Archbishop Takes Issue With Key Word in 'Our Father' Prayer

Stephen Cottrell told Church of England's General Synod the word has 'patriarchal' leanings
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 10, 2023 9:24 AM CDT
Updated Jul 15, 2023 12:25 PM CDT
UK Archbishop: Word in 'Our Father' May Be 'Problematic'
Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, left, and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby are seen in London on Sept. 14, ahead of the ceremonial procession of the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II.   (Justin Tallis/Pool Photo via AP)

Christians worldwide who've committed the "Our Father" prayer to memory for 2,000 years would likely be thrown if the opening words—also the prayer's title—were suddenly altered. That tweak doesn't seem to be imminent, but eyebrows are raised after one of the Church of England's highest-ranking members publicly took issue with the wording during a recent meeting of the General Synod, the church's ruling body. "I know the word 'father' is problematic for those whose experience of earthly fathers has been destructive and abusive, and for all of us who have labored rather too much from an oppressively patriarchal grip on life," Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell said, in what the Guardian calls a "brief aside" in a larger speech on unity.

Aside or not, Cottrell's remarks promoted instant debate among theologians. Canon Dr. Chris Sugden, head of Anglican Mainstream, pointed out that in the Bible, the instruction to pray to "our Father" comes directly from Jesus. "Is the Archbishop of York saying Jesus was wrong or that Jesus was not pastorally aware?" Sugden asks, per the Telegraph. "I can't believe he is doing that consciously, but that's the impression it gives." Sugden adds that "if people have had a difficult relationship with their human fathers, then the option open to them is to say you can rediscover the true nature of fatherhood through Christ." One blogger who had his op-ed reposted on Anglican Ink even went so far as to say Cottrell had "picked a fight with God."

Cottrell does have his supporters, however. The Rev. Christina Rees, a former General Synod member, says Cottrell "has put his finger on an issue that's a really live issue for Christians and has been for many years." She notes that "calling God 'father' has been hugely problematic," especially in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals that have roiled clergy in various churches. "Sometimes the abuse victims have been abused by their birth fathers and gone on to be abused by their fathers in God—the local priest—so there are multiple layers why the term 'father' is really difficult."

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"Because Jesus called God 'Daddy,' we think we have to call God 'Daddy,'" she adds. "And the big question is, do we really believe God believes that male human beings bear the image of God more fully and accurately than women? The answer is absolutely not." Cottrell's comments come a few months after the Church of England announced it's mulling using gender-neutral language, including pronouns, when talking about God in prayer. The General Synod meeting continues through Tuesday. (Read more prayer stories.)

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