Is inclusive language on the decline?

July 30, 2010

The National Council of Churches’ Justice for Women Working Group is
initiating a conversation about inclusive language in worship and
church life generally. The Language Matters symposium, to be held here
in Chicago next month, came about in part because of “the impression of
some observers that the use of gender inclusive language throughout our
NCC member communions has declined,” according to this National Council
news article.

curious as to whether this is true. So, at the risk of instead
initiating yet another debate about inclusive language itself, I
thought I’d ask you: If you’re part of a mainline church, have you
found gender inclusive language to be on the decline in recent years?
Or has it gone up? Stayed the same?

Via Susan Hogan.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Declined, unfortunately. It seems like we are using less inclusive language, more traditional language, narrower selection of hymns. I don't mind male images of God; I'm just uncomfortable when it dominates.

I'm in an Episcopal parish that had a reputation at one time for having inclusive language...I'm not sure what our reputation is now, but it's not inclusive language. :(

Katherine said...

Katherine said...

Inclusive language was very important to me in seminary and in the first year or so of my first call. And it simply became less important. Less charged, less practical, less... important. I aim to be balanced, and not overload the masculine language, but beyond that, I'm quick to use "He" if it's less awkward than the alternatives.

Sally said... We were in

Sally said...

We were in the midst of a choir rehearsal, just a few weeks before Christmas. In our books, the line in the number which read "goodwill toward men" had the "men" lined through and "all" written above it. One of the choir members asked, "Do we sing 'men' or 'all'?" She explained to the choir director the change in our books. The choir director responded, "Oh! Sing 'men'! I can't stand that politically correct stuff!" None of us said anything, and we ended up singing "goodwill toward men" Which is oh so not inclusive!


Men in that context equals Mankind (which wouldn't ryhme) = the human race : the totality of human being. Why does inclusive mean excluding the traditional?

Andy said... @Sally -- to

Andy said...

@Sally -- to complicate things further, the original Greek says something more like (and I don't have it in front of me), "and goodwill to all whom God favors."

I find myself in the same position as Katherine above.

pastormack said... I'm

pastormack said...

I'm serving a UMC congregation in a conservative old mill town, so even if I was inclined to use "inclusive" language it would not be prudent. But we recite the Lord's Prayer, the Apostle's Creed, and as much possible I try to invoke the Holy Trinity...and these things should be done a certain way. That being said, I do go out of my way to help them see feminine images for God. Part of the reason our study group read "the Shack" (yes, I know a lot of people hated it) was for that purpose. But in worship? There is no substitute for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Anonymous said... No

Anonymous said...

No change. As aged Elder of healthy sized Evangelical Presbyterian congregation for past 5 of my 60yr PC(USA) I do not recall any discussion of such. I presume there was a previous period of unrest. None of our ladies voice "SHE" to overcome the remaining masculine in our hymnals. No change

Sally said... My church

Sally said...

My church has both the New Century hymnal and the Pilgrim Hymnal. The switch was before my time there. Apparently they had put the Pilgrim Hymnals away, but got them out later. They sit in the pew, and new people have to figure out which hymnal to use and where it is, as we use both hymnals. Worse, the 8:30 service will use the New Century version, and the 10 oclock service uses the old Pilgrim version. (There is no room for the Pilgrim hymnals in the chapel where the 8:30 is held.) I'll never forget this experience at my church when I lived out on the West coast. We used the New Century hymnals exclusively, but occasionally would have printed hymns in the bulletin. One day we sang "This is My Father's World." The second verse was rewritten and began, "This is my Mother's World." As I sang the second verse, I remembered my mother and her love of the outdoors. Tears streamed down my face as I sang. I don't know why singing the first verse did not have that effect on me, as my father was a forester who also loved the outdoors. But it didn't. Roberta Bondi makes a good case for the value of inclusive language. Though I understand that is not the discussion here. Let's not go backwards!

John Edward Harris said...

John Edward Harris said...

I have not noticed a decline, but rather a stand still. Generally, younger and more aware clergy seem to be using inclusive language, but some of the older and less aware clergy seem not to get it. While I will use "Father" in most Trinitarian formulations, clergy who begin EVERY prayer with an address to the Father annoy me. They seem to ignore and exclude not only feminine but also other Biblical images for God. I believe our vacubularly of prayer ought to be expansive rather than restrictive.

Anonymous said... I

Anonymous said...

I attend a PCUSA church in the Midwest and we almost exclusivley use inclusive language.

Alan said... We try to

Alan said...

We try to keep the language as inclusive as possible without sounding contrived or artificial. For prayers we may use metaphors that avoid gender altogether; e.g., "O God, our Rock," etc.

Anonymous said... At the

Anonymous said...

At the synod/district level, use of masculine language is unwelcome. A staff member who read from the RSV for devotions was taken aside afterward and "counseled" (as in "don't ever do that again") for language choice.

In the congregations, folks can go either way and the masculine language is coming back in places. While some view this as a negative, I am reminded of the part in the shack where Papa says (IIRC) 'I knew real fathering would be harder to find than real mothering' in explaining masculine language in the bible.

Anonymous said... Two

Anonymous said...

Two pastors in a row used inclusive language; the next two (including current) speak like they'd never heard of it. I encountered oblivion at seminary, too. But I had a CPE colleague who'd been shut out of family love because she was female (4 brothers). She said it's almost impossible for her to connect with God as male. Since we're told clearly in scripture not to put stumbling blocks in the way of those who are seeking God, and we never know who's listening, I am careful to avoid using any pronoun at all for God. There's nothing PC or feminist about it--it's about biblically mandated hospitality. But nothing will change until we convince the Sunday School teachers.

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