WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO OUR SONG, MA?
by David Sisler
Humpty Dumpty, a non-human animal product from the Poultry World, sat on a unit of infrastructure. Humpty Dumpty had a terrible, unscheduled descent. All the equine non humans and masculine humans in the employ of the ruler of the land could not restore Dumpty to his former state. Medical practitioners pronounced him terminally inconvenienced.
It's only a nursery rhyme, brilliantly "corrected" by the Reverend Mr. Samuel Trumbore, not a song of religious belief, but it illustrates a question or two. Do words make a difference? Do changes in the old standards change their meanings?
Every Sunday, for the last six months, I have been singing from The United Methodist Hymnal, so, for the sake of journalistic honesty, therefore, turn with me, please, to Number 431, "Let There Be Peace On Earth."
In 1955 Sy Miller and Jill Jackson wrote, "With God as our Father, brothers all are we. Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony." In 1989 an updated version appeared singing, "With God our creator,children all are we. Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony." It still fits the tune, so what's the problem?
We are not all brothers, and we are not, obviously, and thankfully, all male. We are indeed God's children through his only begotten Son. If Sy and Jill like it, it works for me. And God, not random chance, is Creator, but inclusive language notwithstanding, God is Father! To remove that imagine is to lose one of the most basic concepts about God.
The United Church of Christ (UCC), whose The New Century Hymnal (NCH) is a proponent of God as Father-Mother, argues that "honoring God as Mother is congruent with the biblical truth that both women and men are created in the image and likeness of God."
Genesis 1:27 does record, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them," but God's "image" is not exemplified by bodily form. God is Spirit, and therefore, not a bipedal humanoid, either male or female. Deuteronomy 32:18 reminds Israel of "the Rock that bore you," but no one suggest humans should look like rocks, although from time to time we seem to have them in our heads. The Divine image can be seen only in spiritual qualities, in human mental and moral attributes, as rational individuals capable of self-determination and obedience to moral law.
The Bible most definitely includes other images of God: shepherd, potter, rock, mother, tower, shield, judge, and eagle. There are others, but revisers never hyphenate God as Mother-Rock or Shepherd-Tower. Those images are discordant. But Father-Mother gets the nod frequently, and while both words portray a parent, the co-joint image is as foreign to Scripture as Judge-Eagle, and the merging of the two images diminishes both.
Nevertheless, change is the order of the day in The New Century Hymnal, a successful best-seller for the United Church of Christ. As already noted, "Father" is limited in its usage and when it appears, it is balanced by "Mother." The new hymnal seldom uses the title "King" to acclaim God's sovereignty because of the word's connection with despotic male behavior. "Sovereign," "Majesty," and "Ruler" are still acceptable, however. "Darkness" is no longer used as a symbol of spiritual ignorance because of possible negative racial connotations, and blindness has been removed as a synonym for sin due to concern for the visually challenged.
When the NCH was presented earlier this year, Jim Crawford, head of the Hymnal Committee said, "This hymnal for the new century reflects a new global creation" (his emphasis). The new song book has not been universally well-received, however. A congregation in Ohio sent their shipment back to the publisher. Other congregations report schisms occurring because of the hymnal.
One newly included hymn, "Bring Many Names," speaks of "Strong mother God, working day and night," "Old, aching God, grey with endless care," and "Young, growing God, eager, on the move." As was earlier noted, I do not sing from the NCH, but if some Sunday morning I opened to this song, I would be greatly troubled. The Bible teaches that God is changeless, that he is the same, yesterday, today and forever. This song contradicts those clear statements.
Andrew G. Lang, defending the NCH from the UCC's Office of Communication, properly points out what many critics of the new hymnal have missed, the Church's Statement of Faith that "in Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, you [God] have come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to yourself."
Lang also stresses that "The classical Christian doctrines... are clearly and repeatedly affirmed by The New Century Hymnal." True enough, but the foundations are weakened by the subtle, and not so subtle, changes in the songs, and as the hymnist David sang, "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?"
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 9/28/96
Copyright 1996 by David Sisler
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