Cultural Sensitivity

Vantage Point

When sending missionaries to another country, Christian Reformed World Missions gives them instructions about that country so their presentation of the gospel isn’t unwittingly compromised by the missionaries’ own culturally loaded words or actions. Shouldn’t the same characterize North Americans who communicate the gospel in North America?

For decades women have entered many fields once the exclusive realm of men, and today women serve capably in every sector of society. This has impacted North American language, so much so that college students are now required to use gender-inclusive language in their work. However, too frequently we in the church still communicate in language that gives the impression that the gospel is only for men.

For example, the theme verse for the 2007 celebration of All Nations Heritage Sunday was Acts 1:26-27: “From one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth. . . . God did this so that men would seek him.” The theme verse of a local Christian school class for the 2007-08 school year was Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before men. . . .”

Don’t we mean men and women? Some might skeptically reply, “You know what we mean—men and women.” But what an unsatisfactory response, especially when we teach our children to follow the nonsexist writing conventions of the day. In addition, don’t we encourage each other to “Say what you mean and mean what you say”?

We, the church, should use inclusive, not exclusive, language, especially when we acknowledge that such language accurately reflects the intent of the

biblical writers. All of us acknowledge

that women as well as men ought to examine themselves as they partake of the Lord’s Supper, even though Paul says, “A man ought to examine himself . . .”

(1 Cor. 11:28). Shouldn’t we use a version of the Bible that says what the writers (and we) mean?

While it might feel burdensome to change the Bibles in your pews, culturally sensitive, inclusive language is important—to our society and to us. Our congregation purchased Today’s New International Version, a Christian Reformed-approved gender-accurate translation, as soon as it was available—through an offering. Other councils may wish to incorporate this major purchase in their General Fund budget. Or some of you might wish to gift your congregation with such Bibles.

No matter how this goal is reached, our church needs to be inclusive in the version of the Bible it uses and in the language our pastors use. Let’s become more sensitive to our own culture, so that when we communicate the gospel we say what we mean.

About the Author

Rev. Beth Guikema-Bode is pastor of Fuller Avenue CRC, Grand Rapids, Mich.

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