Greater NW Pride: Inclusive Language: Update (Again)


Inclusive Language: Update (Again)

When I was born, and during my early, formative years of life, the Bible that I read, and the society in which I lived, used words such as “mankind” and “men” as all-inclusive words.  "Father God" was normal language. Even in 1969, the astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered the phrase on the moon: that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” And women were to feel included in such phrases.  The idea of anyone being non-binary gender was not on anyone’s radar. I heard many sermons over those years addressed to “mankind” and “men.”
When I went to Princeton Seminary and Harvard University in the early 1980s, language was changing in the Bible and how we addressed one another and God. For example, in 1 Thess. 1: 4, we read: “For we know, brethren (my emphasis) beloved by God, that he has chosen you” in the Revised Standard Version, which was published first in the 1946. In the 1980s, in the New Revised Standard Version this verse has been re-interpreted:  “For we know, brothers and sisters (my emphasis) beloved by God, that he has chosen you.”
Suddenly, with this simple change, the Bible’s message felt more inclusive. “Brothers and sisters” (rarely sisters and brothers) was the rule of the day. “God” language changed as well, in which, to this day, many recite the Lord’s Prayer with “Mother-Father God” language. Still others no longer use the word, “Lord,” replacing it with “God." I'll address "God" language in a following blog post.
Welcome to 2021. The United Nations (UN) suggests the following for gender-biased language. Gender-biased language is starting to be replaced, reflecting changes taking place that capture the cultural shifts that are taking place in terms of gender. For example, no longer do we talk about a “chairman” of a committee, but “chair” of a committee. No longer is it “landlord” but owner. “Boyfriend” and “girlfriend” have been swapped for “partner.” And “husband” and “wife” has been swapped out for “spouse.” “Throwing like a girl,” “That’s man’s work,” or “That’s women’s work” is all being discarded on the verbal trash heap of language. And no more “maiden name.” Now it is “family name.” What is happening is that we are removing the cultural, gender bias in our language and attitude of one another, with language that is more inclusive.
Trudy Ring of advocate.com reports that the US House of Representatives has approved gender-neutral language in the official House rules and has created an Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
What does this mean for their language in the US House? “The changes mean that the rules document will use language such as “parent,” “child,” and “sibling” instead of “mother,” “father,” “son,” daughter,” “brother,” and “sister.” It will also replace “chairman” with “chair,” “seamen” with “seafarers,” and “himself” and “herself” with “themself (or themselves).” The Office of the Whistleblower Ombudsman will become the Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds.”
What does it mean for the Church? Let’s re-read 1. Thess. 1:4: “For we know, siblings (my emphasis) beloved by God, that he has chosen you.” That wasn’t so hard, was it? Yes, it might be strange at first, but if others who were once excluded feel included, then a slight change may be worth it. Remember, we are striving for more inclusive language, welcoming not only those who self-identify as a “brother” or “sister,” but those who identify as a “sibling” in Christ.
In our speaking to and addressing one another, and in our writing of emails, blogs, texts, as well as in articles, and books, let us strive to be more inclusive, and more precise in how we use phrases, mindful and aware of not only gender preferences, but including both LGBTQIA+ people and non-LGBTQIA+ people. 
After all, language shapes people, cultures, churches, and worlds. 
Or as John 1:1(NRSV) starts out, “In the beginning was the Word.”
May it be so.
Your sibling in Christ, Brett (he, him, his)

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!