pondering inclusive language

Canadians joke about keeping up with political correctness. The accepted name of a group often changes several times before an accurate yet respectful one is agreed upon.

For example, the term ‘mentally retarded’ is now considered politically incorrect for it is a label that automatically identifies a person as less than, slower than, inferior to the ‘norm’. It was initially replaced with ‘mentally handicapped’ or ‘disabled’, but this still focused on what a person could not do. Now, the preferred term is ‘mentally challenged’, for it doesn’t erase or negate the specific challenges faced by a person. In fact, it invites us to respect the difficulties of these challenges while working together to overcome them.

Words ARE important, for they reflect deeper beliefs and understandings.

Inclusive language is becoming the norm in all academic writings and in journalism. In recent decades, it has slowly made its way into our prayer and worship. We use the more inclusive New Revised Standard Bible for our Lectionary. Our ears have become attuned to a reasoned and rational inclusivity in the reading of God’s Word, and in the singing of our hymns.

I wrote a blog post for NCR highlighting a commentary written by Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, a doctor from Mumbai, for The Tablet. She gives us a window into the Church in India where inclusive language was taken very seriously by her bishops, yet is glaringly missing in the New Roman Missal. Her article is titled New missal makes women invisible.

Louise McEwan has written a thoughtful piece on inclusive language called Speaking about God on her blog, Faith Coloured Glasses.

As a writer, I fret, fuss, and worry over words; knowing that the perfect word or phrase can bring clarity and meaning to a thought. I also know that the wrong word or phrase can be a source of misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

Language IS important. Politically correct language promotes respect amid our differences. Inclusive language insists that we expand the male-centered world view of the past to embrace both women and men in the fullness of their humanity.

inclusive language in the lectionary

Today`s gospel reading is the story of Jesus inviting Peter and Andrew to be `fishers of men`. I use our Canadian Living With Christ  missalette for the daily readings. Our Canadian lectionary uses the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. But I misplaced November`s issue and have been reading the online versions from the USA. Today`s gospel reading reminded me of the differences in language between the Bibles that are used for our lectionaries. On January 24th, I posted a reflection on fishers of men, or people?  on the issue of inclusive language in our liturgy.

The NRSV translation had to go  through some revisions before getting official recognition from the Vatican. The process is explained on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) web-site. 

“The Lectionary is the result of important cooperation between members of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and officials of the Holy See. While most of the Lectionary text has not been altered, changes have been made so that the Word proclaimed in our churches will be clearer or more accurate. “

A Back-grounder on the Canadian Lectionary  (link is available on the same page) states

The Commission also wanted to be faithful to the wish of the Second Vatican Council that it would be preferable to have a version of Sacred Scripture which all Christians could use in common. To do this would be in keeping with the opening paragraph of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy which saw as one of the principal goals of liturgical renewal “to nurture whatever can contribute to the unity of all who believe in Christ” (Vatican Council II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 1).
With these criteria in mind (suitability for public proclamation, fidelity to the original Scriptural text, possibility of ecumenical use), the Commission recommended the adoption of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible as the basis of the Canadian Lectionary. (emphases mine)

The principle used for inclusive language was

When the original language was clearly intended to include both males and females, the translation was to be inclusive; when the original language was clearly meant to be gender specific, this was to be respected in the translation.

Cooperation and collaboration between our Bishops conference and the officials at the Vatican. A desire for opening doors for ecumenical unity. A respectful use of inclusive language while remaining faithful to the integrity of scriptural scholarship. And an acknowledgement that the language used must be suitable for public proclamation.

We did the Lectionary right.