One of the central points—truths—to consider when thinking about inclusive language, is our power to name things. It’s one of the things God gives humans right up front.

We can name for good, or for ill. From naming, to classifying, to including/excluding, to judging . . . it’s a slippery slope.

Lots of things about this next story make me cringe. I used to work with a group of friends who had an inside joke about the name “Target.” There was a nice, big, new, shiny (all of those words are important) Target in the rich suburb south of town. That was the Targét (pronounced Tar-jay). Not just Target— Targét. The other Target was in a mall that people thought was dying. Not as nice, big, new, or shiny. That was the Tar-ghetto.

We have the power to name. And I am not proud of how I used that power. How I used that power not just to name, but to judge. Reflecting on that story, one of the most important things, scary things, to me is that it was an inside joke. It was something I shared with some people, and not others. So that shows me personally what exclusive language (as opposed to inclusive) is: “Can I say it to anyone?” Is it appropriate everywhere?

That was a socioeconomic example. Here is a race/ethnicity based example: I have heard very well-meaning people, kind people, friends ask me what I would like to be called, “African-American?” “Black?” I’m sure people who have lived through the decades of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, etc have wondered about African –Americans: “Well, what do they want to be called now?”

There is so much packed into that question. The “they” is a separation, designating an ‘us’ from a ‘them’, whether the question is asked sincerely, faithfully, with concern, with annoyance, or with a sense of insecurity. All of those things are present.

Also present is the idea that the many names for African-Americans, from the slurs (n-word/darkie/ coon) to the ones that are socially acceptable and progressive for their time (black/negro/Afro-American/African-American) have all been reactions. They are all reactions of one person looking at another and thinking, “You, your skin, your culture – you are not like me. What are you?” In other words, African-Americans have never had a way of naming themselves that isn’t a reaction to a normative culture from outside classifying, judging, naming, including/excluding. That slippery slope again.

Those groups that have been named from the outside have often taken those names on internally as a defining characteristic and point of identity. Consider the pink triangle, or the n-word with a gangsta ending. Why would a group do this? Because naming is powerful. Inclusion and exclusion are powerful.

The ability to name is the possession of power, God-given power. As leaders in the church, let’s work to change the balance of power.

AN INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE CONVOCATION TALK by S.D. Giere, WTS Associate Professor of Homiletics & Biblical Interpretation

A brief excerpt from a book that we are studying in one of my classes this fall:

To the prophet… no subject is as worthy of consideration as the plight of man…  Man is rebellious and full of iniquity, and yet so cherished is he that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, is saddened when forsaken by him.[i]

To borrow from my good friend, David Tracy, “We belong to language far more than it belongs to us.  Language shapes our perception, our understanding, our world, our sense of community, our sense of who God is.”[ii]

When Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Conservative Rabbi, reworked and published his book The Prophets in 1962, he used the language of man to refer to all of humanity.  Heschel, a prominent progressive figure in the Civil Rights movement,[iii] clearly did not intend to exclude with his choice of language.  At the time, Heschel’s use of “man” for all humanity was understood as inclusive.  And guess what?  Times have changed.  When we read from Heschel’s text in class, we spit and sputter and choke as we work toward hearing and engaging Heschel’s important and profound observations, because Heschel’s most basic language for communicating about humanity and about who God is are simply no longer inclusive.  This kind of language is out of tune… not for everyone, mind you, but for many and for us here at WTS.  Language changes over time.

In the WTS Student Life Handbook[iv] we have a policy, which is worthy of your attention.  By my count, this is the 29th annual Convocation that addresses inclusivity.  (Doesn’t quite get back to 1962, but…)  In short, there is longstanding commitment to inclusivity in this worship-centered community of critical theological reflection, where learning leads to mission and mission informs learning.

Policies are often experienced as law or political correctness, in particular when it comes to inclusive language.  I want to suggest that we reframe policy in light of the gospel.  Simply put, inclusive language has to do with the gospel.  For whom is God’s love in Jesus Christ?  For whom did Jesus die?   Do we want to use language that communicates the inclusive nature of God’s love in Jesus Christ?

