Referring to God as 'Father', 'Lord' and 'King' may have wider implications than people think.
Clemson University sociologist Andrew Whitehead has a new report out in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion demonstrating that people who believe in a masculine God are more likely to oppose same-sex marriage and civil unions.
"Those who believe God is masculine also hold very traditional views of gender roles," Whitehead writes. "Individuals who ascribe to a masculine image of God are much more likely to espouse traditional gender ideologies compared to those who do not view God as masculine."
For this study, Whitehead analyzed data from a 2007 Baylor Religion Survey of 1,648 U.S. citizens administered by the Gallup Organization and defined "traditional" by creating a gender roles index. For this he asked respondents to rate their agreement with statements like: "Most men are better suited emotionally for politics than most women," "A preschool child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works," "It is God's will that women care for children", and "A husband should earn a larger salary than his wife."
The researcher found that respondents who hold traditional gender beliefs are generally unfavorable toward LGBT individuals because they see them as exhibiting traits of the opposite sex and subverting gender roles.
The correlation between belief in a male-gendered God and opposition to same-sex unions held true across religious traditions, Whitehead told HuffPost, though Pew Forum has also demonstrated that beliefs can vary even within traditions that typically ascribe to a masculine image of God.
Whitehead also found that high levels of religious practice and high regard for holy scripture correlate to traditional gender ideology, regardless of denomination. But evangelical and black Protestants were more likely than Catholic, mainline Protestant and Jewish individuals to view homosexuality and gay marriage unfavorably, Whitehead notes.
"Individuals who view God as masculine are signaling a belief in an underlying gendered reality that influences their perceptions of the proper ordering of that reality," Whitehead writes.
God's masculine gender and his position of power in the universe combined provide a model that many religious people view as justification for "traditional" gender roles in which men have authority to which women are expected to submit. Whitehead reports:
"Because God is masculine, and men are a direct representation of God and so receive a certain amount of authority in family life, women are to submit to that authority. Therefore, same-sex unions clash with this understanding of the 'traditional' family and threaten a stable social order, which should, again, comply with the underlying gendered nature of all reality."
Sociology professor and Catholic priest Andrew Greeley published an article investigating the role of belief in a feminine God for Sociology and Social Research in 1988. In "Evidence That a Maternal Image of God Correlates with Liberal Politics," Greeley found that belief in a maternal God made Americans less likely to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. They also demonstrated less support for capital punishment, favored government help for minority populations and rejected the idea that women should remain at home.
Although Whitehead said he was unable to examine the effects of belief in a feminine God on same-sex marriage support, he did suggest that shifting away from a masculine image of God might move society "in a more egalitarian direction." But such a transition was unlikely, he said, because God's gender can never be proven or disproven and it would necessitate a shift in other aspects of people's worldview.
"No longer viewing God as a 'he' would not only mean a shift in attitudes toward same-sex unions but also in how their own marriages, society, or religious groups are ordered," Whitehead writes.
"The findings themselves indicate that due to religious individuals’ gendered views of reality we can expect continued opposition even though the attitudes of the wider culture toward same-sex unions are continuing to liberalize."