Inclusive Language

Inclusive and Expansive Language in the United Church of Christ

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The Eleventh General Synod instructed that a Book of Worship be developed and characterized by language that is truly inclusive with respect to God and to people. Although the generic use of masculine terms has been accepted practice, it is exclusive and viewed as offensive by many. Further, the use of only masculine nouns and pronouns for God and of masculine generic terms for humankind has hidden the rich feminine imagery for God and God's people in scripture. Scripture contains many gender neutral metaphors for God such as shepherd, rock, or Holy One. The rediscovery of the complementary female and male metaphors in the Bible and the literature of the early church encourages Christians not to settle for literary poverty in the midst of literary riches.

Inclusive language is far more than an aesthetic matter of male and female imagery; it is a fundamental issue of social justice.  Language that is truly inclusive affirms sexuality, racial and ethnic background, stages of maturity, and degrees of limiting conditions.  It shows respect for all people.  Scripture proclaims the world is created, redeemed, and sustained by the Word of God, and the church attests to the power of language and words, recognizing that words have the power to exploit and exclude as well as affirm and liberate.

Beyond the words we use or speak, this concern [expansive language] recognizes the power of language to shape, if not create, reality and to structure relationships, whether in the church or in the world. Exclusive language limits our perceptions of reality and thereby distorts. Thus, inclusive language has implications for the way we perceive God, things, and concepts, as well as persons. 

Reuben A. Sheares, II
UCC Office for Church Life and Leadership

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