Monday, April 24, 2006

inclusive language

I had a great weekend with my family. I got back and found some thoughtful responses to my posting about the ESV. One commenter said:
"I, like you, prefer to use one bible translation. Right now that is the NRSV, which I grew up with in my home. I would never use the ESV because it does not use inclusive language- and if you think that inclusive language is a problem then as far as I'm concerned you have no place in the UMC."
I understand that many people find inclusive language very important. When I was in seminary, there was a policy that students were to use inclusive language in their writing. It was also expected in my writing for ordination examinations.

When I entered the parish, I was still in seminary mode, and preached from the NRSV, and tried to use inclusive language whenever possible, thinking that everyone was very sensitive about it. What happened surprised me.

In Bible studies or in conversations with people in my church, i found that most people are offended by the use of inclusive language in the Bible. Many female lay persons are insulted that we think they care about the use of inclusive language, as if they are so ultrasensitive they can't handle a generic "he," or that they are not intelligent enough to understand that "man" often means "humankind."

Other Christians have acted as if I'm a sellout because I think the Bible should be politically correct. My District Superintendent always used the NIV in preaching. He even read from it, in all of its masculine language, when he read Scripture before the Bishop's sermon, when she preached at our church.

My conclusion, after much consideration, is that inclusive language in the Bible is a stumbling block to the average lay person. There may be seminary professors that can't live without it. But most people truly do not care.

In response to the statement "and if you think that inclusive language is a problem then as far as I'm concerned you have no place in the UMC," I would say that there are already thousands of ministers who have declined the church signicantly, precisely because things like "inclusive language" were their primary soapboxes.

We only get to pick a few ditches to die in. I'd rather not die in the ditch of "inclusive language," and stand before God and say, "God, do you know how many people realized the evil of using the generic 'he' because of my ministry?"

11 comments:

bandlady said...

I am a big fan of NIV and I'm also not one of those who gets bent out of shape when I hear a masculine reference. I know that God is referring to everyone. I guess I'm not one of those off-the-deep-end-P/C people. If you like inclusive language, fine. If you like the old style King's English, go for it. Making blanket statements like "and if you think that inclusive language is a problem then as far as I'm concerned you have no place in the UMC," makes you just as hypocritical as the people you admonish for liking the traditional language. Take a deep breath and relax.

In a nutshell:

Read your bible--whatever translation you prefer.

Carol Herdien said...

What is "inclusive language"? You have lost me. Do you mean using alternative genders trying to be "modern" and "politically correct?" I use the NIV, plus many other versions, but I always address God as "father," humankind as "mankind" and I hate the word "chairperson" that entered the language about 30 years ago. I never say anything but chairman -- not referring to a person's gender, but to the person in charge of a committee, etc.

Glad to have you back Jason -- missed your blogs. And if the DS is not spinning you, I am thrilled that you will continue to be with us. Your departure would leave a terrible hole.

Carol

Christopher Drew said...

Back in 2001, Paul Mankowski, S.J. wrote an interesting piece in Touchstone magazine called "Jesus, Son of Humankind: The Necessary Failure of Inclusive-Language Translations." The following paragraph speaks directly to the phenomenon you discovered once in the pulpit:

"Most telling of all, inclusivists usually give voice to their own commitment to bring about inclusive language, apparently unaware of the damage it does to their own case. If the fait of inclusive language were already accompli, this would be pointless, since there is no need to exhort one’s fellows to continue to speak as they speak. Nor is it easy to understand why so much effort should be expended to bring us where, as they claim, we have already arrived."

The whole article can be read here.

Finally, I cannot imagine a more exclusive statement than "if you think that inclusive language is a problem then as far as I'm concerned you have no place in the UMC." Wow.

Greg Hazelrig said...

I see where you're coming from. I also went to a seminary where we were called on to use inclusive language. There were professors who would even take away from my grade on a paper if the word "He" was used. Of course there was also another professor who told us up front at the beginning of each semester that we could use whatever best suited us, but as for him, he'd use the words of the Trinity.

Now many have wondered why I would go to such a "liberal" school. Actually, I think it was kind of in the middle (more liberal than Asbury and more conservative than what I've been told Emery is). But I am glad I experienced this because I see how some others see things.

But what I did is this. I questioned some of my ladies at my church and they had the same responses that you were given.

I think this is just another one of those issues that we are letting divide us. But then again, we Christians will fight over just about anything.

Jason Woolever said...

carol, ha, ha. you rock. inclusive language would be instead of saying, "if anyone follows Christ, he will rewarded," saying, "if any follow Christ, they will be rewarded." Its eliminating masculine pronouns. the chairperson example is a great one.

thanks for the encouragement as well.

Michael said...

Very well spoken, Jason. Like so many other "issues", this one does not even create a blip on my radar screen.

Andy B. said...

Language is powerful. "He" is not generic, it is gender specific. For some it is comforting and affirming to call God masculine, for some it is not. That is the wonder of God's diversity. But do not minimize the power of language by saying that the rules of grammar are somehow generic. Every word counts.

Jason Woolever said...

Andy, well said. I'm not sure I agree that "he" is always not generic.

But your point that every word counts is well said.

Every word counts could also be applied to translating the Bible. Most people sincerely do not want words added to the Bible.

Anonymous said...

So, was the commenter being "inclusive" when he said you didn't belong in the UMC? ;)

--jb

Jason Woolever said...

"Inclusive" is such a loaded word, politically, emotionally, and often full of resentment. I think the "inclusion" campaigns are fueled by the wrong spirit.

christopher said...

Most people also get offended if you preach on Jesus' disgust over the accumulation of wealth. Should pastors avoid this too? As a pastor, my integrity would suffer were I to cower from a teaching moment out of fear that I might offend a parishioner. Hopefully pastors will begin to get over the fear of teaching the entire Bible, which includes several references to God in the feminine.