Most Americans think of God as "Father," a third lean toward a "Mother" concept or a blending of both, and many are more likely to consider the deity as a "Friend" than as a "King," according to a survey.
The survey by the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago, which regularly monitors religion trends, found that despite church efforts to modify the image of a masculine deity, preference for the father image has increased slightly in recent years.
The center, which sampled a representative sample of 1,400 people, found that 51.9 percent view God as "Father," compared with 46.1 percent in 1984. An additional 16.4 percent are inclined toward the "Father" image.
Of those surveyed, 7.2 percent regard God as "Mother" or lean toward that image, while 27.3 percent perceive an image lying between the two.
Mainline theologians view God as neither male nor female, but all-inclusive. The traditional male imagery is used metaphorically. Recent efforts by a variety of church groups to employ more gender-inclusive language in scripture readings or hymnal revision have generated controversy.
In fact, the male image of divinity has gained favor, although only marginally.
Tom W. Smith, senior study director at the center, reported that in other categories, 72.7 percent tend to regard God more as "Master" than as "Spouse," and 60.7 percent regard God more as "Judge" than as "Lover."
But 16.8 percent lean to the "Lover" view while 22.6 percent hold a perception of God somewhere between "Judge" and "Lover." Forty-six percent see God more as "Friend" than as "King."
A second survey released this month on church contributions found that the percentage of annual income Roman Catholics give to the church dropped 50 percent, while Protestant donations remained steady.
The study on annual income given to churches during the past 25 years was published in a book, "Catholic Contributions: Sociology and Policy," by the Rev. Andrew Greeley of Chicago and retired Bishop William McManus of Fort Wayne, Ind.
The book says that in 1960, Catholics and Protestants gave about 2.2 percent of their annual income. Protestant giving remained about the same, the study says, but Catholic giving has dropped to 1.2 percent.
Greeley said Catholics were giving less although they were "no longer poor immigrants" and earned more on average than Protestants.
He said "selective alienation" of Catholics figured in the reduced giving, with more than half the decline traceable to Catholics' objections to the church's leadership and its ban on contraception.
Greeley said Catholics who lag the most behind Protestants in giving were the better educated, affluent and liberal Catholics who remain in the church but protest "with their checkbook."
McManus said he believed "good will is out there, but a communication gap exists. Catholics are aware of inflation in every other area, but not in their church contributions."
To reverse the trend, Greeley recommended, contributors be given more of a share in deciding how church funds are spent and that contributions be on an annual, budget-based plan rather than on the collection envelope method.
Greeley said using collection envelopes is "too casual, too hit-or-miss, too informal, too chancy . . . in an age when most middle-class folk organize their financial life around checkbooks and credit cards."
McManus said Catholics should be educated to realize that church employes should be paid wages equal to those in similar occupational categories, and the church should encourage pledges of as much as 3 percent of annual income but retain the "priceless value" of voluntary giving.