Inclusive or Exclusive?

Vantage Point
Those of us who are “insiders” expect “outsiders” to understand us.

Now that I’m retired, I’m able to listen to and read sermons that others preach. It’s been an enjoyable experience, but I’ve also been struck by the use of exclusive language in some sermons. One pastor said, “A person could say that God is protecting him, glorifying him, keeping his head held high, and responding to his prayers when he already has everything going for him.” I couldn’t help thinking it would have been much more inclusive to use “people” and “them” instead of all those “him”s.

Another quoted Scripture using language that included such phrases as “the men of Judah,” “the sons of disobedience,” and “the unrighteousness of men.” In a society that is put off by sexist language, why use it—especially when gender-neutral translations of the Bible are readily available?

But our sensitivity to the people to whom we speak must go further than gender-neutral language. We also need to take a look at the acronyms we use in our speech, our bulletins, and our publications. One sermon I heard repeatedly mentioned the ESV. What’s the ESV? At a meeting I attended I was told that a student had graduated from another seminary and was now enrolled in the EPMC program at Calvin Seminary. What’s EPMC?

Those of us who are “insiders” expect “outsiders” to understand us when we use our acronyms—unwittingly excluding the very people we wish to include. We use these acronyms so often that we don’t even realize that others might not know what we’re talking about. I once served on a committee with a person who used acronyms left and right. One night I sent him an email asking a question deliberately packed with acronyms. I expected him to respond, “OK, George, I get it. I’ll be more careful.” Instead he simply answered the question, presumably not even noticing the abundance of acronyms.

Every organization has its own supply of acronyms. For example, I recently flew to a meeting. When our plane was almost ready to take off, the pilot said, “Sorry, but we’re experiencing a short ATC delay.” Why not simply say “air traffic control”?

Clearly the church is not unique in its use of acronyms. But the church is in the business of communicating the gospel, of including people instead of excluding them. The language we use should give evidence of that.

About the Author

George Vander Weit is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.