Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My Inclusive Language Heresy

It's a standard part of our service, just a part of the pattern of a tradition service in a little church.  The sermon is finished and done, and I've ended with an amen, and then we're all on our feet to read text from our bulletin.

"Let's rise and affirm what we believe," I say, pretty much every week, and then we together intone something from the Presbyterian Book of Confessions.  It's the Presbyterian part of the service, beyond the classical movement of the worship, as we dig into a selection from one of the historical creeds and confessions of the Reformed tradition.

I value that, I do, because it reminds us that we're not the first folks to come up with this whole faith thing.  It connects us with our story, the long narrative of those who journeyed the same path we're on centuries and millennia ago.

Only, well, I have a tendency to do a couple of things.   I stay with the more contemporary Confessions, for the most part, the ones we can say without having to

 And I also tweak the readings a little bit, particularly when we're reading from one mid-twentieth century confession.  The Confession of 1967, it's called, and it still has important things to say.  It speaks directly to issues of power and war, of racial bias and environmental degradation, things that should still be front and center in our consciousness.

But it's a creature of it's time, and the language used for human beings is both masculine and abstracted.  Meaning, that when it talks about people generally, it says: "man," or "men."  When it talks about our life together as a people called to follow Jesus and walk the way, it says: "the church."

So what we read, when we read from that Confession?  I've edited it, just a wee little bit, to be more inclusive.

What that does not mean is that I've changed it to "women and men" or "Mother/Father/Parent God" in the well meaning clumsiness that blighted the liturgies of my youth in a progressive church.  "Dear Mother slash Father slash Parent," the earnest worship leader would say, making the prayer as awkward as if our children addressed us as "Mom slash Dad slash Parent," and as impersonal as if our Dad insisted on calling us Daughter slash Son slash Offspring.

Now, of course, that would need to be "women, gays, lesbians, transgendered persons, the genderqueer, the intersex, the asexual, and cisgendered males," as the categorical divisiveness of academic discourse sends our self-understanding into an endless fractal fragmentation.  That may be more precise, in its way, but what it isn't is more inclusive.

So where that confession says "man" or "men," I simply change it to read "we" or "us."

I do the same where the Confession refers to the church as an abstracted other, as if The Church is something other than the human beings who are together saying the words that hum in the air together.  Not "the church does this," or "the church hopes that."  Instead, "we do this."  Or "our hope is that."

In no way do I mess with the meaning of the text, or with the purpose.  As heresies go, it's remarkably orthodox.