Monthly Archives: October 2012

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: INTRODUCTION by Rev. Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor of Bible

This post and the three that follow it are articles derived from the 2012 Inclusive Language Convocation at Wartburg Theological Seminary. The convocation was introduced by the Rev. Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor of Bible with the following words.

Words have incredible power to shape our self-identity and behavior. Today, focusing on inclusive language/inclusive community, we’ll hear Alan speaking about the language we use for God/humanity. Kate will speak to the language we use within the church to talk about “family” and “singleness”. And Patty will speak from the perspective of a parent of one who is homosexual, about the power of words used/left unsaid to include or exclude persons whose sexual orientation is other than heterosexual.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: IMAGES FOR GOD AND HUMANITY by Alan Dreyer, M.Div. Senior

As I think about inclusive language, particularly as it pertains to God and humanity, I think of my own journey as I have come to understand God and humanity, particularly in relation to gender. In the not so distant past, I would have argued that to use mother to refer to God instead of father would amount to a type of blasphemy. In one sense, if scripture uses [male]language, even [male] pronouns with regard to God, and the language of “mankind” along with male pronouns in regard to humanity, who are we to tamper? Yet as I have come to talk about and even debate the merits of maintaining or expanding language one thing comes to mind; I have a wonderful relationship with my father. And in this sentence there is another truth. Some people have very difficult relationships with their fathers, or their mothers, or they don’t have one or the other or both parents altogether. What is their image of God compared to mine? Now this brings up the question, will my dogmatism to maintain the use of patristic language, because that’s how it was originally written, cause others to draw away from God because the images used for God reflect a broken reality in their own lives?

And this brings up another question. If there are images that are not particularly helpful for people to use when thinking about God, are there alternative images that expand the understanding of God? Are there alternative images that allow for a greater inclusivity of humanity? Of course! The bible overflows with ways to speak of humanity, of God, of Christ.

Inclusive language to me is about being able to proclaim God and the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that no one will feel that they are excluded. Or to put it another way, in such a way that everyone may have not one, but multiple images that help them to know God and the gospel.

Gender inclusivity is one area where this takes form. When and where we can use humanity instead of mankind, or persons instead of men, or sisters and brothers instead of simply brothers, we are opening up our message to a wider array of hearers and readers. When we use pronouns beyond “he” and “him” we speak in a different way to all, both women and men. What step could we take then, if we even embrace our transgendered kin by using the pronouns “ze” in conjunction with he and she and “per” alongside of him and her?

Of course, our language demands that we must use pronouns to refer to God. It becomes redundant when I say God multiple times in one sentence. Yet, to favor one gender in the pronouns excludes the other two. An incorporation of all three is one way to speak to a multitude of hearers.

Yet, to speak of God having gender at all is to define God in our own image. Any time we speak of God and create an image in our mind or language we run the risk of forgetting that God is transcendent to the creation. Rather, imagery and language used to describe God should not be to describe God, but rather God’s attributes. Metaphor and simile are useful to describe how we have known God to act throughout history, and in our personal histories.

The use of inclusive language in regard to both humanity and God is not a restriction or a law. Rather it offers freedom to proclaim welcome to all of us who have our own broken realities and freedom to experience the multifaceted attributes of God in new and meaningful ways.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: HOMOSEXUALITY by Patty Tillman, M.A. Diaconal

As we speak of inclusive language a group of people to include are our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ.

So how do we include these people within our community? How do we make them feel not only welcome, but an essential and important part of our lives?

I speak from the view point of a parent. My 29 year old son is a gay man. As I have spent time with my own son, his friends, and many others who are gay this is what I have come to learn:

I have learned that gay men and lesbian women want you to ask them about their life. They want you to ask: How it’s going for you? What can I do/we do to make it better for you?

It seems the people within society, within our communities and within the church remain silent. WE don’t ask and our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters do not tell. Make no mistake your Silence is exclusion not inclusion.

This is my personal experience:

Once people in my community learned that my son was gay it was as if he had died. I have two other children besides my oldest son and people asked about the other two and never mentioned my son again. Now this may be because they feel awkward, and do not know what to say, so they choose to leave the sensitive topic alone. That’s exactly what silence does. It leaves the person alone and on the outside.

Gay and lesbian people listen as their family members, their friends, their co-workers, and their fellow-students talk about their intimate relationships, their dates, and their loved ones. As others share their feelings, gay and lesbian people are denied this opportunity. They listen on the outside. We don’t ask and they don’t tell.

There are many reasons for this mindset: It is difficult for straight people to grasp the life gay and lesbian people lead. The hardships they face living with their husband or wife on a daily basis…

…Safety issues in a world where senseless hate-crimes happen all too often.