Inclusive language was a priority during my time as a student here.  I was unleashed upon the church with a commitment to inclusive language, but the gospel importance of it didn’t hit home until sometime in 1998, when I was serving my first call at Messiah Lutheran Church in Fargo, North Dakota.  Because of my formation at Wartburg Seminary, I naturally used inclusive language, perhaps most noticeably in the context of worship.  Early one week, I received a note from a parishioner, scratched on the back of a communion card.  The note was from a woman in her early twenties, away a good chunk of the time at university.  Her note, which I still have in my desk, read: “Pastor Sam, thank you using language that includes me.”  This little note nudged me toward the notion that inclusive language is about the hearing of the Gospel. The language we use impacts how people hear the Good News of Jesus Christ as being for them.

Closely related to inclusive language is the use of expansive language for God.  In Heschel’s day, it was common to hear God referenced with masculine pronouns, e.g., God Himself.  To ascribe gender to God is never the point when a masculine pronoun is used.  Rather, it has do with language and the change of language over time.  While it’s best (in my humble opinion) to avoid the heresy of Patripassianism, a.k.a., Sabellianism, modalism (referring to the three persons of God as modes of God’s activity, e.g., creator, redeemer, sustainer), scripture provides many images for God. Perhaps we ought to consider the use of expansive language as Gospel-centered in the same way as inclusive language (so that people will hear the good news of Jesus Christ!), though differently responsible to the witness of Scripture and the Rule of Faith.


[i] Abraham Heschel, The Prophets (Harper Perennial, 1962) 6.

[ii] David Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope (University of Chicago Press, 1985) 53.

[iii] I am delighted to share with the reader a children’s book that was shared with me by Wartburg student Carina Schiltz after the convocation: Richard Michelson (author) and Raul Colon (illustrator), As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom (Dragonfly Books, 2013).

[iv] §3.1 Inclusive Language, p.84.

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS by Denise Rector, 2nd Year MDiv Student

I am African-American. After Charleston, we as the ELCA need to go be Lutheran in African-American communities across the United States.

Within Lutheranism there are, truly, many ethnicities. But as discussed in the recent article in The Economist  (“The silent minority: America’s largest ethnic group has assimilated so well that people barely notice it” ) many of those European ethnicities have blended together. Could it be that they have assimilated into the modern American concept of whiteness?

The black/white distinction is not something created by African-Americans. This is an important point. The cultural distinction (to put it mildly) is something everyone is born to, yet only “other” ethnicities have to deal with. Whiteness has social and economic benefits, and thus, very practical dimensions.

Lutherans have a chance to proclaim and demonstrate a word of grace in the midst of exclusion. Black America needs a word of grace. Economics, stop-and-frisk, and other ills have left too many behind, and the African-American community sees a world going on about its business with little care.

Are we listening? Are we willing to partner for change?

Lutherans are “the grace people,” and we have a powerful work of grace to do. It is not neat. It is not fast. It is not easy. It is one by one, face to face, fueled by humility and an understanding of willing sacrifice.

I am willing to answer the question “Why are you Lutheran?” over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. But people can’t ask me the question if I am not out there, where conversations can happen.

Have you been asked why you’re a Lutheran lately? Is it because you are only around Lutherans? Then how will that powerful work of grace proceed, if we talk only to ourselves?


SIGNS OF THE TIMES – Inclusive Language—Inclusive Community

The “Inclusive Language—Inclusive Community” Convocation was held at Wartburg Seminary Thursday, October 22. Presenters were students Nicholas Rohde, Mack Patrick, Denise Rector and Prof. Samuel D Giere. This is the 29th such convocation held annually in the Fall at Wartburg as the seminary and the church continue to grow, ever expanding the meaning of inclusivity.  Watch coming issues of The Persistent Voice for more on this convocation.

BROADENING INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE IN WORSHIP by Thomas Schattauer, WTS Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel

Comment at Morning Prayer, Loehe Chapel
Feast of Michael and All Angels
September 29, 2015

“I want to address briefly a matter of concern about inclusivity in our community and in our worship. It has to do with the booklet we have been using for our singing of morning prayer the last few weeks [Marty Haugen’s Come Let Us Sing for Joy]. As you know, there are a couple places where it divides the singing between “women” and “men.” We need to think about that language as we seek to become ever more inclusive—for two reasons. First, it does not accurately describe what we are trying to do, which is to divide ourselves into “higher” and “lower” voices in our singing. When we use the labels “women” and “men” to accomplish that, where do young children fit into that picture, or women who sing low and men who sing high? Second, not everyone lives in a world that divides so neatly into men and women. Where, for example, will people among us who are transgender as well as transgender friends, colleagues, and neighbors find themselves in these binary categories? Where do they fit into the picture?

