God's gender is coming under scrutiny as newly ordained female bishops in the Church of England sound a call for Anglican liturgy to refer to the deity as "she."

"Support is growing within the Church of England to rewrite its official liturgy to refer to God as female following the selection of the first women bishops," London's The Telegraph newspaper reported. One campaigner said many Anglican parishes are using female pronouns for God already.

"The reality is that in many churches up and down the country something more than the almost default male language about God is already being used," Hilary Cotton, chair of Women and the Church and an advocate for female bishops, told the newspaper. "Quietly, clergy are just talking about God as 'she" every now and then."

Ruth Gledhill, a veteran British religion reporter writing in Christian Today, said the changes might include language some would view as radical.

"Proclaiming 'Jesa Christa, crucified' is among the liturgical changes that could help lessen abuse of power in the Church, according to a leading woman priest." she wrote.

Writing at the Women and the Church blog, the Rev. Lindsay Llewellyn-MacDuff, chaplain to the Anglican Bishop of Rochester, suggested that not using female references to God might be viewed as oppressive.

"Centuries of keeping women linguistically out of the picture has helped keep them out of the picture politically, financially and legally – what the tongue doesn’t mention, the eye needn’t see. Keeping silent about the feminine aspect of God, helps keep our theology androcentric, keeps us thinking, at some level, that God is male, that male images of God are somehow more accurate," she wrote.

Criticism to the idea abounds.

Father Dwight Longenecker, a Roman Catholic priest who was once ordained in the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican communion, said the push for new pronouns isn't new.

"Over 20 years ago when I was a minister in the Church of England they were already insinuating newly written feminist 'canticles' and 'psalms' into the worship books," Longenecker wrote in his patheos.com blog. "Already at that time trendy vicars were referring to God as 'Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer' to avoid patriarchal language. Already at that time we had feminist liturgies being foisted upon us. The only thing new about this is that the feminists are flexing their muscles even more now that they have finally got women bishops."

Longenecker published a separate blog post offering "Twelve Reasons Why You Can't Call God 'Mother,'" saying gender roles often dictate and describe love relationships between a mother and son, brothers or sisters. "We cannot be in a loving relationship with an abstract being who is sometimes Mother and sometimes Father," he asserted.

The question of how to describe God has challenged Christian thinkers during the past two millennia, the BBC noted.

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"To talk about God we have to call God something, and avoiding pronouns altogether is cumbersome, as I've just demonstrated again. 'It' seems a bit rude, talking as if God was an impersonal force like gravity or inflation. So God has to be 'He' or 'She,' and in a patriarchal society there's no contest. As The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: 'God is neither man nor woman: he is God.'"

Along with the Anglican church, other Christian movements have contended with the question. The Christian Science movement calls "God, our all-powerful, ever-present, tenderly loving Father-Mother," in answering the question "What Is God?" on its website.

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @Mark_Kellner

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