March 2, 2010

We Contemplate Inclusive Language (Intro.)

Posted by our editor, Meredith Gould, for The Virtual Abbey.

Without specifically seeking a community-wide Lenten practice, one seems to have emerged for us. We've been prompted to review some of the prayers we've been using for the Daily Office. More specifically, our prayer team has been discussing inclusive language which, in case you don't know, refers to removing sex-based pronouns.

No doubt we would have gotten to this issue sooner rather than later. We've gotten to it sooner, having recently received comments about how using male pronouns disrupts the flow for some visitors.

For nearly fifty years, the conversation about inclusive language has been protracted, theologically complex, and frequently contentious. For some, inclusive language is non-negotiable. For some, it is not. And for others, the issue itself comes as a surprise. What? "He" and "him" don't generically mean men and women?

For us the question is opportunity to explore what we think and believe. It has become a way to talk about what many of us were taught as children. We've just spent the first week of Lent chatting about this via email and, no surprise, the range of responses is...a range of responses.

"Community, is never a simple thing," noted a prayer team member who went on to write, "our discussions are typically very stimulating." Yes, they are! With that in mind, we'll be sharing excerpts from our email exchange(s) in a series of posts during Lent.

We invite you to use the comments box to join us in this illuminating conversation and, as always, the Twitter stream to join us in praying the Daily Office.

Image: Adam and Eve, Lucas Cranach (1526)


Shawna R. B. Atteberry said...

I like gender neutral language for prayer and the Bible, but I also like for feminine images to balance the masculine images. I think a good balance would be nice.

~~Melinda Y.~~ said...

There is nothing passive about following Jesus. I believe in the "doctrine of substitution"..Jesus took my sin on the cross so that I could take HIS place on earth by walking in victory(See 2Cor.5:21). He did this so that WE ALL(no gender required) could be reconciled to a Holy God.

Anna Climacus said...

Christ taught us to pray a prayer that begins "Our Father" and calls us to baptize "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." We must always be careful with how we direct our prayers. Yes it is indeed a wonderful and glorious thing when brothers and sisters dwell together in harmony; but we should be care of crafting God in our own image.

Janet L. Bohren said...

I am very glad you are discussing inclusive language and appreciate your efforts to make the prayers welcoming to al. I was one who sent a tweet about finding the male language of some of the prayers a bit "grating", but understood that prayers written before the last 10-2-20 years will contain only male language. I can live with that. I just hope new prayers will be written with inclusive language, which is of course never perfect in its reflection of the being of God.

Daisy said...

Always "tricky" when we try to express the un-expressible in our limited language! Using male images for so many years has created an idea of the Creator as an old man, a strict father or a loving father (take your pick) a supporter and part of the patriarchal structure of family and society. We are moving perhaps into a more inclusive image of the Divine. One that recognizes that God is neither male nor female, but an unlimited Spirit that is the fullness of both, and all.

May be always struggle with language for the Divine. I think it is a sign of health and growth.

Barbara, aka Daisy

claire said...

I like gender sensitive language in official document. When it comes to the Bible, I find it more difficult, apart from using words like humanity rather than mankind.

I personally need to change he into she as often as I can. Sometimes, the effect is striking not only on me but on other women reading a changed passage.

God created us in his image, male and female. So it could also be, Godde created us in her image, male and female... :-)))

I realize that when one is not accustomed to this and enjoying the traditional way of things such a change can be a shock...

Sue said...

We're created in God's spiritual image--let's not create God in our image and assign physicality or humanness. It's convenient to use "He" and "Him" for God and a lot less awkward than some of the modern efforts at inclusive language in say, the employment arena. I like the traditional language. But at the same time, other than in the incarnation of Jesus, God is not human. God is not male or female--but God is definitely both masculine and feminine as we categorize qualities. Father is a role--provider, protector, advisor.... Father doesn't mean that God is a physical being with male gonads. Who and what God is, is infinite and really beyond our understanding as humans. We need not as women, feel that using "He" leaves out the feminine attributes of God. I believe we just need to recognize the limitations of language, and the limitlessness of God, and know that "He" or "She" do not encompass the nature of God, and that either would be inadequate, and "He or She" is simply awkward, particularly in a twitter world where characters count.

Rob said...

As a white male, I chose to wait a bit and see what comments came up before chiming in. Thank you for this discussion. I grew up (in the 60s and 70s)in an Episcopal congregation which was one of the first to have female lay readers, chalicists and acolytes (and the "Folk Mass" ick!). Our congregation recognized the "traditional" male image of God, but acknowledged that "man" did not work for many people as a reference to "humankind" In my career as a musician, I have wavered back and forth in changing classic texts, leaving them alone as classing, and in seeking new texts which are more gender neutral in referring to both God AND to people. Thanks to the (mostly) women who helped raise my awareness. At the same time, I know many women who are flat out annoyed by gender-neutralness. Go Figure!

As we discuss inclusive and expansive language, let us not forget other segments of our society who find church language disturbing. Those who are differently-abled, those of minority race, or minority orientation. Inclusiveness expands far beyond gender distinction. But that may be a topic for a separate discussion.
~ Rob

KL said...

Like those above, I'm very glad you are examining the use of gender language in prayer. This season I have just crystallized my desire to have a version of the Bible for my personal use in which all the default-male pronouns weren't just neutered, but switched to default-female (and default "daughters" for "sons," "women" for "men," assume angels and saints as groups are female). There is something about being singled out and spoken to by the text, that visceral thrill of being known by God, when the default gender that the text speaks is the gender you identify with, and not just a compromise so that some people don't feel excluded. Of course, the use of a female-default text in public services would have to be consensual, although it seems rather unfair, since the use of male-default scriptures has been the norm for several thousand years ;)

Sue said...

KL, I don't know of a totally female reference Bible, but you might be interested in the TNIV or Today's New International Version.

They took the NIV and made the pronouns gender-neutral.