Just in time for Christmas, Germany's conservative Family Minister Kristina Schröder has sparked a contentious debate about the word most central to the Christian faith: God.
In an interview with the weekly newspaper Die Zeit in which she discussed gender roles in children's literature, Schröder also took on God's gender, and fellow members of her Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, are not impressed.
The German language has three definite articles for nouns to indicate their gender -- der (masculine), die (feminine) and das (neuter). The noun der Gott, or God, is masculine. But Schröder told Die Zeit that the article for God shouldn't matter. It could just as easily be the gender-neutral das Gott, she said, saying the article "doesn't mean anything."
Such a suggestion is an outrage, her colleagues say.
"This overly cerebral nonsense leaves me speechless," Bavarian Social Minister and CSU member Christine Haderthauer told the mass-circulation daily Bild on Friday. "I find it sad when our children, due to blatant insecurity and political correctness, have the strong images that are so important to their imaginations taken away."
'The Father of Christ'
The CSU's party whip in the federal parliament, Stefan Müller, also expressed irritatation over the idea. "Independent of the fact that it's Christmastime, I find it improper and am a bit astonished," he said.
Meanwhile, Norbert Geis, also a CSU member of Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, concurred. "God is revealed to us as the father of Christ, and it ought to stay that way," he said.
There was, however, a bit of restraint from the CDU in the state of Hesse, where Schröder is the party's top candidate for the upcoming federal parliamentary election next year. "For those who prefer a gender-neutral approach when it comes to God the Father, I recommend the Christ child, given that it's Christmastime," Klaus-Peter Willsch, a member of parliament from Hesse with the CDU told Bild, referring to the neuter article applied to the word in German.
In addition to God's gender, Schröder also criticized the sexist gender roles in classic children's books. The fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, published 200 years ago on Thursday," are often sexist," she said. "There are seldom positive female figures there."
Schröder, whose gender-related policies as family minister have not been particularly popular, took aim at racist content in other children's literature too. If she were to read one of Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking books, called "Pippi in Taka Tuka Land" in German, she would refrain from using the word "negro" from the text when reading aloud, "to protect my child from taking on such expressions," she said.
In response to the criticism of her remark about God's gender, Schröder told Bild on Friday that she had been thinking of her daughter, and "not about the many adults who would stumble over my words."