Volume > Issue > A Case Against "Inclusive Language"

A Case Against “Inclusive Language”

THEOLOGY MATTERS

By Kristen West McGuire | January/February 1997
Kristen West McGuire is a full-time mother and a writer in southern California. She is the author of The Glory to Be Revealed in You: A Spiritual Companion to Pregnancy.

The debate over “inclusive language” rages on. The average parishioner may not follow the volleys back and forth. I confess that I am not your average parishioner. My background includes preparation for ordination in the United Methodist Church, followed by conversion to the Catholic Church. But I am not the only Catholic who has noted inclusive language being used in the local parish where it has not been approved.

As a Protestant seminarian, I used inclusive language regularly because it was expected by my professors. I often found it awkward and imprecise. At the same time, I am no stranger to gender bias. I have been hurt deeply over the years by disrespect for my intelligence and contributions as a woman. Yet, I question what end is furthered by the use of inclusive language. There are some solid theological limits to the use of inclusive language. Furthermore, the spiritual shortcomings of inclusive language stop me dead in my tracks.

Most supporters of inclusive language say they are motivated by pastoral concerns. They want the Church to communicate the good news about Jesus “effectively.” They believe inclusive language reaches women. Their opponents remind us that our religion is gender-specific. For example, Christ walked the earth as a male. Our understanding of both Christ and the Church are centered in this fact.

Speakers of Latin-based languages are generally bemused about our preoccupation with translation. Pronouns in these tongues clearly indicate the masculine and feminine, singular and plural. English does not. This peculiarity of English forces us to “choose a gender” when translating passages about individuals or groups of people. Traditionally, the gender chosen has been male. This is no longer always true. The changing role of women in society has forced many linguistic changes in the last 30 years. But the heavy-handed imposition of inclusive language can actually impede communication and obscure the revealed truth about God.

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