Patriarchal and paternal.
Two words descending from the Latin word pater/father, but a patriarchal system is one that is male dominated and a paternal system is one where leadership—male or female—restricts the autonomy of people supposedly for their own good. Our country began shamefully patriarchal but not paternal—the states jealously guarded their freedoms. Today we’re much less patriarchal but more and more paternal, losing freedom in the name of the common good.
Whether you feel this is appropriate is not so much the point on Mother’s Day as the role women are playing. The assumption has always been that if women were in charge of things, there’d be more balance, and the world wouldn’t be such a mess. But as women take more seats of power, is anything really changing, or does power make men and women look the same? Is matriarchy as toxic as patriarchy and equally paternal?
As a model of balance, the perfect parent/government, we certainly should be able to point to God. But is God just another patriarchy? In scripture, God is referred to as male by name and pronoun, but how is “he” portrayed? Ruach, malkutha, shekinah, hockhmah—spirit, kingdom, presence, wisdom—are all feminine Hebrew nouns, so in spirit, presence, wisdom, God is “she,” and kingdom is queendom. God is consistently depicted as a mother birthing, caressing, and suckling her children. Jesus calls God abba, a child’s word conveying an intimacy first experienced as emma/mother, and he leads every personal encounter with a mother’s acceptance before the teaching of father.
Making our government and churches more equitable means more than the number of seats occupied by men and women. The Hebrew mind couldn’t conceive of God apart from a perfect balance of father and mother—masculine and feminine, justice and mercy, knowledge and wisdom, logic and intuition, performance and acceptance, accomplishment and intimacy. Until we meet Mother God ourselves, we’ll never know Father God. Until we who occupy seats of power become more perfect parents, our institutions will remain toxic and paternal, whether patriarchal, matriarchal, or anywhere in between.