Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Speak of the Devil. Inclusively.

The National Council of Churches proposes that the use of gender inclusive language in church is on the decline in member churches, and that [m]ale pronouns, particularly in reference to God, are becoming all-too common again ....

The NCC's solution is a symposium in Chicago. We're sure that will fix everything.

Coincidentally enough, this press release, via Pretty Good Lutherans, comes hard on the heels of our reflection yesterday on the questionable literary style employed the the most-inclusive-yet ELCA, service book, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. We did our best to separate what we perceive to be two distinct issues, prosody and inclusivity.

To be honest, we assume that many parishes prefer not to use the sort of language the NCC envisions for either of two reasons: (1) the more traditional language for God and human beings is familiar and therefore comes naturally to the tongue, where the alternative sounds forced; or (2) the older, and at least arguably less accurate, language genuinely reflects their shared theological perspective.

But after our own reflection yesterday, we want to consider a third possibility, and one which we hope the coming symposium will discuss. It is possible that parishes have resisted service books and hymnals using inclusive language not because of any doubt about the underlying principles, but rather because most of the books presented to them are so clumsily written. Not the inclusive bits, but the whole books. Badly, badly written.


Pastor Joelle said...

I've given up on inclusive pronouns for God. It's just so awkward. And you lose any personal images for God. And in the parishes I've been I just cannot say "she" I read once that when you use gender neutral pronouns for God men imagine a man and women imagine nothing.

Although I had assumed that most people understood that God is not a male. But I've discovered that's not true. I guess we do need to look at this again. I suspect reworking pronouns is not going to be the answer to problem that needs to be addressed with better religious education.

Father Anonymous said...

I think you're right.

I finished seminary fairly hot on inclusive language, although I never had (nor have I now) much patience with reconfiguring the Trinity and so forth. Then I went to serve an all-black congregation in the poorest US congressional district, and discovered that nobody gave a rat's ass.

It wasn't that they didn't understand the questions -- they did. It was that those questions didn't address any of their spiritual needs at all. They didn't mind my dropping male pronouns out of my sermons, and they didn't mind if their next pastor dropped a few female ones in.

They didn't care, because either way it wasn't going to get them jobs, get their kids off drugs, make the housing projects safe at night, mend their broken families or heal the gaping emotional wounds left by generations of poverty.

So, without ever changing my convictions, I eventually stopped worrying about it. On those rare occasions when a sentence requires a pronoun, I use it. If there are educated white liberals in the room, I wink apologetically at them. Otherwise, I move on.

Father Anonymous said...
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