…Legal issues—Did you know many gay and lesbian people travel with a stack of legal documents in case something happens to their partner or to themselves? Sometimes even those documents are not enough to guarantee that they can take care of one another.

Our gay and lesbian friends long to be included in the conversation. They want to be asked about their life, their partners, their fears, their joys and their concerns. Try asking this question: What can I do to help make your life safe, to make your life better? Consider how your actions and support for particular policies can improve their chances to be safe and to gain equality. Each one of us can have an impact on the gay and lesbian community by ending the silence…If we ask they will tell.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: SINGLENESS by Katherine Woolf, M.Div. Senior

(Presented as part of the 2012 Inclusive Language Convocation at Wartburg Theological Seminary)

As I begin, I would like to say a word about faith formation and families. Faith formation for parents and children together and separately is a good and important task of the church. In speaking about single people in the church I do not wish, in any way, to devalue that. Rather, the purpose of this presentation is to make visible some of the unique struggles and considerations regarding language and worldview about single people in the church. That being said, this part of the “inclusive language” convocation will focus less on language and more on attitude or worldview, which comes through in our language.

Single people may find themselves in many different places in life. One might be single by choice or by circumstance. One might be previously married or partnered and now divorced, separated or widowed. One might never have been married or partnered. Each of these circumstances carries its own unique concerns, sensitivities and needs.

As with any situation where one person is speaking for a whole category of people, there are many voices that I will not represent well. The group I can most readily represent is the one from which my own perspective emerges which is: young, female, single and heterosexual. (And relevant to some parts of the conversation, a candidate for the ordained roster.) However, even within that group of people there are many diverse stories and experiences, which is why our ongoing conversations are so important. (Indeed ongoing mutual conversation about all of today’s issues is critical so that we can hear and learn from the perspectives of one another.)

In preparing for this, I spoke with several single people on campus. Below are the things that emerged most clearly from those conversations.

1. Please treat me like a whole person! The fact that I am not partnered does not make me less, and doesn’t necessarily mean I’m just waiting for someone else. Sometimes I think that people hear the common wedding text about two becoming one flesh and therefore assume that if you aren’t partnered then you’re just ½ flesh… somehow less than a whole person. This is neither true nor helpful. So, I suggest identifying people by what is, not what isn’t.
Similarly, well intentioned people sometimes approach those who are single and try to “help them” by setting them up with someone. Or by telling them, “It’s okay that you’re single because they have a career”, as though trying to justify their place in life.

People need/want community not pity! Value them and help give support when needed. There are some circumstances, like when one is new to an area where one doesn’t know people, where extra support may be useful particularly from colleagues. Just think about how you do this.

Please don’t make assumptions about my sexuality based on whether or not I’m in a relationship with someone.

On the whole, it is best to see anyone as a person: created imago Dei, claimed by God in baptism, and one for whom Christ died, rather than viewing them primarily by their relationship status (or any other particular attribute).

2. Men and women both have this problem I have heard about this more from women than men, and as a woman will speak from that perspective myself, but please understand that many of these things go both ways.

3. Don’t create dialectics. Yes, Lutherans really like them, but they can be problematic when applied to people. One problem faced by young women is that if you aren’t married, or well on your way, people assume you will be an “old maid”. However, if you are dating someone, but not yet married, especially for those who are candidates for rostered ministry in the church, people react as though something sexually immoral must be going on. (Such assumptions probably also affect unmarried men, but there seems to be more stigma for the women about being unmarried as they approach age 30 and beyond.)

In light of this, particularly with Visions and Expectations for rostered leaders, it is important to curb assumptions and rumors. In small communities like this, where we know so much about one another, it’s easy for stories to get started, and before the facts can be checked almost everyone knows. If you have a question or concern about someone’s behavior, please ask them before you talk about it.

A couple of helpful things to keep in mind. Sometimes men have friends who are women and women have friends who are men, in whom they have no romantic interest. This is good. However, many times assumptions are made that something is going on between those people. Again, please don’t assume. As colleagues in the parish, you can help support those who are single by not creating or exacerbating situations where there are rumors about conduct. If you have concerns, speak to the persons involved.

Some helpful things to think about as we minister in congregations (and other public contexts):

Culturally, being single can be alienating, particularly when most of your friends are married and have children or are getting married and having children. As the church it is great to create an environment that does not mirror this or enhance it.

Consider that relationship status may not be the single person’s favorite thing to talk about. In fact it almost certainly isn’t. Navigating this cultural issue can be tricky because, as I learned it, one of the five “safe” things to ask someone about is their family. However, you can probably imagine a whole host of reasons, beyond just this one, why that might not be the case.

Please consider that being in groups of all couples may be uncomfortable, particularly if congregational social events are consistently structured around pairs of people. Or have names like “Pairs and Spares”.

