While officially it is rightly and consistently said that God is spirit and so beyond identification with either male or female sex, yet the daily language of preaching, worship, catechesis, and instruction conveys a different message: God is male, or at least more like a man than a woman, or at least more fittingly addressed as male than as female. Upon examination it becomes clear that this exclusive speech about God serves in manifold ways to support an imaginative and structural world that excludes and subordinates women. Wittingly or not, it undermines women’s human dignity as equally created in the image of God. (Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is)
Of course, God was a man.
In my childhood church I never considered any other possibility. We addressed God as 아버지 (ah-buh-jee), Father, Heavenly Father, Father God, and that reverence and power trickled down to the pastor, the elders (all men), and generally, the leaders of the church. They were the ones who read scripture during worship services and served communion. And I was loud and wild, and often shushed, my parents bemoaning, Why can’t you be quiet? Why can’t you be a nice girl? Why can’t you be normal?
Eventually I learned, and I never thought twice about it. I knew my place.
In high school, then college, when I joined various Christian communities, groups like Young Life, Navigators, Campus Crusade, I adopted the language of white evangelicalism calling God, “Abba,” and “Papa,” and became proficient in just-prayers. Abba Father, we just come before you and ask that you just love us and just love on others through us. I knew what to say and how to say it. I knew the talk.
The expectation confirmed what I was told growing up which was that I should be demure and submissive, and this was the only way people would interact with me. If I acted any other way, I came across angry or over-reactionary. So I learned once again to be silent. I became respectable. I became an exemplary minority. I became a nice Christian.
It became clear to me that God was white.
“Before beginning the lesson on America’s story the teacher called attention to the class and held up a piece of yellow construction paper next to the soft underside of her arm and said, “See, she’s not really yellow.” (1)
In seminary, someone gave me Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior and Claire S. Chow’s Leaving Deep Waters, and it skinned me alive seeing in black and white text stories about me. About my family. About my mother. About Asians in North America. All my insides came to the surface, and I felt raw and exposed. It shifted the ground beneath me. Too many questions and thoughts collided with my experience, and I began to glimpse the inequities and prejudices, and all the ways I was pushed to the periphery, remembering the artificial, patronizing smiles that accompanied the subtle and seemingly innocent ways I was made to feel less, either as a woman, or as an Asian American woman, or as an Asian American. Less Christian. Less faithful. Less human.
Pearl of the Orient. Whore. Geisha. Concubine. Whore. Hostess. Bar Girl. Mamasan. Whore. China Doll. Tokyo Rose. Whore. Butterﬂy. Whore. Miss Saigon. Whore. Dragon Lady. Lotus Blossom. Gook. Whore. Yellow Peril. Whore. Bangkok Bombshell. Whore. Hospitality Girl. Whore. Comfort Woman. Whore. Savage. Whore. Sultry. Whore. Faceless. Whore. Porcelain. Whore. Demure. Whore. Virgin. Whore. Mute. Whore. Model Minority. Whore. Victim. Whore. Woman Warrior. Whore. Mail- Order Bride. Whore. Mother. Wife. Lover. Daughter. Sister. (2)
Reading feminist writings, both theological and cultural, ethical and biblical, sociological and historical stripped away the power of those oppressive expectations. It proclaimed freedom and redemption, and whispered and sang a kingdom-power into my life reviving my spirit so that it was no longer viable to remain silent.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. -MLK Jr.
I had been asleep, maybe dead for awhile, until I began to speak about God – to speak about faith and church, my family, and about racism and sexism. I spoke about my life, and I didn’t need to qualify it or explain it, defend it or have someone else affirm it. And speaking brought logos-life to my bones, and the resurrection somehow meant more when I saw that God was not man or a white man but someone who shared in my humanity right down to the core of my struggles. God became possibility, the ground of all being, חסד (the Hebrew word hesed – “steadfast love,” “kindness,” “loving-kindness,” “mercy,” “loyalty”), continuous and constant presence, Wisdom and grace, giver of life, flesh-and-blood passion and love, and beyond-words.
And I could and would talk about God for the rest of my life. I would sing, whisper, shout, preach and tell these stories, tell stories about God, talk about God honestly and earnestly, and I would especially to Anna, so she knows that is what we do as women of faith, as feminists, we love ourselves, we love the world and we love people by talking and speaking about God.
Words about God are cultural creatures, interwined with the mores and adventures of the faith community that uses them. As cultures shift, so too does the specificity of God-talk. (Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is, 6)
(1) Claire S. Chow, Leaving Deep Waters (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), 39
(2) Jessica Hagedorn, “Asian Women in Film: No Joy, No Luck,” in Asian Ameri- cans: Perspectives and Experience, ed. Timothy Fong and Larry Shinagawa (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2000), 264.
Mihee Kim-Kort is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is staff for UKIRK @ IU, a Presbyterian campus ministry with students at Indiana University. She blogs at First Day Walking.