Tag Archives: Mother God

Watch Yo Mouth!: A few thoughts on inclusive language


Some Context

That day has come. It has been here for a while, but I have just gotten around to it.  About a month ago, I started receiving hostile comments, e-mails and facebook messages concerning the content of this blog (and the content of my scholarly work as certain persons had interpreted them).  It just seems that recently, my use of language [post editted] but people have started to call into question why half the time I seem to use inclusive language and adhere to post-colonial theory and at the same time, be more willing to use offensive titles for Christ such as Master (since the pre-supposition is that Jesus is more of our companion than our Master and Lord).

Choices on Wordings: 2 Examples

Why do I use Master over LORD or Sovereign for the Greek term kuryios?

Being one who is familiar with the sorrow songs sung by enslaved Africans, I recognize the subversiveness of language.  At the same time, I have witnessed in churches where Jesus is called LORD in one moment, and then in the next, there are contemporary Christian music songs played where he seems much more like a boyfriend, girlfriend, or significant other.  In fact, the Lordship of Christ is normative in these church’s doctrines and confessions.  I prefer Master because the Greek rendering is far more political and refers to not only master/slave relationships but also to the authority that the Roman emperor had in his day.  For me, Jesus is the one, true legit Master of the Universe; therefore, I am obligated to submit to no one else other than him.

Why do I use the noun Empire over Kingdom, Kin-dom, reign, rule, or commonwealth for the Greek term basileus?

Perhaps the most controversial translation that others have contended with is my referring to the Empire of God/heaven rather than Kingdom/rule/reign of God/heaven. To put it quite bluntly, I believe that persons living in the Western hemisphere have a fear of the word empire because they do not want it to be referred to their own country, particularly here in the United States of America. We just need to be honest: the USA is an imperial power and has been so under the auspices of different presidencies (Democratic, Republican, Whig, and Federalist) for well over one and a half centuries.  The proper usage and historical reference of the Greek noun basileus is empire and we should not try to sugarcoat it!  Now there has been a criticism that this “Empire of God/heaven” concept portrays a god who imposes literally “his” will on humanity and creation; but that is a complete misunderstanding of this author’s theological perspective.  While the Empire of God/heaven refers to the universal dominion of the Triune God, this is nothing that comes to humanity and creation through acts of violence and coercion; on the contrary, because God is love, and Jesus the Messiah orders us all to love our enemies and our friends alike, the empire of God/heaven arrives to us by nonviolent and peaceful means towards the greatest path of the reconciliation of all things.

On Inclusive Language

In undergrad, when I first read Rosemary Radford Reuther’s Gaia and God, I thought it was just plain ridiculous to refer to God as she or mother or sister, especially in the Christian tradition since God is revealed as Father alone (is that right, my friends who are subordinationists?).  Gaia was a pagan concept and there needed to be no blending of paganism with Christianity (and I still agree with my assessment back then).  And furthermore, why should gender issues and use of language be upheld as more important than racial issues and language?  It just proved to me that second-wave feminism had a blindspot for racism and issues related to ethnicity.  However, in my studies at Brite Divinity School, the inclusive language rule was enforced grading-wise and I even complained to my mother one particular time; but she told me that God was neither male or female, so I should stop throwing an tantrum.  Then, my friend Stephanie introduced me to Elisabeth Johnson’s She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse and it was the very first time I had heard of the Christian Wisdom tradition.  It opened my eyes to a blindspot that I was previously unaware of.  Being brought up in a conservative Black Baptist tradition where only the last chapter of Proverbs mattered, I did not know that the Patristics, particularly Justin the Martyr and Athanasius referred to Christ as the Sophia in Proverbs 1-8.  All of a sudden, I started to see in the book of Isaiah, especially Third Isaiah, in chapter 66, where God is the mother of Zion.  The Bible did make room for female imagery of God.  Inclusive language, I have concluded is not about being politically correct; it is about making space for the other.  A few weeks ago at a book study I was leading, I was chastised for using inclusive language when I referred to God as God and Godself.  In my mind, God is a personal God and God is a personal pronoun. I have not fully worked out what that means but I hope to some day; that is why I can never become a process theologian.  I doubt that there can ever truly be a gender neutral translation of Scripture, as fellow Brite scholar J.C. Baker suggests and I do not think it is appropriate to change the language of traditional hymns or contemporary songs in the name of inclusive language.  As I stated earlier, inclusive language is about making room for the other.  If a congregation or a denomination desires a hymnal with inclusive language, they should come up with their own original songs rather than commit ontological violence (as my friend Adam names it) against the original authors of these works.

Commenting Policy

I am not a man of many rules. I try to live by as few rules as possible and give people as much freedom and leeway as I can.  Without further ado:

1. Feel free to post wherever, whenever, however, and whatever you want at your own discretion. Blog posts PAST  and PRESENT are open for commenting.

2. I do not mind going off topic; if a blog post of mine brings up more questions and problems than answers, then I see that as a sign that I am following the logic of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  In the blogosphere, I have learned that there is no way I can determine the direction of a conversation, and nor should I try to. I can only make suggestions and propose this and that, and allow the readers’ to determine their own concerns, and then I may respond accordingly.

3.  No personal insults or attacks on the experiences of others will ever be tolerated. It is not helpful in conversation and debate; only criticisms of a person’s ideas and positions will be allowed.

4. Ephesians 5:4 (NRSV)- “Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving.”

Truth and Peace,