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Inclusive Language Excludes God

February 23rd, 2012
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Pastor Larry Peters posted a very well done blog post on inclusive language, and I’m passing it along here.

I did not come up with that title.  I borrowed it from someone more creative.  But it is a powerful statement of the problem with most inclusive language.  It does not stop with the inclusion of women with men in those places where men clearly is inclusive of all people.  Inclusive language is most dangerous when it seems either a balance of male/female terms for God or it seeks to remove God from any terminology which might be considered gender specific (never mind that God in His gracious wisdom has chosen to have Himself addressed in gender specific terms all the while reminding us that this does not presume all the freight of human anatomy — except with respect to the Incarnation).

I had occasion recently to peruse in more depth the ELCA hymnal Evangelical Lutheran Worship and found the most distressing part of it was the awkward wordings assigned to mask how we formerly addressed God:  He, Him, His, Lord, Son, etc.  Although this hymnal is certainly not alone in its attempt to either balance or remove entirely the personal pronouns which imply gender.

Example from the Preface:  It is right to give our thanks and praise. OR even worse:  It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Example from the Gloria in Excelsis:  Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth.

Example from the Venite:  O Come, let us sing to the Lord, Let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before God’s presence with thanksgiving, And raise a loud shout to God with psalms.

Example from the Benedictus:  You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way… (skipping His makes it all clearer, right?)

Example from the Creed:  Nicene Creed from “his only Son” to “God’s only Son”  (which also eliminates the linguistic reference to the relationship between the Father and the Son)

Hymn examples abound:   Praise the Almighty! Lord, I adore you! (all to remove one silly little Him yet other hymns are spared some of the more radical surgery — perhaps because they are too well known?)

So much inclusive re-wording in hymnals makes for awkward singing and removes the beauty from the language.  We ditch the poetry in order to embrace the twisted syntax of political correctness.  Once upon a time we all knew and understood  the use of the words “man”, “mankind”, and “he”, and were not offended by them. Now, it seems, we would rather risk subverting the wonderful texts of the poets of the past and distorting the way we speak about God in order to please those who look to be offended by language that does not honor the stilted values that deny the privilege of speaking of God as He has spoken to us.  Over the course of time we will be accustomed to the awkward sound of politically correct praise to God but God Godself will never get over our foolishness and idolatry.

Why is it that we think we have the authority to change the Word of God to fita political agenda?  Although God is certainly not male in a physical or biological sense, He has chosen to reveal Himself as Father and as the only begotten Son of the Father. When we feel uncomfortable with the way God has defined and made Himself known to us, we are ultimately uncomfortable with God Himself.  Our inclusiveness is rather exclusive toward God — suggesting to Him that His own revelation is not good enough for us.  “Lord, we just don’t like some things about You, namely, the way You have revealed Yourself to us.  It make us uncomfortable to address You as You have revealed Yourself to us so will avoid the vocabulary of Scripture in order to address You in ways that do not offend our sensibilities.”

It appears that the most forbidden words are the words which God has given us to speak of Him and to Him.  It violates the very nature of His revelation and the most constructive principle of worship, namely, that saying back to God what He has said to us we repeat that which is most sure and certain…

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  1. Jonathan Trost
    February 23rd, 2012 at 09:43 | #1

    As a member of the ELCA, I agree with Pastor Peters completely. I also believe, however, that fortunately most ELCA “pewsitters” do, too. Many ELCA congregations have refused to purchase ELW as a replacement for LBW, and for the very reasons that Pastor Peters mentions.

    I disagree, however, that “Inclusive Language Excludes God”. Rather, it virtually includes “God”, exclusively. Consequently we hear :”God, in God’s love, sent God’s son to redeem God’s people, whom God brings into God’s Church through the power of God’s Spirit.” Wince!

    What’s happened is that some few (?), have replaced theology with ideology, and are rabid and vocal in doing so, as they fan whatever current ideological wind is blowing. That will happen when words such as “dogma”, “doctrine”, and “dogmatics” and “catechize” become unfamiliar words within the Church. It’s all a consequence of a reduction of an appreciation for the importance of The Teaching Office in the Church.

    A couple of other things that I’ve heard out there (but not in the ELCA) are: 1) replacing “The Lord’s Prayer” with “The Prayer that Jesus Taught”. (The former is deemed to be “too sexist”; and 2) replacing the Church’s Trinitarian baptism with “In the Name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sustainer.” Sure, God does create, redeem, and sustains, but those are some of His attributes, not His Name. (But, using those replacement names does avoid having to use that “nasty” word, “Father”, right?)

    I’ll not be a Santorum voter. But, when he says that much of “mainline American Protestatism is in shambles” I agree, in part, for the reasons mentioned.

  2. February 23rd, 2012 at 10:33 | #2

    “(Rev. Lowell G. Almen, secretary of the 5.3 million-member ELCA) met a women in one congregation who had been told “the new church would take her Bible away from her.” Those responsible, Almen said, “have come to think that the biblical prohibition against bearing false witness has been repealed.” from Chicago Sun-Times Date: November 9, 1987
    Author: Daniel J. Lehmann

    The woman was a prophet.

  3. Rev. Allen Bergstrazer
    February 23rd, 2012 at 14:02 | #3

    Oh the contortions we’ll go through when we’re more concerned with offending men than offending God. If there ever was a place where I pity my neighbors in the ELCA it is in having ELW inflicted upon the people in the pews. The problems with inclusiveness don’t end with the wording, there are ten communion services, and a plethora of options. The liturgical segment of the hymnal tries to do so much it never does one or even two things well. And speaking of two things; the fonts, layout and even the colors chosen for the liturgical/service portion of ELW differ from that of the hymnody, which makes it look as if two different books were put under the same binding. When I got my copy of ELW I wasn’t expecting that I would find its contents agreeable, but I did expect that it would be well executed, but I was wrong; the finished product doesn’t seem to be fiinshed at all. We are blessed indeed with LSB, and the many resources for LSB.

  4. EGK
    February 23rd, 2012 at 14:20 | #4

    @Jonathan Trost
    Make it ‘Creator, Sustainer, and Destroyer,” and you have a perfectly acceptable Hindu blessing.

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