So, let’s try to shift our thinking a bit and start to use labels that more accurately describe what we are trying to accomplish and include the full range of gender identity among us. When we wish to divide into higher and lower voices, let’s say it exactly like that. As long as we continue to use this resource, we can at least make that shift in our minds and together translate it with a meaning that seeks to include each and every one.”

BREAKING THE CYCLE OF POVERTY…THROUGH HANDMADE PRODUCTS by Koren Lindley, Final Year Diaconal Ministry Student

Imagine not having the financial means to feed your own children.  Imagine feeling you have no other choice than to work long days in a sweatshop or to turn to prostitution to gain enough income to provide at all for them.  Imagine feeding your child pies made out of clay because that is all you have.  For most of us in the United States, this is not our reality, but for women in many other countries this is a daily struggle.  Not only are they not able to feed and provide for their children, but they are living in gang and drug-infested neighborhoods.  They are caught up in a cycle of poverty that one must live in to completely comprehend.

In March, 2015, while on her husband’s pastoral internship, Wendy Daiker, a Wartburg Theological Seminary spouse, felt a call to help women.  Initially, Wendy felt these women were local to the Iowa town where she was living, but she soon learned that God was calling her to a much broader community.  This was affirmed when Wendy’s husband, Joe, connected her to a friend who was a Compassionate Entrepreneur for Trades of Hope.  Wendy quickly realized that God was calling her to help women through Trades of Hope on a global scale.  It was then that Wendy became a Compassionate Entrepreneur for Trades of Hope.

Trades of Hope was started in 2010 and was created to empower women worldwide and to create jobs for them.  According to the Trades of Hope Fall 2015 catalog, “We want every mother to be able to break the cycle of poverty-for herself and her children.  Parents who are working can provide basic necessities, support, and protection for families.”  Trades of Hope does this by marketing the handmade products of artisans through a home party model.  Compassionate Entrepreneurs (CEs) bring the products (jewelry, handbags, home décor, etc.) into homes and share both the products and the stories of the artisans who have made the products.  Products are sold and the artisans are given a fair wage for their work, a wage that helps them support themselves and their families.  Currently, Trades of Hope represents 28 groups of artisans (over 6500 artisans!) in 16 countries.

The artisans are mainly women and their stories are as varied as their fingerprints.  Some are trying to create a better life for their family.  Others were rescued from the sex trade industry or have diseases such as AIDS or leprosy.  Still others have aged out of orphanages and have nowhere to go.  They are women who do not want charity, but do want an opportunity to better their lives.  These artisans are given new hope and confidence that they can break the cycle of poverty through their handmade goods and with the accompaniment of Trades of Hope.  Wendy’s favorite part of being a Compassionate Entrepreneur is “knowing that what I do empowers other people and makes a difference.”

You can learn more about Trades of Hope by visiting Wendy’s Trades of Hope website or by liking her Facebook page “Wendy Daiker Trades of Hope.”

SIGNS OF THE TIMES – Dubuque Prays for Racial Reconciliation

Members of the Wartburg Community took part in the  Dubuque Community Prayer Event Sunday night October 18th. This was a significant and united witness of the Christian community in Dubuque for repentance in the face of racism and the need for racial reconciliation. The event included an extraordinarily diverse representation of the Christian community here in Dubuque. There were people from the great variety of Dubuque congregations: evangelical, Pentecostal, Reformed, Lutheran, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Orthodox—white, black, Latino/a, and Marshallese. And the offerings of song and prayer, reading and proclamation were equally diverse.

Thomas Schattauer, WTS Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel, offered this prayer at the event.

Almighty and ever-living God,
you are the the source of all life, and all things find their unity in you;
you gather a people from every tribe and nation, from every race and station in life;
by your word you call them into the one body of our Lord Jesus to show forth your love and mercy for all people;
you pour out your Spirit to empower and unify your people and renew the face of the earth.
Give us your life.
Gather us in the name of Jesus to be your people.
Send us in your Spirit to renew this weary world with your forgiveness, life and salvation.
And especially here in this place—Dubuque, Iowa—this day and in the days to come,
enliven the witness of your people gathered in every community of faith;
make us one in the service of your life-giving purpose;
in the light of your truth and righteous judgment, heal the wounds of prejudice and the divisions of race and place within our community;
in the promise of your reign of justice and peace, unite us in all our efforts for the common good.
Most high and holy God, pour out upon us your one and unifying Spirit, and awaken in every part of your church a holy hunger and thirst for unity in you; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.