Changing Church: Dr. Melanie Springer Mock, Professor of English, George Fox University, Newberg, Oregon

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock

When I was a child, my mom played a game with us called hen and chicks. Covered by an old blanket, she would spread her arms wide and call out “where are my chicks?” My brother and sister and I would run under her wings, and she would wrap her arms, and the blanket, around us; we giggled in the darkness of her flannelled embrace. Because of this game, the metaphor of God as a hen gathering her chicks has been especially powerful for me, a reminder of my mother’s care for me, and of God’s care for all God’s children: for me, yes, and also for Benjamin Quan and Samuel Saurabh, and for the mothers who once bore them and entrusted them to me. And so I imagine a day when God will gather us all under her wings—including all the people who have been a part of Ben’s and Sam’s lives, from their very beginning—and we will feel God’s warm embrace together, laughing, rejoicing in our imperfect love for each other, and in God’s perfect love for us.

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock concludes her moving article “God’s Gift of Motherhood Comes in Different Ways” with this biblical metaphor of God as a Mother Hen. She writes about the joys and challenges of adopting two sons: Benjamin Quan from Vietnam and Samual Saurabh from India. (See entire article:

When she first heard about language that included feminine metaphors for God, Melanie resisted it.  “I had gone to an evangelical Quaker college, and so the Divine Feminine wasn’t really part of the discussion there. At first I was really resistant when several progressive Christians introduced the idea to me (in great part because I found them pushy and aggressive, perhaps for good reason, perhaps not). Because the idea was so new to me, and because I didn’t really trust the people who were telling me I HAD to use inclusive language, I became more entrenched in the idea of using Father God language.”

While working on her Master’s degree in English Literature, Melanie became more open to the Divine Feminine. “I read some feminist theology in a feminist literature class (taught by an agnostic who was my mentor, and who helped shape my belief system in a Divine Feminine, despite her lack of spirituality). But what really opened my heart and mind to new ideas of the Divine Feminine was reading Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and seeing in the character Shug Avery the characteristics of a feminine divinity I found really appealing. So it was through an agnostic mentor and an author’s novel that I was transformed, rather than through the relationship with some folks a few years earlier. Not sure what that means, except that I have tried to refrain from aggressively forcing people to use feminine language for the Divine, figuring that doing so might make them more entrenched in their ways of seeing, as I was.”

In “God’s Gift of Motherhood Comes in Different Ways,” Dr. Mock writes about her continued discovery of the power of feminine language for the Divine. “After long, prayer-filled waits, I have been given the gift of motherhood, and this, in turn, has allowed me to comprehend God’s nature in profound ways. I experience biblical metaphors describing God’s love for her children more powerfully now. My children do not bear my genetic code, but this matters not at all: I love Ben and Sam as God loves me, fiercely, overwhelmingly, unconditionally. As God is to me, so I am to my boys; I am as the she-bear in Hosea, the mother hen about whom Jesus speaks, the comforter in Isaiah, and so know God more fully in those terms as well.”

Melanie grew up in the Midwest with a father who was a Mennonite pastor and a mother who was “always fighting against expectations for How Woman Should Be.” Melanie continues: “My mom taught me from a young age that I needed to be my own self, even when that meant going against what was expected. I don’t think I appreciated what she gave me at the time, but have more and more: the gift of letting me become all I was meant to be.”

In 1990 Melanie graduated from George Fox University, and then went on to earn a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 1994 and then a PhD from Oklahoma State University in 1999. Currently Dr. Mock teaches a wide variety of courses in the English Department of George Fox University. She helped found the University’s Academic Resource Center and helped direct it for several years. In 2009 she won George Fox’s Faculty of the Year Award. Melanie serves on the EEWC-Christian Feminism Today Executive Council (

In addition, Dr. Mock authored Writing Peace: The Unheard Voices of Great War Mennonite Objectors (Cascadia Publishing House, 2003) and co-edited Just Moms: Conveying Justice in an Unjust World (Barclay Press, 2011), a book about teaching children the values of peace, equality, truth, simplicity, and love. A prolific author, Melanie’s essays have appeared in both popular and academic publications, including Christian Feminism Today, Adoptive Families, Mennonite Weekly Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Literary Mama, and the Oregonian. And she blogs with Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Kendra Weddle Irons on the EEWC-CFT “FemFaith” ( and with Kendra on “Ain’t I a Woman?: De/Constructing Christian Images” (

Melanie comments on the power of language and symbolism in shaping our beliefs about humanity and divinity. “I believe strongly that language reflects reality, and that language shapes reality. I talk about this in really simple terms with my students—and in terms that I think will be met with less resistance. When students write about the ‘men’ and ‘girls’ in their classes, I challenge them to consider the reality that even that simple language creates. We can then progress to talking about how masculine images for God can create our sense that men are created in God’s image more than are women, and that men are closer to God because God is male like them, etc. Providing simple entry by talking about men v. girls makes the other changes I’m suggesting in language and imagery more acceptable.”

In addition to teaching inclusive language to her students, Dr. Mock expresses hope that she can contribute to change in her church. “I attend an evangelical Friends church that is just opening to some new ways of thinking, in part because of some young people who are being more vocal about their understanding of God. We used inclusive language in an alternative worship service in the fall at our church, and I wept because I never thought such would happen at my church. This one service gave me hope that things are changing.”

Dr. Mock emphasizes the importance of including multicultural, as well as female, divine names and images in church. “If we see only white male images for the Divine, this will shape our understanding of God and our ability to relate to the Divine. This is personally important to me because my children are Asian-Americans, and I want them to know that they too are created in the image of the Divine. They haven’t really encountered many images of God that look like them, and this makes me very sad. I want them to have these encounters, and want the church to be ready and willing to do this for them—and other children who are not white.”

