Posts Tagged language

Toward Non-gender Language for God – Dr. Molly Marshall

September 24, 2018 – The Christian Citizen

Most of us have now made the shift toward inclusive language for humanity, and we are learning about how pronouns matter in personal identity. We have realized that exclusive language erases half of humanity. Using only man or mankind ignores the presence of women in biblical narratives—and in life. It makes men normative humanity and sustains androcentric privilege. Just when we think the linguistic work is done, I pick up another book (often a theological text) that addresses or describes only men.

We do violence to women or persons who are non-binary (or other sexual minorities) when we subsume them into the conventions of exclusive language. We know the power of naming, and Scripture reminds us of all the ways identity is carried in a name. It is remarkable that as many women are named as there are—yet there are so many more whose names we will never know.

The contexts in which Scripture was shaped—the Ancient Near Eastern world and the Greco-Roman world of the early centuries of the Common Era—were patriarchal to the core. The social structure was hierarchical, and men held most of the rights for inheritance, divorce and religious standing. The language of the Bible reflects this structure, and it is not surprising that masculine imagery predominates. Many persons today read these ancient texts as prescriptive for the roles of women and men today, and they construct a complementarian vision of male and female relationships—to the detriment of both.

What progress are we making in our language for God? Using inclusive language for God has powerful impact on how we view God, how we order human relations and how we perform our roles as disciples of Jesus. Many translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version, have moved the practice of inclusive language forward by including women and sisters in the texts but have left He as the primary pronoun for speaking of God. The challenge is that grammatical gender elides biological gender in the minds of many. Far too many believe that God is literally male and that “Father language” rightly denotes God as ultimate progenitor.

In addition, the language Jesus used for God is warrant for many to speak of God only as Father.  Jesus’ language is much more about filial intimacy than ascribing literal gender. It is easy to see the growth of a tradition from Mark to John. In Mark, Jesus names God Abba 11 times; by the time John is written, this naming for God occurs 120 times. In the midst of great strides to include women begun by Jesus, the writers and editors of the Gospels wanted to ensure that a masculine vision of God safeguarded men’s prerogative and that women would remain secondary. We can see this effect by comparing the treatment of Peter and Mary Magdalene. Recent scholarship suggests that there was a concerted effort to subordinate her leadership to her male counterpart.

 

Many have dismissed inclusive language as “politically correct.” However, it runs much deeper. It is an attempt to speak justly about humans, and it strives to offer a vision of God beyond gender.

Many have dismissed inclusive language as “politically correct.” However, it runs much deeper. It is an attempt to speak justly about humans, and it strives to offer a vision of God beyond gender. Of course, our language for God is always a human projection, and we live in a world where biological identity is a key marker. Scripture uses masculine and feminine metaphors for God, and this enriches our image of God. It does matter that we keep some personal language for God, and Scripture provides more pathways for this idea than we have pursued.

One of the reasons I have given attention to the Spirit of God in recent years is that it allows one to bypass gendered language for God. Scripture and tradition use feminine imagery for the Spirit, yet using that imagery exclusively opens the door to exclusive use of masculine language for the other persons of the trinity. Spirit language, however, allows us to imagine that God is beyond our anthropocentric projections, or ascribing human characteristics to God. If anything, God is supra-personal and grounds our understanding of what it means to be personal and communal. The God who dwells eternally in the richness of trinitarian community invites us to new ways of imagining God with us, moving us beyond our exclusively masculine vision.

Dr. Molly T. Marshall is president of Central Baptist Seminary, Shawnee, Kan.

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Combatting Hostile Rhetoric with Civil Speech – www.ethicsdaily.com

 

Combatting Hostile Rhetoric with Civil Speech | Mitch Carnell, Speech, Civility, Community, Say Something Nice Day, Say Something Nice Sunday

Say Something Nice Day on June 1 and Say Something Nice Sunday on June 4 offer great opportunities for us to join in the task of creating a more civil dialogue in the public square, Carnell writes.

Peter Gomes, the former minister of Memorial Church, said in a 2004 convocation address to the Harvard Divinity School, “Silence is death, and we with our skills and talents have never been more needed than now.”

His words were never more appropriate than now for those of us who strive for a more civil national and personal dialogue.

Some may question why pursue such lofty goals. Others proclaim that we must strengthen our resolve and our efforts to reclaim the high ground.

During Lenten Services at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Mayor John Tecklenburg of Charleston, South Carolina, said, “We should have a day of repentance for all of our racial sins of the past and then we should move on to right those wrongs.”

In a conversation with him later, I suggested that one of the ways to move on to righting those wrongs was to guard the language we use in speaking to and about each other. Our words have consequences because they represent what is in our heart.

The annual celebrations of Say Something Nice Day on June 1 and Say Something Nice Sunday on June 4 offer great opportunities for us to join in the task of creating a more civil dialogue in the public square.

The mayor, a devout Catholic, is a major supporter of these efforts.

As Gomes said, we have the skills necessary to change the tone.

For those of us who claim to be Christians, our obligation is much stronger. We are to represent Christ with our language. This is not an easy task.

Recently, I found myself apologizing for un-Christlike verbal behavior. I was not apologizing for my opinion; I was apologizing for how I expressed that opinion. There was a more Christlike way available to me.

“In the New Testament book of James, the rhetorical question is asked, “Who can control the tongue?’ The implication of the question is that mastering one’s own speech is nearly impossible,” Marshall Blalock said in his sermon titled “Watch Your Words: The Power of Speech.”

