Inclusive Language Standards: Coming to a Seminary Near You?

I recently came across the very comprehensive APA Guidelines for Non-Sexist Use of Language. The APA in this case is the American Philosophical Association, though this document was modeled on those of the American Psychological Association. Not only do these guidelines prescribe usage conventions: they also provide the rationale for avoiding the generic use of “man” and “he”, complete with references to the studies that empirically demonstrate that “regardless of the author’s intention the generic ‘man’ is not interpreted gender neutrally.”

These guidelines include three sections of rationale, and two more practical sections:

- The Generic Use of ‘Man’ and ‘He’
- Addressing the Professional
- Gender Stereotypes: Distortions and Silence
- Summary of Guidelines for the Nonsexist Use of Language
- Examples of Sexist Language with Nonsexist Alternatives

The bibliography notes that the American Psychological Association guidelines have since been revised and renamed “Guidelines to Reduce Bias in Language and appears on pages 54 through 60 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 4th edition (1994).” My school uses Turabian, so I didn’t know this about the APA style.

In some followup searching, I was delighted to discover that the Nazarene Theological Seminary has a Handbook for Inclusive Language:

The gospel of Christ breaks the chains that enslave people, and creates the conditions in which women and men can achieve the true personhood taught and modeled by Christ. Jesus indicated that only those who include the neighbor in the gospel are prepared to receive it for themselves (Matthew 18:23-35). The apostle Paul declared that the gospel transforms the way we view other persons (2 Corinthians 5:16). Because God has begun a New Creation in Christ, criteria for evaluating others that derive from the old order must now pass away, for the New Creation has its own criteria. Part of the gospel’s good news is that we need no longer rely on the prejudices, fears, and exclusions that once characterized us. Because the Church is the sphere in which the values of this New Creation are on display, denial of full personhood to others within it is no longer acceptable. Rather, God’s grace empowers us to recognize the other as our neighbor granting full personhood in a way that takes seriously the New Testament assertion that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28).

Therefore Nazarene Theological Seminary believes that God calls and equips women as well as men for all forms of ordained Christian ministry, including parish ministry. Nazarene Theological Seminary is fully committed to the use of inclusive language as one way of demonstrating this conviction.

Kudos to NTS for adopting inclusive language standards as a coherent part of their commitment to the gospel. I think this is a terrific idea and I’d love to see more seminaries doing the same thing. (I’ve written before about implicit bias as sin and the need for positive action, like this positive commitment to avoid language that elicits or reinforces implicit bias, to avoid such sin.)

Does/did your seminary (or your denomination’s seminary) have an inclusive language standard?

Do you think that it necessarily goes hand in hand with an acceptance of women’s ordination, as it does for the Nazarenes? Or might churches that don’t ordain women nevertheless coherently commit to inclusive language?

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2 Responses to Inclusive Language Standards: Coming to a Seminary Near You?

  1. My seminary <General Theological Seminary)
    had an inclusive language standard. It was rarely enforced, but it served as an important conversation piece numerous times in my years as a student. A difficult point of tension existed between our usage and the usage of our main liturgical texts. Many felt they could not apply the language standard to the liturgical text, having no authority to make those changes and considering it a violation of their vows. So, there existed this apparent double standard between our academic writing and our liturgical praxis. That tension existed at other times as well, but w/r/t inclusive language it seemed a particularly glaring problem.

    • Thanks for your comment – it is good to hear a concrete example.

      Was there tension between those who differed about whether or not it was permissible to modify the liturgical texts?

      Was the inclusive language standard theologically grounded, as the NTS one is?

      What is the process, in your tradition, by which changes can be suggested to the liturgical texts?

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