you have created all things from the beginning and made man in your own image.” In developing drafts, this became “…and made us in your own image” (1980), “…formed us in your likeness” (1981), and then “…formed us in your own image” (1982-83). It was in 1984 that the line “male and female you created us” was added to the drafts by the Prayer Book Commission. [see my thesis, The Anglican Eucharist in New Zealand 1814-1989, pages 105ff] This is the same time as the same clause was added to Eucharistic Prayer 1 of The Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada.

I suspect some people found the biblical line a helpful stress to add in a time when liturgical language was moving away from its masculine presuppositions (“made man in your own image”), and saw it as emphasising that females are equal to males in the imaging of God. The interruption to the poetic rhythm of this prayer by the new addition would have been seen as a small price to pay for the stressing of gender equality.

But its repetition for four decades has grown tiring. And it now grates.

Nowadays, some clergy are unaware of the deep issues around assuming gender is binary and naively continue proclaiming this line. Others have long tired of this prayer and are using another Eucharistic Prayer or rite. Yet others ignore their Church agreement and vows in a different way to skipping this line by drawing on prefaces from Roman Catholicism, Canadian Anglicanism, the Church of England, or elsewhere.

Underneath this discussion is the biblical source of the line itself: Genesis 1:27.

There is nothing revolutionary about questioning the historicity of the poetic myth of Genesis 1 – such questioning is fairly middle-of-the-road, standard scholarship. But, many in the pews do not encounter this from the pulpit (read “protected from”).This often means that many think they are having “doubts” when, in fact, they are holding positions standard in contemporary scholarship. Move beyond church-goers, and many people see their acceptance of evolution as an irrefutable argument against Christianity. They are not easily dissuaded from their position: I am not aware of an Anglican diocesan bishop in NZ who has very publicly said that they accept evolution.

In a recent discussion I was part of online, I was castigated that I as a priest was questioning that every part of the Bible is inerrant. When pressed, most of these people retreated to limiting the Bible being inerrant about “faith and morals” and others to “salvation issues”, and they had to acknowledge that there are errors beyond those “certainties”.

I have no problem with my ordination vow:

Bishop: Do you believe that the Bible contains all
that is essential for our salvation,
and reveals God’s living word in Jesus Christ?

Candidate: Yes, I do.
God give me understanding in studying the Scriptures.
May they reveal to me the mind and heart of Christ,
and shape my ministry.

A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa – Ordination of Priests (page 905)

But, I do not accept that there is a dome over the earth, with water above it (Genesis 1:6), nor that the Sun came into existence after plants, or that there were days and nights before there was a Sun (Genesis 1:14-19). If I can question these things in the mythic poem of Genesis 1, I see no reason why challenging that God created clearly-defined, black-white, no-spectrum “male and female” binary gender in this same poem would suddenly be beyond the pale.

The solution is simple: delete the clause “male and female you created us” from the Eucharistic Prayer. The process for this deletion is set out here.

There is precedence. The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has previously altered our formularies by removing a few words. In 2010, the Church confirmed the deletion of the words “the handicapped” from page 463 of the Prayer Book where the text had previously had us pray

for all who through their own or other’s actions are deprived of fulness of life, 
for prisoners, refugees, the handicapped, and all who are sick;

By 2010, it was seen to be an unacceptable way to speak, two decades after it had seemed fine.

That is increasingly the case with the understanding of gender. By deleting the words “male and female you created us”, in the breadth of Anglican diversity this would not disallow those who sought to hold to a belief in clear binary division of gender from doing so. Removal of the words will improve the poetic rhythm of the prayer. Removing the words will pastorally include those praying the prayer (the presider and the gathered community) who struggle to or do not identify with male or female; and it includes those who advocate for them.

There is a Catch 22 to all this, and it is present whenever formularies are changed, or people advocate for a change. As I’ve indicated, bishops and priests not only vow and sign that they will comply with the Church’s formularies, they declare that the formularies express their beliefs. How can you both affirm the belief and press for its change? This dilemma has been present many times when the formularies have changed – I would be interested in any writings about this.

The Church has struggled for years with heated gender and sexuality arguments, resulting in acrimony and division. Many will not want to continue this discussion. But this will not go away.

[There is, currently, a solution for those who wish to use this Eucharistic Prayer without the line: Alternative Great Thanksgiving A to which I contributed. The discussion about gender as well as the discussion about use or adaptation of authorised texts, which the above post highlights, remains with us.]

There is discussion about this in a variety of places – the Facebook General Synod Hinota Whanui page is one of the best

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8 thoughts on “Male and Female You Created Us?”

  1. Male and female, He created (them) is also in Genesis. No Christian should have an issue with this. The Decepter, the Evil One, confuses people, too many who are easily misled.

    1. It does help, Daniel, if you actually read something before you comment on it, or you might find that you are deceived, confused, and easily misled.
      It also might help if you read your own comments before posting – the confused grammar of your third sentence might misleed people.

  2. Mikaere Greenslade

    Kia ora Bosco

    What you have written is a wonderful challenge for us. It caught me unawares, and my response has been deep and immediate. Of course. Thank you.

  3. “ they declare that the formularies express their beliefs. How can you both affirm the belief and press for its change? This dilemma has been present many times when the formularies have changed – I would be interested in any writings about this.”

    The formularies can suggest our belief is static, but I suspect a lawyer could argue well that the church has never had static belief, rather it grows, or changes, or alters over time. I would hope that no deacon, priest or bishop enters ordained life believing their beliefs will be static. To be static doesn’t say much for the Holy Spirit’s work in an individuals life or the life of the Body of Christ. We have a fairly long history of allowing Revelation to change us too. At times, we are simply wrong. For example revelation has told us the world is round.

    This is a long way of saying, I don’t think the formularies are what holds us back. Rather we simply struggle with change at all levels.

    I appreciated your thoughts.

    I agree that that line can go.

    For now, my solution is to use one of the many other services.

    1. Thanks, Dion. I very much agree about growth in our faith and its expression. It is important that this be expressed often so that people do not fear change – in their own lives, and in the community. Blessings.

  4. I really like both your take, Bosco, on this issue and Dion’s take on the nature of belief! As a transgender transitional deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada, I feel excluded each time this Eucharistic prayer is chosen and I plan to avoid it when my turn comes to preside. I also marvel at the incomprehension and stubbornness of church leaders who decry the missing young people in the pews even as they (sometimes unwittingly, other times knowingly) insist on using such problematic liturgies.

    1. Thanks for your affirming comment, Brynn. It is good to publicly hear from someone directly impacted by these words. I have had plenty of affirmation privately. God bless your ongoing life and ministry.

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