It is not surprising that religions that developed in patriarchal and hierarchical cultures characterized by monarchical, authoritarian, and autocratic political structures would borrow images for their understanding of the divine from their socio-political context. This is a contributing factor to why patriarchal and monarchical descriptors for the divine such as king, lord, master, and father are found in various religions that arose in such contexts. What is surprising is that our religious imaginations have not expanded much beyond these symbols and that we continue to almost exclusively use imagery from cultural and political systems that we no longer view as the best systems for flourishing human communities.
If religion is about our ultimate concerns or about that which we should value most, and if our religious institutions use patriarchal and hierarchical language and are governed in monarchical and authoritarian ways; then we are saying that patriarchy and hierarchy are at the core of what is ultimate or of highest value. Such a view of the divine and such religious systems of governance perpetuate sexism, inequality, and unjust economic and political systems within our societies, and they are used by the wealthy and powerful to justify the status quo from which they benefit so greatly.
We know from the evidence that the happiest, healthiest, most educated, least corrupt, least violent, most equitable, and most ecological sustainable countries are all vibrant democracies; but Christians for the most part keep clinging to hierarchical, patriarchal, and autocratic political images of God and continue to model hierarchy, patriarchy, and autocracy in church governance – and we wonder why so many Christians are drawn to “strong,” mostly male autocratic leaders and why autocratic and patriarchal Christian nationalism keeps gaining a foothold within our societies.
The evidence is clear that democracies are better for both people and the planet than autocracies or hierarchical and patriarchal authoritarian systems. If persons believe that the divine is good, loving, and just; why would they want to continue using images of the divine from failed and failing political systems? Why would we want to aspire for the “Kingdom” of God when kingdoms have proven to be so oppressive to so many for so long? Isn’t it past time to move beyond patriarchy and hierarchy and embrace the image of the divine as a loving presence, partner, and even friend working with us for justice and liberation as we live into making beloved community a reality for all?
The world deeply needs religious visions that model inclusion, community, and democracy rather than patriarchy, hierarchy, and autocracy – visions that call us to look around and join with others in beloved, just, and participatory communities rather than looking up and bowing down.