INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE FOR AN INCLUSIVE CHURCH
UFMCC seeks to be a truly inclusive church. We believe that “God so loved the world”, and try in every way to consistently reflect that belief. This includes the words we use. Using exclusive language impoverishes us all. No matter who is present, we will always use inclusive language for the following reasons:
- The Gospel of Jesus Christ is inclusive. That is truly the heart of the matter.
- The way we speak about people shapes how we think of them – and how we treat them. We wish to treat all people as equally made in the divine image and equally valued by the community.
- God is not limited by any of our human concepts of sex, gender, colour or culture, and we want to know the fullness of God.
- It is the policy of UFMCC, and we are a full and faithful part of that denomination.
HOW LANGUAGE AFFECTS US
Our choice of words both reflects and affects the way we think. This is not “political correctness”, but part of our effort to be accessible, helpful, loving and welcoming to all who wish to worship with us. It means using language that does not demean, insult, exclude, stereotype, or trivialise people on the basis of their disability, race or gender. It means avoiding offensive words and stereotyping. It also includes the way we depict and talk about God in our songs and liturgy, because this will shape how we think about God and about people.
Sexism, racism, ablism and other bigotry harm and can even destroy both the faith of individuals and the spiritual health of the church – we care that our language does not give a foothold for these evils.
A POSITIVE EXPRESSION
This is intended to be a positive expression. Rather than restrict the way we speak, or take anything away from our expression, we seek to grow and expand, including rather than excluding, and using our God-given creativity.
Use of limited language about God has restricted our experience of God – for instance, the use of only the masculine language about God from the Bible, ignoring the feminine images to be found there, has warped our image of God for so long, that many people think of God in exclusively masculine terms. We have to go to great effort to balance this out in our language, because the bias against it is so deeply entrenched.
LANGUAGE AND GENDER
Sexist language in worship is unacceptable because it says something about God which is not true and which is unbiblical. God is not a ‘man’, obviously, but neither is God exclusively male. The Bible is filled with feminine images of God which have been almost entirely ignored. To speak of our experience of God as male is to miss the God of the Hebrews and Jesus. Yes, God is our Father, but God is also our Mother who gave birth to creation and who nurses us still (Isaiah 42:3-4; 49:15). If we refer to God in masculine terms, we must be equally willing to speak of God’s femininity.
Exclusive language is also unacceptable because it says something about humans which is not true. Sexism cuts men off from their feminine side as if it were weak or inferior. A person’s feminine side is as divine (God-like) as their masculine side.
In Genesis we are told “Let us make humans in our image…male and female God created them”. This shows that both masculinity and femininity are parts of the image and likeness of God. As we integrate both in our selves, we draw closer to the image and likeness which was God’s original intention.
We try not to use exclusively gendered terms to refer to human beings: we do not say ‘men’ when we mean ‘human beings’, or ‘brothers’ when we mean all the faithful. Nor to make stereotyped assumptions – a farmer is not necessarily ‘he’, a nurse is not necessarily ‘she’.
We also strive not to use binary language in relation to gender. We know that some people are non-binary in their identity, and we know that gender covers a wide spectrum of experience. To assume that ‘men and women’ covers all human beings would be to imply that those who are neither men nor women aren’t included in our worship and community
LANGUAGE, RACISM AND COLONIALISM
Inclusive Language is not just about gender. A long history of racism has shaped our language, too. For instance we try to avoid language that connects ‘white’ with goodness and ‘black’ with evil, as this feeds and perpetuates a racist theology, too often and easily applied to the skin colour of people. Likewise religious language has a history of anti-Semitism. Language about slavery, empire, power and nationality all have implications for our faith. It is easy to miss these implications in areas that don’t directly affect ourselves. We strive to be aware of how language affects everyone, and listen when we are told that some language is hurtful.
LANGUAGE AND DISABILITY
We strive to use language that doesn’t exclude people who are disabled, D/deaf, have learning disabilities or are in other ways ‘othered’ by society on the basis of their physical characteristics. Dismissive or insulting language about blindness, mental health issues, mobility struggles and so on are unacceptable in our worship or in our conversation. We strive always to find ways of speaking that lift everyone up.
For example, some years ago, a favourite song was “They will know we are Christians by our love”. One day a member asked if we might not change one verse of the song which says “We will walk with each other: we will walk hand in hand…” You see this person was paraplegic and could not walk with us, but was more than happy to ‘go’ with us. We were glad to change the words because we meant the words “they will know we are Christians by our love”.
We are always learning. Language does not stay the same – we often learn that a term we thought harmless is very hurtful to some group – as for instance, we now know ‘sex workers’ is a better and less hostile term, and having become informed, we do our best to use the better words.
We respect the hugely diverse theological backgrounds of the people worshiping at MCCNL.
Rarely in MCCNL will you be told “this is what you must believe”. We do theology together. By respecting others’ views – not adopting them for ourselves, but honouring them and respecting that they are as deeply held as our own, we can still fellowship together and in so doing deepen our own spiritual understanding and experience.
Does this mean that MCCNL has no core beliefs? No, UFMCC has its “Statement of Faith”. All new members of MCCNL are asked to broadly agree with this statement; however it has been intentionally and prayerfully worded to include people from a wide ranging theological perspective.
AN AREA FOR GROWTH
Inclusivity is still new for some of us and old patterns take time to change, but we are trying and we thank you for joining us as we continue to grow together in our understanding of God and ourselves. Sometimes growth is awkward, and even painful. God is leading our Fellowship onward and new ground is often a bit rough. God is leading us forward in love, and together we will make it to the Promised Land where ALL of us are equally included and valued.