“Today we recover the idea that we need to choose our words carefully and turn them into a powerful force for good. Today we will discover how to routinely choose wise words that build others up rather than tear them down.”

Gomes makes it clear that silence is not an option when we are confronted with verbal outpourings that are outside the bounds of respect for the other. It is possible to refuse to repay an insult with an insult.

Scripture tells us, “Let no one repay evil with evil.”

Michael Curry, bishop of the National Episcopal Church, says, “The truth is we are not the Republican Party at prayer and we are not the Democratic Party at prayer. We are the Jesus Movement and that makes a difference.”

Each Monday, I meet for lunch with a group that is out of step with the political persuasion of our area; however, we have made friends with a delightful couple who sit at the table next to ours.

Although their political opinions are worlds apart from ours, we have become friends. We look forward to their arrival. They could sit at a table away from us, but they choose to sit next to us and sometimes even join us.

This is how it should be. We have even learned to laugh at our differences. What a blessing.

A statue was recently erected in Charleston of 95-year-old former governor and senator Ernest Fritz Hollings and features him with an outstretched hand.

According to the sculptor, Richard Weaver, “This is to capture his defining asset – his ability to make friends.”

What an ability to have and what a tribute.

There is no one who does not need a word of encouragement. The late Arthur Caliandro, pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, said, “Be kinder than you think it necessary to be. The other person needs it more than you know.”

In these troubled times when hostile rhetoric fills the airwaves, let us strive to make friends out of potential enemies.

We can turn down the rhetoric and discover or rediscover more productive ways to communicate with each other. We can change the national dialogue.

 

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SCSLHA Adopts Say Something Nice Day

The South Carolina Speech Language and Hearing Association has adopted the celebration of Say Something Nice Day on June first as one of its special projects. Thanks to the enthusiastic support of the immediate past president, Dr. Jackie Jones-Brown, CCC-SLP. The association has more than 1,000 members and touches every corner of South Carolina. Their support will go a long way toward our goal of more respectful speech and of creating a healthier workplace.

I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting with old friends and making new ones at the Past President’s Luncheon last Thursday in North Charleston. These folks have dedicated their careers to helping everyone young and old develop more effective communication skills. It is an organization in which I am proud to claim membership. The growth and accomplishments of the association are simply phenomenal.

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Consider How Your Words Can Heal or Hurt – James Gordon – Ethics Daily

Consider How Your Words Can Heal or Hurt | James Gordon, Speech, Civility, Lent

I am persuaded that an ethic of language, a care for the words we speak and for the words we hear, is a crucial aspect of Christian witness, Gordon says. (Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The first clause of the theological masterpiece, which is the Gospel of John, proclaims “In the beginning was the Word.”

The first words of God at the beginning of all things, according to that equally remarkable meteor of theology, the creation story in Genesis, are “And God said, ‘Let there be light.'”

For Christians, those two moments of divine articulation should be enough to teach us respect, indeed reverence, for words.

Whether written or spoken, words have performative power. They make things happen, they have an impact, they influence for good or ill, persuade of truth or lie, affirm or diminish, enlighten or deceive, liberate or oppress, heal or hurt.

As a Christian, I have a responsibility to give an account of my words. Indeed, Jesus warned that the day would come when we will give an account of every word we have spoken (Matthew 12:36).

Now there’s a warning for the biblical literalist self-righteously ramming their words of truth down other people’s throats.

Elsewhere in the gospels, there’s a quite different scenario – a Roman centurion, a man of few words and most of them were orders to other people (Matthew 8:5-13).

His personal servant is about to die, but he has heard Jesus is a healer, someone who speaks with authority. So he uses his networks and his influence, he sends Jewish elders to bring Jesus.

To cut a short story shorter, the centurion gets a message to Jesus, “Say the word and my servant will be healed.”

Now there’s a man who knows what words are for, who understands the power of the spoken word, someone used to seeing the performative power of words.

We live in a culture buried under words and blinded by an endless supply of new or familiar flickering images.

We hear so much, we are losing our hearing; we see so much our sight is blurring from image overload.

But staying with words for the present, Marilyn Chandler McIntyre, in her book, “Caring for Words in a World of Lies,” states with prophetic frankness, “Like any other life-sustaining resource, language can be depleted, polluted, contaminated, eroded and filled with artificial stimulants.”

I am persuaded that an ethic of language, a care for the words we speak and for the words we hear, is a crucial aspect of Christian witness.

From the praise songs we sing to the texts we send; from our conversations at work to the confidences we hold in trust for others; from the jokes we tell and laugh at to the lies we refuse to tell; from the clever put downs of those we dislike to the caring affirmations of other people’s worth; language carries with it obligations to which the follower of Jesus has to attend.

That’s why this Lent we should consider the nature of language – what it is that we do when we speak words to each other, how to endow words with sacramental significance so that speech becomes a means of grace, a strengthening of the soul in ourselves and others, and an influence for good, compassion, truthfulness and conciliation in our society.

I’m tired of cliché and spin, of the conspiracy, not of silence, but of unworthy words spoken in half-truth – evasive rather than clarifying, cruel rather than compassionate, empty of human communion rather than full of attentive human presence.

At a time when the Western world near absolutizes freedom of speech and expression, it’s time to examine much more closely the proper constraints on speech and expression.

It is time, too, to recognize the power of language to dehumanize and diminish other human beings in the interests of our own agendas, prejudices and unacknowledged as well as confessed enmities.

James Gordon is part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and continues as an occasional lecturer on practical theology and areas of ministry. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Living Wittily, and is used with permission.

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