The concept of father, in a church formed and influenced by patriarchy, aligns well with other qualities we have associated hopefully with males: mighty, disciplinary, just judges. Yet, our familial theology is missing more than a uterus when we only refer to God as father and not mother.
What difference would it make if we called God mother instead of only father?
1. It changes our theology
By entering into relationship with humankind in a fleshly, tangible way, God mothers us. As Hannah Shanks writes in her 2018 book This Is My Body, no matter how we are born, we all enter the world through breaking.
If we called God mother, we could better recognize that the ways God shapes and guides us are not primarily through words. The commandments are good, but parenting is really about action and response after the children have messed everything up again. The parent's words that mean the most are not those that tell us what to do, but that tell us what she does (I love you, no matter what). God is like a mother who shields us and advocates for us with her own body, her reputation, her everything. Mother God demands that others — even Jesus himself — recognize the worth of her children. The love of a mothering God extends to everybody else's children, in solidarity with other mothers, when God through Jesus expresses, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold” (John 10:16) or “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37)
Our mothering God loves and desires to embrace even the children who are not willing to be gathered in.
2. It questions how we treat mothers in the church
If we called God mother, we would be confronted by how we treat and how we speak to our own mothers and our “church mothers.” Is she there to pick up after me, do all my administrative work, and take whatever emotional steam I blow off in her direction? Do I treat God like that? Do we treat the worker-bee church mothers like that? Do we completely overlook the roles women must have played in biblical times? If we called God mother, we would have to acknowledge more often the incredible balancing acts mothers do all the time, and seek out those skilled multi-taskers for leadership. Instead of looking sideways at clergy mothers, assessing their split attention or empathy as liabilities, the church could recognize this is exactly the bold leadership we need. We would seek out bishops and senior leadership who are mothers and do not stifle it to excel in their positions. We would be proactive about creating life-giving family leave policies for all parents, leading the way instead of lagging behind other sectors.
3. It transforms the way we support mothers in public leadership
What leadership do followers of Jesus support in the civic realm? Our faith influences our values for public leadership. Followers who name and claim our God's mothering attributes would value empathy and determined protection of the vulnerable in our public leaders. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's iconic embrace of a mourning woman in the wake of the white supremacist terrorist shootings in her country and her emphatic vow to ban the weapons that were used would become our model, not the exception. We would advocate for robust “paid sick and safe time,” family leave legislation at all levels, and access to health care untethered to employment status because care-givers are working. We would recognize that there are no winners when some of our siblings are still endangered, and leaders who can put those children before their own political ambitions (as mothers must) deserve the role.
Christians can claim that God's power is made perfect in weakness but leaning more heavily on the image of a mothering God would push Christians to give the caregiving traits a higher value at the ballot box and in our advocacy work.