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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 1, 2006

One God, a multitude of names

By K. Connie Kang
Los Angeles Times

When referring to the Trinity, most Christians are likely to say "Father, Son and the Holy Spirit."

But leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are suggesting some additional designations: "Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-giving Womb," or perhaps "Lover, Beloved and Love That Binds Lover and Beloved Together."

Then there's "Rock, Cornerstone and Temple" and "Rainbow of Promise, Ark of Salvation and Dove of Peace."

The phrases are among 12 suggested, but not mandatory, wordings essentially endorsed last month by delegates to the church's policy-making body to describe a "triune God," the Christian doctrine of God in three persons.

The Rev. Mark Brewer, senior pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, is among those in the 2.3 million member denomination unhappy with the additions.

"You might as well put in Huey, Dewey and Louie," he said.

"Any time you get together representatives of 2 1/2 million people, you get some really solid people and some really wacky people," he said, referring to the delegates who attended the 217th General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala.

Others include "Sun, Light and Burning Ray" and "Speaker, Word and Breath." The wordings are meant to reflect particular aspects of worship, so a prayer noting God's "wrath in the face of evil" might use "Fire that Consumes, Sword that Divides and Storm that Melts Mountains."

Although the delegates did not officially adopt a report recommending the new designations, after extensive debate they voted 282-212 to "receive" the document. By not rejecting the report, the delegates essentially allowed individual churches to decide how or if to use the new phraseology.

Written by a diverse panel of working pastors and theologians, the report noted that the traditional language of the Trinity portrays God as male and implies that men are superior to women.

"For this and other distortions of Trinitarian doctrine we repent," the report said.

Daniel L. Migliore, a member of the committee that spent five years crafting the report, said critics miss the point.

"What we are speaking of is supplementary ways of referring to the triune God not replacements, not substitutes," said Migliore, professor of systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.

The Rev. Rebecca Button Prichard, pastor of Tustin Presbyterian Church in Tustin, Calif., strongly defended it as a theologically sound.

"What people are afraid is that they think we are taking 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit' away from them," she said. "We're not. What we want to say is that no words can fully describe God. And so we want people to seek a variety of expression, so we can do justice to the greatness of God."

But for critics of the new designations, the wordings are confusing and reflect a concession to touchy, modern sensibilities.

"They're attempting to be politically correct, and unnecessarily so," said Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute in Charlotte, N.C.

The report will be made widely available "for study and reflection," and study materials will be prepared for dissemination in congregations.