Inclusive Language – again

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).

Being an Inclusive Church

One of the main themes emerging from this year’s Scottish General Synod was the issue of inclusion. I’ve mentioned before the phenomena of getting just about any group of Scottish Episcopalians together and asking them what our church is about. The answers are always the same – good worship and being an inclusive church. (Interestingly, no-one ever defines us as having anything much to do with having bishops. I remember one provincial conference where I’m sure everyone would have voted to change the name to the Scottish Inclusive Church if such a thing could have been proposed).

And all this came up again last week. In the long debate about mission and in other parts of the synod, the ethos of the Scottish Episcopal Church was claimed to be being an inclusive church. I’ve long had a suspicion that part of this is that Episcopalians in Scotland are all a bit odd in one way or another and when we say we are an inclusive church, part of what we mean is, “Thank God, I’ve found a church that welcomes me. There is no-where else to go”.

Anyway, on and on it went. “We are an inclusive church” sayeth the crowd.

Yet I’ve come to the conclusion that this is aspirational talk rather than something that we have already achieved. Some of the most interesting things said at the synod were when people said things that suggested that perhaps the church was not quite yet as inclusive as they would like it to be.

Marion Chatterley got us to agree to a gender audit.

Analu Waller reminded us that cutting grants for buildings could mean cutting support for access for disabled people. She also challenged us to go back to our congregations and count the disabled people there and then ask whether we are really an inclusive church.

Ian Ferguson from the big evangelical congregation Trinity Westhill in Aberdeenshire said, “Inclusion is not just about the gay commmunity”. (And everyone nodded along).

I said that the bishops’ current policy on gay blessings and ministry was not something we could all support. (The bishops are directly stating that they are discriminating against gay people for the first time in our history).

And then there was the Faith and Order Board saying that inclusive language amendments to the liturgy would do tucked into the back of the book as an appendix of permitted texts. It was me again, who reminded them that the liturgy committee has been trying to get us to think of liturgy as formative for faith and that making inclusive language merely optional was not really the kind of thing that lots of us are hoping for.

All these things were comments from people complaining that we are not inclusive enough for them. Yet still we say (and indeed our new Primus seemed to reiterate), “We are an inclusive church”. It is a distinct theme and one which needs a bit of thought throughout the church.

What’s the most important next step?