The Power of Words

Our words carry with them the power to make something real.

from a sermon by Chris Coli, Crosswinds Church, Pleasanton, California USA

God speaks the universe into creation.

Words of kindness create goodness; words of cruelty create hurt.

Our words matter.

If you don't take power over your words, they will take power over you.

Chris Coli, Crosswinds Church, Pleasanton, California USA
IMG_4074

What words are we using in worship?

Just language-- language that reflects our changing consciousness about God, the universe, class, gender relations, race, disabilities and violence-- is essential if we are to overcome the injustices and hatred that obstruct the peace, equality and harmony we long for.

Kaye Ashe, O.P., Eighth Day Center, Chicago USA

I want to use inclusive language because... the conversation at that great banquet is going to be inclusive, and the church is the language school of the reign of God. I want to learn to talk today the way we are going to talk then. I want to equip a community with the vocabulary of the future, because the vocabulary of the present is obsolete.

Thomas G. Long, Taking the Listeners Seriously as the People of God

Long writes:
‘Take the issue of inclusive language. Why should I be bothered with inclusive language in worship? Some people say that you should use inclusive language because otherwise, feelings will get hurt. That is true but not very persuasive. Others say that you must use inclusive language because kids in school are using it and they might as well learn to do so in church. But that’s just following the drumbeat of secular culture. Still others say you must use inclusive language because it is an issue of justice and ethics, and you are a bad person if you don’t. I don’t want to be a bad person, but I get grumpy if that is my only motivation. I want to use inclusive language because a day is coming when all people will come from East and West and North and South, and sit down together in the kingdom of God – men, women, children, young, old, red, yellow, black, and white. The conversation at that great banquet is going to be inclusive, and the church is the language school of the reign of God. I want to learn to talk today the way we are going to talk then. I want to equip a community with the vocabulary of the future, because the vocabulary of the present is obsolete. And I am stammering at it, I really am stammering at it, but every vocabulary word that I acquire liberates me and deepens my participation in the messianic feast.’

‘Taking the Listeners Seriously as the People of God,’ Thomas G. Long, 1997, an essay in The Folly of Preaching: Models and Methods, edited by Michael P. Knowles (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Cambridge UK, 2007) , p. 53

We believe that the imagery conveyed by language and language itself is important and that they articulate and influence our understandings of what is revealed to us about the nature and activity of God and the dignity of all God’s people as created in the image of God.  — Inclusive Language Covenant, United Church of Christ USA

The United Church of Christ USA has created an informative and helpful brochure on Expansive and Inclusive Language which includes “expansive language with reference to God and inclusive language reference with reference to the people of God.”  The brochure is available as a PDF download.

Examples from the brochure:

Words That Exclude /  Words That Include:

brothers, brotherhood (in the faith)  /  brothers and sisters, friends, kindred, family of faith, neighbours, humankind

man, men, mankind  / people, all people, men and women or women and men, humanity, persons, everyone, all of us, we, one

sons (of God) /  daughters and sons, children of God, people of God, God’s people, heirs 

“Inclusive language is far more than an aesthetic matter of male and female imagery; it is a fundamental issue of social justice. Language that is truly inclusive affirms sexuality, racial and ethnic background, stages of maturity, and degrees of limiting conditions. It shows respect for all people. Scripture proclaims the world is created, redeemed, and sustained by the Word of God, and the church attests to the power of language and words, recognizing that words have the power to exploit and exclude as well as affirm and liberate.”

“Although the generic use of masculine terms has been accepted practice, it is exclusive and viewed as offensive by many. Further, the use of only masculine nouns and pronouns for God and of masculine generic terms for humankind has hidden the rich feminine imagery for God and God’s people in scripture. Scripture contains many gender neutral metaphors for God such as shepherd, rock, or Holy One. The rediscovery of the complementary female and male metaphors in the Bible and the literature of the early church encourages Christians not to settle for literary poverty in the midst of literary riches.”

Exclusive language limits our perceptions of reality and thereby distorts. Thus, inclusive language has implications for the way we perceive God, things, and concepts, as well as persons.

Reuben A. Sheares, II, United Church of Christ USA

Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 12:18 NRSV

In fact the world is created by language. It might not seem that way at first, but...we can stare through to see and uncover the code, the streams of language that comprise the heart of experience.

Stephen Faller, Beyond the Matrix, page 71

The Eighth Day Center in Chicago publishes the book, Creating Just Language to be used as a consciousness raising tool.  This helpful handbook makes suggestions ‘for alternatives to the dominating and often exclusionary language used in both church and society today. It offers helpful examples and exercises for its readers to continue the effort in creating just language.’

Topics include: sexist, militaristic, racist, homophobic and exclusionary language.

Eighth Day Centre members promote the ‘language and thought of a ‘new’ cosmology that reclaims and promotes the interdependence and interconnectedness of all life.’