Including multicultural female divine language and symbolism in church will also contribute to peace and social justice in the wider culture, Melanie states. “I think understanding—truly understanding and believing—that we are all created in God’s image means that we will be more likely to work for justice for all people. Using gender inclusive leadership, language, and theology affirms in real, concrete ways that we are all created in the image of the Divine, rather than suggesting we are all created in God’s image, but some are more than others. If we believe that we reflect the Divine, all of us, we are less likely to marginalize those who are different because of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, class, etc.”

It’s easier to take risks in advocating for inclusive language and theology through her writing than through other ways, Melanie acknowledges. “I take risks in my writing, but I’m fairly conflict-adverse. I was on a panel about work, religion, and women at George Fox, and expressed my beliefs about inclusive language. I’m more comfortable writing about what I feel, and last year wrote something about how I felt the church, my church, was excluding women (at the pastor’s invitation; he wanted me to preach, but agreed instead to read what I’d written). This was also a risk for me, and made some people angry. I thought the message was important, and worth the anger, though in the moment, I also regretted hurting some people’s feelings. Ugh! I know that makes me seem wishy-washy, but I’m learning. And, I sometimes think that building relationships and then challenging assumptions can also be an appropriate path, one that I’m more likely to take.”

Resistance to her inclusive theology has come not only at church but also at home, Melanie says. “I’ve tried to talk with my husband and family about why this is important to me. I think he’s learning, too, but is resistant. I’ve certainly experienced resistance in my church. I need to get to the point of letting go my own desire to people-please and to embrace this resistance. I’m getting there!”

Melanie expresses appreciation for the inspiration and strength she has received from feminist colleagues and friends, especially Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Kendra Weddle Irons and others in Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus: Christian Feminism Today (EEWC-CFT). “Letha is an amazing encourager. She’s always been so supportive of my writing, and has provided ample space for my voice and my ideas. Kendra has been huge in helping me learn more about the importance of inclusive language and has always been an encouraging presence. When I went to my first EEWC-CFT board meeting in 2011, and met other women on the board, I was amazed, transformed. I came home from the Gathering in 2012 feeling entirely new, kind of like how I felt at church camp as a kid. Amazing women (and men) who have amazing stories, and who have done extraordinary things. I feel blessed being among them, and wish more people knew about these folks. Christian Feminists are really missing out by not being part of this extraordinary organization, so I’ve been trying to introduce my students and colleagues to the organization. Also, my running partner, a Methodist pastor, believes ardently in inclusive language and equity in church leadership, imagery, etc., and has been a great sounding board for me.”

Especially rewarding to Melanie are positive responses to her writing and teaching. “Any time I get a good response for something on my blog, I find that really rewarding—knowing that my writing has transformed folks’ lives. Beyond that, I get the opportunity every year to work with students and to see their own thoughts about faith, gender, the Divine being changed. That is always, always rewarding: especially when someone comes to George Fox University fairly conservative in her beliefs about ‘God’s Design for Women’ and leaves feeling empowered to be a strong, independent woman.”

The purpose of the “Ain’t I a Woman?” blog that Melanie writes with Kendra is “to examine the many ways Christian culture lets women know exactly who they should be, deconstructing those messages that we find troubling—and, in the process, constructing a different message: one that allows Christian women to be all that God intended.” Melanie writes this story to further illustrate the purpose of this blog:

Several days ago, I had a conversation with a George Fox University senior, one of our college superstars. She received an impressive scholarship to attend George Fox four years ago, and when I met her the summer before her first year, I knew she’d be successful. The student is smart, articulate, thoughtful, an on-campus leader. She will certainly make something of her life post-graduation, and I can easily imagine her some day assuming an important role in government, a field that interests her. It might seem hyperbolic to say she might be president of the United States, but yeah—she’s that kind of person.

So I was (somewhat) surprised to hear that, seven weeks short of graduation, this student feels like she’s failed. She’ll be graduating from George Fox with a B.A. degree, but no Mrs. Degree . . .

She’s heard the pervasive messages from Christian culture telling her a woman’s worth is found solely in her ability to land, marry, and care for a spouse and children. Although she recognizes the problematic messages Christian culture sends women about what and who they should be, she also wonders if, maybe, Christian culture is right . . .

It is for people like this amazing woman that Kendra and I continue to write. We meet folks every day who have been damaged by Christian culture’s insistence that men and women have particular, distinct, and—at least for women—limited roles. We also believe strongly that God wants us to freely explore the gifts God has given us; and that too often, Christian culture has demanded that women not have that freedom, all in the name of biblical (mis-)interpretation. (See entire post:

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock expresses her feelings about the future of the church: “I feel hope for the future, and the ways the church might become more inclusive. I want these changes to come quickly, so that my boys will grow up believing that women and men were created in the image of the Divine, and that they will grow up to become feminists interested in fighting for justice and equity. Inclusive language and feminist theology will help them on this journey, but when I look at the Sunday school curriculum (for example) I feel despair that these changes will come quickly enough for them.”

In her conclusion to a recent post on the “FemFaith” blog, Dr. Mock sounds this passionate note of hope: “There are people everywhere pushing back against the cultural mythologies that have, for too long, told women who and what they could and could not be. So that despite a bad month in the media [March, 2013], when women are blamed for rapes, and condemned for calling out sexism in their industries, and critiqued for telling women to ‘lean in,’ I still have hope that someday soon, young women and men will truly be free to be all God intended them to be.” (See entire post:

For more of Melanie Springer Mock’s prophetic, creative work, see ; and











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