I’ve been meaning to come back to the inclusive language question for the last couple of weeks and say something about it, but what to say at this point?
The story so far: after a great deal of shilly-shallying, one of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s liturgies has been given a few alternative texts which replace phrases which when intending to refer to people now do so using language that is inclusive of both men and women instead of simply referring to men or “mankind”. For example, in one of the prayers, we can now say, “which is your will for all the world” rather than “which is your will for all mankind.”
Oh, I know that some people react to this with the phrase, “political correctness gone mad” and refuse to think things through but to me its just a matter of politeness. Its rude to make people feel left out by using language which does not include their personhood and experience. I think that is a matter of etiquette at least as much as a matter of theology.
So far, so uncontroversial. (Well, almost, some people don’t like change and will get grumpety when it happens regardless).
The changes went a little futher than that though by allowing some changes to the way we refer to God. So, for example, we can now say, “…and peace to God’s people on earth” rather than “…and peace to his people on earth”.
When I looked through the changes I found that we had been using a number of them at St Mary’s for years and those other changes which have now brought in have come about without anyone saying anything. They have been entirely without controversy here, which is more or less as one might expect.
But what a furore this caused. Newspapers around the world led on “Scottish Episcopal Church declares that God is no longer male” (here’s the Telegraph article) despite the fact that we had not said such a thing nor said that God was male in the first place. It was all over the press and blogs like a rash.
Then came a statement on the SEC Website which I presume was written by the Primus saying that we were not changing the way the Church understands God.
It seems to me that if you move from a position of always referring to God in male-dominated language to something more subtle which does not treat God as necessarily male then you are indeed saying something about the fact that the church’s way of understanding and talking about God is developing. That seems to me to be both interesting and potentially full of good things. Do any of us think that our language encapsulates God. The idea of a God held hostage by our inadequate pronouns seems very far from whatever I’ve understood by God in the past.
Malcolm Round made a brave attempt to declare that God was in fact male and particularly that the Holy Spirit is male but I’m not convinced. One would think from the way he writes about it that none of us knew that some of the language for the Spirit in the Hebrew Bible uses words are grammatically female and always were. Malcolm also associates femaleness with gentleness. I’m not that sure my sisters would want to go all the way with that analogy.
I’m surprised that our bishops chose to make these changes by decree rather than going through a synodical process whereby we could talk about these things and come to something of a common mind about it. I agree with the changes but would rather have taken a bit longer and got more people on board. This very clearly changes the Church’s understanding of God and that’s a good news story not something to be shy of.
Now, what use of exclusive language is getting my goat and causes me to huff and puff whenever I hear it right now?
Its not gendered language at all. It is the phrase “family doctor” which seems to be constantly in use on the news and at the Tory party conference.
I don’t have a family doctor. I have a GP.
(GP = General Practitioner – for all our readers from furth of these shores).