Skip to comments.ELCA pastor drives ‘God talk’ initiative
Posted on 08/17/2010 2:00:48 PM PDT by lightman
ELCA pastor drives God talk initiative
By Susan Hogan* A UMNS Report
CHICAGO Can Christians discuss the language of faith without it becoming a battle over political correctness or theological orthodoxy?
The National Council of Churches hopes so.
To begin the conversation, its Justice for Women Working Group brought 28 people to Chicago in August for a three-day symposium, Language Matters.
S. Kim Coffing, the lone United Methodist participant, did not know what to expect.
The issue of how we talk about God and faith stirs up pain for many people, said Coffing, an executive with the denominations Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
From the minute I walked in, it was obvious what they wanted was to listen to us, she said. This was not about prescribing language or setting policies. They wanted to hear our stories. They wanted to know how the words used to talk about faith and God impacted us.
The Rev. Ann Tiemeyer, NCC program director for womens ministries, said the diverse gathering helped provide a direction for the councils effort.
This was the beginning of a process a time for listening and conversation, Tiemeyer said. We do not want to pit people against one another.
Stories of God
The first task assigned Coffing at the symposium: Describe a time when language restricted her understanding of God. She had three minutes to tell her story.
Drawing on a childhood memory, she described a question she posed after her mother bathed her.
As she was rubbing me dry, I asked, Mom, does God turn his back or close his eyes when Im naked?
Up to that point in her life, Coffing had only heard God spoken of as male. She wanted to make sure he was a gentleman.
As she listened to others, Coffing heard people not of one mind on the issues. Yet, their personal stories drew her in.
I saw how hungry people are to have meaningful conversations that are descriptive of their faith, she said. They want to connect with other people around these issues. If there was a common theme, it was our need to listen.
America is more diverse than ever before, Coffing said. The church draws people from a wide spectrum of races, ethnicities, cultures and customs.
How does a mother explain the blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus at church to her dark-skinned child? she said. Faith language can alienate some people, while rendering others invisible.
As a United Methodist pastor in Duluth, Minn., in the 1990s, the Rev. David Wheeler routinely alternated imagery for God. Later, while serving as a pastor at a Minneapolis church, he encountered language obstacles starting a contemporary worship service.
We had to rewrite the words to be inclusive since much of the praise music out there was sexist, said Wheeler, who now works with a nonprofit agency assisting people with disabilities.
I dont want to de-sex God, he said. But for some people, male imagery and patriarchy gives them a sense of power and tradition. We need to be sensitive about using language that is inviting to people across cultures and faith traditions.
The NCC also says the issues are bigger than gender. It talks about using expansive language rather than merely gender-inclusive language.
Talking about the words of faith isnt new to United Methodists. It happens in Sunday school classes, Bible studies and other settings.
Weve had an active history in addressing inclusive language, Coffing said. Its not necessarily a history of agreeing on the issues. But there has been legislation to affirm language diversity and educational materials historically provided.
Efforts to raise sensitivity to language emerged on a large scale among mainline Protestants in the 1970s with the influx of female students and faculty and the development of feminist theologies.
Inclusive language lectionaries and Bibles emerged. Theologians produced a range of books on the issues.
Still, Inclusive language never really took root in the mainstream, said M. Garlinda Burton, top executive of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
Challenging traditional language for God was viewed by some as an attack on their faith.
Its a volatile issue, Burton said. Some in the church underestimated the value of having conversations with one another rather than having a policy dictated.
Starting the conversation
For many years afterward, the public conversations seemed to stop.
Part of the impetus to have a meeting on language is the impression of some observers that the use of gender-inclusive language throughout our NCC member communions has declined, the council said.
News of the gathering excited Heather Morgan Dethloff, though she wasnt invited to attend.
Dethloff, 30, a Lutheran doctoral candidate at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., requires that students use inclusive language in the classes she teaches. At the same time, in the doctoral dissertation shes writing on the Trinity, she prefers to talk of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Father is a relational title, she said. God is only known as father in relation to Jesus, his son. For me, using inclusive language is not about abandoning all masculine language.
There are people like my mom, who doesnt want the words to hymns changed, she said. But shes also learning new hymns that dont use father language. You can use old and new.
The councils working group says the language used to talk about faith is a justice issue a view Burton shares.
Like any other Christian social justice issue, you continue to look at the Holy Spirit for transformation, she said.
I’m Orthodox now, but I studied at a United Methodist seminary thirty years ago. They were big on “inclusive language” and had an alternative hymnbook called “Songs for the People of God.” It included “Come, Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire” which, in its traditional form, has the doxology, “Praise to Thine eternal merit, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” which was rendered, “Praise to Thine eternal merit, Mother-Father, Holy Spirit.”
I was talking about this to a friend, who wasn’t a Christian at the time, and I asked him what was wrong with this. He said, “They’ve left out Jesus.”
So I decided to bring this up in a class one day with a female professor. My question was what would cause the hymn-revisor to render it that way, and she admitted that some people “have problems with the second person of the Trinity,” AKA Jesus.
And thus is the ELCA warring against those pernicious masculine pronouns: “God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son that whosoever believes in God’s Son shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
Godself so loved the world that God gave Gods only
Son Child that whosoever believes in Gods Son Child shall not perish but have everlasting life.
Fixed it--and I've seen that.
Should have included a hurl alert.
Out of that convoluted language come "theologians" who speak of the Eucharist as a "reinactment of Divine child abuse".