The “Inclusive Language—Inclusive Community” Convocation was held at Wartburg Seminary earlier this Fall. Presenters were Professors Nathan Frambach and Thomas Schattauer, and final year M. Div. students Rebecca Goche and Chris Lee. This is the 30th such convocation held annually in the Fall at Wartburg as the church continues to grow, ever expanding the meaning of inclusivity. Professor Frambach’s opening comments begin below.
This convocation is about our life together as persons in community who use language as a—if not the–primary means of expressing ourselves, both to one another and in our praise of God. Language reflects and forms human perceptions and actions. In worship, the language we employ has the comparable impact on our perception and understanding of God.
This community long ago adopted inclusive and expansive language commitments, as stated in the Student and Community Life Handbook (p. 84). This policy reflects an institutional value, a commitment to providing leadership in the movement toward inclusiveness in church life and the church’s use of language. This convocation is an occasion for this community to discuss this commitment and the leadership that we will provide.
In preparing for this convocation and perusing my own inclusive/expansive language resource file, I came across material–task force minutes and notes, convocation literature, papers–from Wartburg as well as from my own tenure in a seminary community as a student. I left Trinity and Columbus well over 20 years ago and we were working on this then. Will we still be working on it 20 years hence? When I first encountered, or was encountered by a commitment to inclusive and expansive language in my seminary community, it was disorienting, difficult and challenging. But I was open to it, or I was opened to it, and gradually I lived and practiced my way to somewhat naturally using language in a more inclusive and expansive manner. It is now a non-negotiable for me. For instance, using “he” to refer to God, while acceptable in some circles, is finally unacceptable because it is fundamentally inadequate. Most significant is how my perception and understanding of God has been broadened, deepened, and enriched. The impact of inclusive and expansive language on me has been such that without it, I suspect my conception of God would be genuinely impoverished.
Finally, this I will claim: The call to be a Godbearer, to convey the gospel, to be a messenger of Jesus Christ, contains within it the call to give up the right to use language in a way that people experience as excluding them. I will own that statement, but it is not my claim. It is a direct quote from a paper entitled “Pastoral Ministry: All Things to All People,” written by an esteemed colleague almost thirty (30) years ago. We’ve been working on this for quite some time. The mantle is passed to each new generation of those called to share and serve the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s our watch, God’s people, and continue this work we must.