Dear friends,

Jesus calls God His Father. He says this many times. He tells us to pray, “Our Father….” This is problematic to many Canadians today. In Canada today we believe gender is a social construct and that gender is highly fluid. Jesus sounds “stuck” to modern Canadian ears. As well, many people have had abusive fathers. So, to modern Canadians, Jesus’ teaching sounds uncaring, unhelpful and potentially abusive to those who have already been abused. One more thing – to many modern Canadians, patriarchy is a great and persistent evil. Patriarchy is to be resisted and dismantled so we can have a just and caring world. So, to these modern Canadians, Jesus’ words sound patriarchal – definitely outmoded and oppressive. For many Christians, then, the most logical thing to do is to update Jesus’ language. To many Canadians, there is an evangelical imperative that we open up His language to reach Canada. This will also help Christians feel more a at home in Canada.

Is such an agenda something that Christians in Canada should embark on? Is Jesus’ teaching on this both outmoded but also flexible so that we can improve it? The short answer is, “No.” Consider the following.

First, while most Jewish people in Jesus’ time were strict monotheists, a casual reading of the Old Testament will see that, at many times in Israel’s history, many Jewish people worshiped goddesses. Jesus knew His Old Testament. As well, Jesus had regular contacts with Roman soldiers and officials. He would have known that the teensy-weensy Jewish world of monotheists was an island in a vast polytheistic ocean where goddess worship was common. Yet, He chose to tell us to call on God as Father.

But, you say, maybe He did not call God, “Mother”, not because He was ignorant of the idea, but because He did not want to offend Jews? Well, really? If you read the four biographies of Jesus, He offended many Jews constantly to the point of the leaders conspiring to have Him crucified. No, He was not ignorant. He was not afraid of offending when necessary. He chose to teach us to call God, “Father”and not “mother”.

But can’t we contextualize the language? For the record, in this case “contextualize” is a fancy way of saying, “changing it because we think it is not right”. Here we come to a very big issue. Jesus makes very big claims – He claims to be God. He claims to have “come from God” to teach and to save. He claims that no one has ascended into Heaven and then returned to make God known. He claims He alone has come down to make God known. He claims that only He knows the Father and only to Him is God the Father “transparent” and “showing Himself”. These claims are central to all of the Gospels and New Testament. They are central to Jesus and to Christianity. But, if they are true – and a true Christian believes them – how can we even imagine that we can “fix” or “improve” His language? How can anyone reasonably claim to know more than Him and still be a Christian?