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Rev. Bethany Peerbolte on God as Effeminate in Christianity Nov. 14

Rev. Bethany Peerbolte

When Bethany Peerbolte, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, ministers to her congregation, she may interchange male and female pronouns for God.

And this may raise a few eyebrows.

But to her, that’s just okay. Peerbolte, who describes herself as the millennials’ pastor, wants to get her congregation thinking and recognizing both the male and the female aspects of the divine. 

“God in the Feminine through Christian Scripture and Tradition” will be the topic for Interfaith Leadership Council’s next Exploring Religious Landscapes Lecture, 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14 at the First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham: 1669 W. Maple Road. 

The event is free and open to the public but pre-registration is strongly encouraged by registering here. 

Peerbolte will offer several instances of the female divine to study in texts including readings from Proverbs, Matthew, Genesis and the Books of Esther and Ruth. 

Peerbolte was youth director at the church before becoming associate pastor in August of 2018. In that role, she worked with Religious Diversity Journey students to educate them about the Christian faith. It was then that she realized just how much the overemphasis of the maleness of God was being conveyed. 

“While we often spend so much time focusing on the male aspects of God, our biblical texts have many references of God as female,” said Bethany. “For example, God is seen in Matthew and other scriptures as a protective hen sheltering her chicks beneath her wing.”

Peerbolte said viewing God through a feminine lens lets people understand, affirm and validate that women have been bestowed special gifts and are just as valuable to God’s ministry as men.

 In today’s modern times with relative equality between the sexes, it is easy to see how and why male-dominated culture through the centuries shaped the male-centric leanings of most religious teachings, including Christianity. There has been much of a cultural bias towards male power and authority and women who tried to speak out and had any power were accused of either harlotry or witchcraft, as evidenced by history. 

She asks people to consider: if Jesus was not a man, would he have had as much influence and power? 

Peerbolte will explore the imagery of the Marys to ponder if they were two distinct women or one woman with different manifestations. And, was Mary Magdalene a prostitute, or was she just branded as this because of her power and her proximity to the apostles and Jesus Christ. 

 “There was no evidence that she took up this profession (of prostitution), but when women had any potential as a leadership role, they were feared, degraded and devalued.”

Even now, years after the Presbyterian Church began ordaining women in 1956, Peerbolte said it has taken decades to not get pushback from male pastors when it comes to women pastors taking a leadership role on the pulpit, outside of traditional roles for women in church such as leading religious school or planning social lunches after services. 

Like many, Peerbolte said she raised to think of God in male pronouns. But as faith congregations strive to become more inclusive, some clergy work it into their practice to refer to the Divine in the interchangeable masculine, feminine or even gender-neutral pronouns. 

More about Bethany Peerbolte

Bethany Peerbolte recognizes her calling is to make scripture relevant to young Christians, and Christians young at heart. Her blog, Millennial Epistle, seeks to connect scripture to trending topics and contemporary issues. Bethany’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has led her to work with Detroit Pride, The Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice, and the National Black Presbyterian Caucus. Peerbolte recently graduated from Ecumenical Theological Seminary and was ordained in October 2018. If she isn’t at the church, she can be found dancing tango, playing disc golf, or watching American Ninja Warrior

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