Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Inclusive Language in Worship (It's a good thing)

Since 1981 Metropolitan Community Churches, as a denomination, has embraced Inclusive Language. Sometimes this policy is new for people and, like many new things, it is met with resistance. Still, we teach it, we model it, and we see lives impacted positively because of it. 

One MCC leader says that for god to be male means that to be male is divine (and obviously, that is problematic). I've also heard transgender people say that inclusive language is important, healing, and necessary for them; indeed, it is a way of including them.

Inclusive Language isn't a phenomenon of "political correctness" or an attempt to not offend the highly sensitive. It is an attempt to include more people in a shared experience. 

For all that MCC has not done to my liking, the affirmation and celebration of LBGT people and the use of inclusive language are two things that have always set us apart (in a really good way) from most other faith communities. 

Now, of course, the Disciples of Christ, the UCC, and the Unitarian Universalists all have (to some degree) inclusive language hymnals, most mainline Protestant seminaries have inclusive language policies (enforced to different degrees obviously), the Episcopalians have long had inclusive alternative and supplemental liturgies, and the Presbyterians are even now experimenting with an inclusive hymnal. But MCC was a leader from the beginning for this attempt to include more people by not relying on language that privileges ability or whiteness or status or power or maleness. Inclusive language tends to avoid aquainting goodness with being "white as snow" and it invites people to rise as they are able; it doesn't assume that "Man" means all of humanity and it never presents "God" as if it were a boy's name. 

I remain committed to the use of inclusive language and I hope that Sunshine Cathedral continues to be a leader on this issue.

Below are statements I have recently made via social media on the topic of inclusive language in worship:

To not change male privileging language, or hierarchical language, or militaristic language is to reinforce oppression at a subconscious level. Of course it's easier to leave things as they "always were" but how can we confront misogyny if our worship language deifies maleness? 
And how can we ask people to release their homophobia if we aren't even willing to stop glorifying the Y chromosome? 
Inclusive language isn't about politics, it's about justice and it's about honoring the divine in and beyond all gender identities. I won't take the time here but it is also more faithful to the breadth of scripture. Inc lusive language isn't easy in a sexist culture (which the church historically is) but it is the right thing to do.

At Sunshine Cathedral I never correct anyone who in conversation uses default male language for god (I might make gentle corrections if they use sexist language otherwise...if they want to "man" a booth I might say "thank you for volunteering to STAFF the booth" or if they say "that's the best thing known to man" i might say "it is a pretty great gift for HUMANITY" but if they say "He" (obviously referring to a holy Presence) wants us to love everyone, I just smile, or say "I agree" or without making an issue of it say 'Well, God is love so love is what we should be doing"...

BUT, in order to be a worship leader at Sunshine Cathedral, one must model inclusive language at that level. Choir, soloists, preachers, (lectors have an easy job because the readings are already inclusified), and even Eucharistic Ministers/Communion Servers (though 90% compliance is about the best one can really hope for with them) are all expected to model inclusive language. 

In your personal life, call God Lizzard Toes if that is meaningful to you, or, you might be a humanist or agnostic or atheist or non-theistic Christian in which case, most God language is irrelevant for you anyway, but to lead worship at SC, one must model what we teach is a value. And since 1981, MCC has claimed to value non-sexist, non-racist, non-classist, non-ableist language...So, at the leadership level, we do ask people to model it in worship.

There is at least one more important point i think, and that is inclusive language is a theological frees us from the idolatry of trying to trap the Infinite into the "graven images" of maleness (or whiteness or humanness or Americanness, etc.). 

We need to remember that MCC is a prophetic movement and part of our mission is to teach, to lead in new and empowering directions, to challenge the status quo; so, it always stuns me when people say that we can't teach inclusive language because people in their previous churches were taught male-privileging names and pronouns for God. If non-MCCs could teach sexist language, I see no reason why MCC can't teach an alternative. In fact, since 1981 we have claimed this particular value is an MCC characteristic.

We have never been bound to previous traditions, or we wouldn't exist (we were born to offer an alternative to homophobic religion, but we can never assume our previous churches only got one thing wrong). So, if people need a male deity 6 days and 23 hours a week, I don't think it's too much to ask that they hear something a little broader the 24th hour of the 7th day once a week (though they will often say they know God isn't male, but if so, then why be so married to exclusively male language for God?).
And, just maybe, the god of their understanding and experience will become bigger, which is of course one of the goals of inclusive language.

Inclusive language was one of the "different" things about MCC that made it a clear alternative for me and attractive to challenged and stretched me, and my experience of what we often call "god" became much bigger as a result. 

Yes, in the end, inclusive language will challenge white male privilege, but in that case, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

No comments: