Recovering the Imago Dei for Girls

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish and the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

I love the first chapter of Genesis. The first thing we see God do is speak light into existence! If I were writing the story, that would be the climax. I mean, God speaks light into being. But for this story, it’s only a first step. First, the creation of light. Then, the creation of an entire universe. And the actual climax? The creation of humankind. This is the climax because humans get something that no other created being gets: we get created in the image of God. Referred to as the imago Dei in theology, the image of God within humans is what makes humans unique from the rest of God’s creation, and it’s present equally between males and females.

One does not have to look too far to see that, while our culture tries to put different images on our youth, many of the images presented do not look like anything divine… Therefore, one of our jobs as people who love youth is to be journey partners helping each girl to refuse any limiting images that diminish the imago Dei within her.

Theologians disagree on what exactly the imago Dei refers to, but most agree that we are not created in God’s physical image; instead, there is something else that makes humans unlike other animals. It may be the ability to reason, the presence of will, the ability to think and act creatively, or the ability to imagine. I choose to think about the imago Dei as the ways that The Divine is reflected in us. In my mind, it is paired with the assertion in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that our bodies ought to be temples of the Holy Spirit. So, however one sees the image of God, we know that there is something Divine that lives within us and that we were crafted to bear that image.

Yet, one does not have to look too far to see that, while our culture tries to put different images on our youth, many of the images presented do not look like anything divine. For adolescent girls, there are unique challenges stemming from popular culture, the educational system, and church traditions, just to name a few. So many want to place different images on girls: the mean girl, the loose girl, the top dog girl that would stop at nothing to get what she wants. These images can be confining, unhelpful, and dangerous. They are more closely related to the snake in the garden than the image of God.

Therefore, one of our jobs as people who love youth is to be journey partners helping each girl to refuse any limiting images that diminish the imago Dei within her. How do we do this? This series will examine various challenges girls face and address them theologically by asking one question over and over again: Are we honoring the image of God that exists within every girl? It will focus on general principles and persistent issues as well as address current events viewed through the prism of teenage girls. While talking about girls, it is important to note that no group can be painted with a wide brush. So, this blog series will use the idea of intersectionality as a key part of its approach.

Coined by critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality is a method of studying the relationships among multiple socially and culturally constructed identities such as race, class, and gender. Intersectionality examines the complexities that exist in one person’s identity and how discriminatory practices against different populations are related. The concept of intersectionality is also needed as we continue to push for social justice, for it has always been rooted in social justice. It calls for people to work together fully. Through the lens of intersectionality, social problems can be analyzed more fully, more effective intervention can be created, and inclusive advocacy can be promoted. Without an understanding of intersectionality, those who fight for girls may forget the many different identities being spoken of. It is easy for people to fall into the trap of thinking that people who have one aspect in common have all aspects in common.

What does speaking up for gender without intersectionality look like? Well, in Patricia Arquette’s 2015 Oscar acceptance speech, she called for gender pay equality in the United States. A noble and important cause, but some of what she said later in the press room (around the 2:30 mark) rubbed me the wrong way: “It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.” When I first heard that, I thought, “Did she just divide me into two categories since I am both a woman and person of color?” While I agree that different groups ought to fight for the rights for groups they’re are not a part of, we need to always remember that identity is complex and that separating groups rigidly can isolate those who fall into more than one. I don’t mean to harp on Arquette for what she may or may not have really meant; I am more concerned about a sentiment that her words symbolize—viewing social justice issues without the lens of intersectionality.

A discussion about girls that ignores race, sexuality or class issues, also ignores girls. Talking about different social justice movements as if there are no overlaps ignores portions of the population one is advocating for. It also places social justice issues in competition instead of in harmony. I seek harmony. So, as I write about girls, I remember that gender is not the only identity factor at hand. Sometimes, I will place gender in conversation with race, or class, or sexuality, or ability, or geographical context or the many other identities that embody the imago Dei. And I look forward to going on this journey with you.


Annie Lockhart GilroyRev. Annie A. Lockhart Gilroy, Ph.D. has worked with youth as a teacher, coach, and youth minister for almost two decades. She earned her PhD. in Christian Education and Congregational Studies from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and her M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Her dissertation focused on the role of imagination in youth ministry, especially with girls from poor and working-class families.

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