Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

“God the Father is not male”: A Q&A with Rev. Dr. Amy Peeler

Photo courtesy of the Rev. Dr. Amy Peeler
Photo courtesy of the Rev. Dr. Amy Peeler

Rev. Dr. Amy Peeler spoke last Thursday, November 2 about her recent book, “Women and the Gender of God,” as part of this year’s Unlearn Week and the ongoing Healthy Dialogue Series. Dr. Peeler is a professor of New Testament Studies at Wheaton College and an ordained Episcopal priest. For those who didn’t attend, Chimes held a short Q&A with Dr. Peeler after her talk. 

Chimes: How would you distill your message for people who didn’t have the chance to attend your talk?

Dr. Peeler: I think I would say this. God the Father is not male. All humans are made in the image of God, and when we pay attention to the story of Mary, we learn the ways in which God values women.

Chimes: How do you see that message fitting in with the ideas behind Unlearn Week?

Dr. Peeler: Well, I think what I’m talking about here today is really a bias, an unexamined assumption that God is masculine. I think that’s kind of underneath the surface for a lot of people, and that we need to exhume that bias and get rid of it. I didn’t spend much time thinking about it, but the fact that Mary and Jesus are Jewish, that they are oppressed people in the Roman Empire, that’s also something we can never forget about our story.

Chimes: What inspired you to study this topic?

Dr. Peeler: First and foremost, I love studying the New Testament, and I had noticed the amazing truth that God is our Father. But I also was reading and talking to people who said, “That’s a complicated thing. There’s problems when that language is misapplied.” So the tension of putting those things together: feminist theology’s critiques of masculine language, and yet the goodness of the fact that God is our Father. I also was very motivated by students who have a lot of questions about their embodiment and where they find their place in Christianity. Those are the two things that have motivated my work.

Chimes: What would you say to someone who’s never thought about God in this way? 

Dr. Peeler: For someone, and I encounter people like this all the time, and this is beautiful, someone who says, “Wow, I’ve never been bothered by ‘Father’ language, or I’ve never investigated these topics.” I think it is an act of compassion to realize that for some Christians, this is really tough. It could be that they had a bad experience with their father, and therefore this language is hard. Or if they’re female and they don’t see themselves in God, that’s hard. And so if someone is not bothered, you can celebrate that and say, “Oh, I’ve never had to wrestle with this,” and yet then have the compassion that there are probably people sitting around you who have really struggled with this.

Chimes: What are other ways the perception of God as male can harm our theological understanding?

Dr. Peeler: So I’ve stated it could be harmful for women because women might feel excluded. It could be harmful for men who may get the idea that, wow, if I’m more like God, that might be a temptation to kind of lord over others. Or, wow, if I’m supposed to be more like God, men will find themselves falling short and feeling like they’re failing at that. So I think any system by which one group of humans is elevated against another group of humans, everybody loses, both those at the bottom and those at the top. Humans don’t usually do well in hierarchical situations. 

Chimes: What makes your message an important one for the Calvin community in particular to hear?

Dr. Peeler: I think as Christian college students, especially at a place like Calvin, where you are given such a rich education, once you leave this place, your neighbors and your coworkers will find out you’ve gone to such a respected Christian college, and they will ask you theological questions. And I think this is a persistent one –– how does Christianity deal with gender? 

And so while you’re here in college, to be equipped with a solid response or to know of good resources, to say to that neighbor or colleague, “hey, Christianity is good news for all people”–– it’s a pressing cultural question that will come to those of us whom people learn, hey, you’re from a Christian background.

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    Peter RuarkFeb 1, 2024 at 10:56 pm

    I love that Calvin University is bringing in speakers like this to challenge the orthodox and prevailing views on campus regarding gender. I don’t think that was happening in the 1980s when I attended there.

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    Amy storyNov 7, 2023 at 6:33 pm

    Queen STORY