Let’s strive for worship that can include everyone intergenerationally, so that families are welcome and kids are able to participate, and so that people who come to worship alone are also included. A couple situations to consider: I was in a worship service geared toward kids’ participation and families were sitting together at tables sized to fit one family. This made coming alone very awkward. It was a good attempt to meet the need of the children. But it separated the worshiping community rather than finding a place for all of us. Similarly, some churches end up with a “widow’s pew” where those whose spouses have died find themselves awkwardly set apart in worship. Things like this are a good challenge for us to continue to think seriously about!

One task of our life together as church is to mark life passages. However, our life passages primarily mark out transitions in one’s life related to family relationships and traditional passages – like marriage. Otherwise for adults there are few markers of significant moments in one’s life unless they are about one’s children. So, how might we honor life passages of those whose lives are transitioning from one state to another that do not fall into those “traditional” categories? (Including transitions such as divorce or the death of a spouse that move someone from a state of being married to one where they no longer are.)

How we think about, and honor, primary life relationships is also important.
→ How do we honor and value people’s primary and important relationships as primary and important regardless of whether they are with parents, spouse, children, or friends?
→ How do we value people’s friends and pets as significant life companions and how can these be honored and taken seriously? For example, taking as seriously a person’s grief at their deaths as we do the death of another life partner.

There are a few considerations related to ministry in the church, singleness and particular age groups.

Young adults
Unmarried young adults can be invisible in the church. Please don’t treat us like we’re invisible.

Also, we do not typically view church as a dating service. Don’t make it one. We are here for God and to participate in the body of Christ, not to find a life partner. Please help others to understand this as well.

For older adults there are also unique challenges and concerns, particularly as spouses and life partners begin to die. Suddenly people find themselves in groups of couples, but now they are the odd one out which can exacerbate feelings of aloneness. The aforementioned “widow’s pew” can also be an unfortunate result. It is worth thinking about how these folks can be supported without being singled out in an awkward way.

Finally, how do we conceive of the church as a place where we come together to worship God and are viewed in light of our identity in Christ?  A community that takes seriously baptismal promises and creates a place for faith formation of people in all walks of life, so that the contributions of all to that journey are valued and each one has a place.

ICELANDIC WOMEN TALK ABOUT THEIR MINISTRY by Tammy Barthels, M.Div. Middler

Three women pastors from Iceland were part of a group of 14 (12 pastors and 2 spouses) on Wartburg’s campus this past week for the Center for Global Theologies Icelandic Pastors Academy. They led and participated in many presentations. Midweek, Rev. Halldóra Þorvarðardóttir, Rev. Hulda Hrönn M. Helgadóttir, and Rev. Jóhanna Sigmarsdóttir led a lunch-time discussion on women in ministry, saying that women were always a part of the history of the church.

Hulda shared some background saying that many women were mentioned in the early letters of the church. She told a story of visiting a very old church building where many images were of women: angels depicted as women; Mary the Mother of Jesus; and female leaders of the church. Women held positions of prominence before the Church of Rome was built and a patriarchal influence became the norm. When did women vanish from the forefront of the church? This is uncertain; however in 1974 women started to return to leadership in Iceland and the first woman was ordained.

How have women’s roles changed in the church of Iceland? Today there are sixty women pastors in Iceland; approximately 40% of the pastors of the Lutheran Church in Iceland are women. Iceland has recently ordained their first woman bishop, Reverand Agnes Sigurðardóttir.

There was not a theological argument against women belonging in the church, but it was difficult because it was a male dominated field, said the Icelandic women. However, women saw it as natural to want to become ordained priests.
Halldora, a Dean of the Church of Iceland advised: “Be who you are. Don’t think about being a man or a woman, but be yourself. She said it is good to have women in leadership. It does however change the cooperative leadership. Women are not afraid to admit that they don’t know everything. Men don’t show their vulnerability; they need to look strong and can’t look fragile or they will appear weak. Men think of their roles differently.”

At the lunch meeting many men as well as women participated in the discussion. Both the women and men from Iceland agreed that there has been a change in the last decade. Women are now senior pastors and with a woman as Bishop, things will continue to change. They said, “This is the first time in history that we heard the Bishop talk about the weaknesses of a Bishop, maybe because she doesn’t have a ‘power struggle.’ There is no history behind her.” It is too early to judge if this will change the church of Iceland; however they are on a new path.

Where was the turning point for women in Iceland? They all agreed it came with the first women president of the country, elected in 1980. June 19th was designated as Women’s Day with women gathering in the streets to support women’s equality.

Halldora lifted up that equality is for both genders not just the women. “We need to remember that this is not about women taking over, but sharing in the roles of leadership. Equality will become a non-issue when we do not have to think, talk or do anything about it. Respect is the beginning of equality.”