Inclusive Language

The Issue

During worship, God is almost always named in male, patriarchal terms (e.g., Lord, Father) even though Scripture proclaims that both women and men are made in the Divine image. The human family is just as often referred to in exclusively male language (man, men, mankind).

What it Tells Our Daughters

The use of exclusively male images for both God and human beings leads many Catholics to conclude that God is male and tells our daughters that they are secondary, derivative, less than men.

Building a Church for Our Daughters

We can draw upon Scripture, Tradition and human experience to incorporate language and imagery in our daily and weekly devotions that underscore God’s own inclusive and all-embracing love.

Words matter. Words can wound, alienate and degrade people. Conversely, words can heal, affirm, and express genuine inclusivity.

The Second Vatican Council urged members of the Catholic Church to overcome “every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion” (Gaudium et Spes, 29). The group Priests for Equality urged the use of inclusive language in regard to God and human beings as early as 1975. Sister Elizabeth Johnson, among scores of others, proclaims that God has no gender. Her book, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (1991) reviews the history of Christian language and images about God. Pope Francis in “Amoris Laetitia” continually calls on the Church to be inclusive.

This vision beckons us to celebrate all lives as precious, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, social status, or physical ability. For girls and women who are committed Catholics, and who aspire to serve the church in all areas, it is degrading to be constantly subjected to words describing a male, patriarchal God. It is disempowering to see only male role models, and it is hurtful to hear people referred to as “men.” Subliminal and overt sexist language and images lead to an oppressed ecclesial mentality and often-skewed theology.  

Images from Scripture and Tradition abound, telling of God’s relationship with all of creation. Yet, the institutional Church seems to have a paralysis of imagination when speaking about God and human beings.

But we need not wait for change to occur from the top. It is in our power to effect transformation in church culture at the grassroots level.

With resources like Inclusive Lectionaries and The Inclusive Language Bible, as well as tradition and human experience, we can incorporate language and imagery in our daily (or weekly) devotions with a heart and mind that underscores God’s own inclusive and all-embracing love, as many intentional Eucharistic communities are already doing. We can radiate this new freedom to those around us, including one’s parish priest.

Perhaps the most striking example of God’s esteem for women is to remember that it was Mary who first confected Jesus’ body and blood. “This is the body of my body. This is the blood of my blood.”

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