Another Language Rant

mWe423KThere’s no other feeling quite like it.

I’m talking about the feeling that comes with finding a unexpected–and absolutely perfect–academic source. It’s like finding the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack. It’s missiological serendipity. It’s God-ordained literary happenstance.

And, lucky me, it’s happened to me twice in the past month.

The first source was a 1958 manual describing how to create an InterVarsity group on campus. As I’m trying to understand InterVarsity’s journey with gender issues, it’s an ideal window into what staff were (and weren’t) thinking about 20 years into our organizational journey.

The second source is a magazine article. There I was, in the Fuller library, staring down more than 40 years worth of InterVarsity student leader magazines. The collection covered an entire shelf. Oh, and did I mention that there was no index?!?

Faced with the (seemingly) impossible task, and with a quick glance to the heavens, I pulled out the 1985 volume. Nada. Then I went back a year, opened the 1984 volume and…Eureka! An article from April 1985 entitled “Should a Woman Lead?”

What a feeling. What a coup. And, for the record, the answer was (and is) an emphatic “yes.”

In the middle of an overwhelming doctoral program, it’s the little things I guess…

That said, as I cull through my growing collection of old sources, one thing grates at my heart and soul. And so today I would like to rant a bit about:

Authors using masculine pronouns to talk about men and women, or about people.

Reading older sources is a continual experience in enduring gender exclusive language. For instance, in the 1958 manual, here’s one gem:

“InterVarsity Christian Fellowship confesses unequivocally that the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is central, that at this point in history the God-Man made an atonement for man’s sin, dying as man’s sacrifice, as man’s substitute.”

I read that and it sounds horrible to me. I literally wondered out loud the other day, “how on earth could the type-setter stomach that?!?”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking the same thing my wife said in response to my out-loud query.

It was just the convention of the day. It was standard practice of the period. Speakers, writers, authors, editors, publishers just didn’t know any different. And, of course, you’re right. It sucks, but that’s how they did things.

So, I get it. Still, a couple of thoughts in response:

First, thank the Lord that, by and large, the convention has changed. I’m not sure quite when it happened (early 80s? Anyone know?), but, mercifully, as a culture we’ve generally moved on.

Second, I say “generally” because of course not everyone has. For example, just last year, the great state of Texas began to update their state documents with gender inclusive language. Or, just other day, I was researching a church’s theological position and I came across this line, from the section on regeneration:

“We believe all men are sinners by nature and by choice and are, therefore, under condemnation. We believe that those who repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior are regenerated by the Holy Spirit.”

Ladies, evidently you’re good to go.

Lastly, let me once more issue a plea for all of us to carefully consider the words we use. In particular, let’s be thoughtful about our pronouns. Want some tips? I like this page, entitled “Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language” from the National Council of Teachers of English.

As I’ve said before, language can include and welcome, or it can exclude and disenfranchise.

Let’s be people who choose the former.

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