An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Inclusive Language

Spoken and written language that intentionally avoids word use that is needlessly gender-specific or exclusive. Inclusive language also means the use of male and female imagery and metaphors in a balanced way to express the truths we know of God. Inclusive language may challenge the church to discover new depths of meaning and possibility in the words of faith that we use.

Traditional English usage referred to God and humanity with male pronouns. A male pronoun was often used "generically" when the pronoun could refer to either a woman or a man. This traditional English usage came to be perceived as demeaning and exclusive of women. It was judged to be offensive by women and men who called for a more inclusive use of language, especially in the life and worship of the church. This call for inclusive language was rooted in the theological understanding that God includes and transcends human masculinity and femininity. God is neither male nor female. Both women and men are equally loved and included by God and should be valued and shown respect in the church's language.

With the exception of Rite 1 services, the 1979 BCP uses inclusive language when speaking of people. For example, one version of the Nicene Creed in the Rite 1 Eucharist affirms that Jesus Christ came down from heaven "for us men and for our salvation" (BCP, p. 328). Although the clear intent is to include all humanity, only men are mentioned in this version of the Nicene Creed. In contrast, the first version of the Nicene Creed in the Rite 1 Eucharist and the Nicene Creed in the Rite 2 Eucharist use more inclusive language to state that Jesus Christ came down from heaven "For us and for our salvation" (BCP, pp. 326, 358). Such use of inclusive language is found in contemporary biblical translation. The Revised Standard Version (1952) renders Jesus' statement recorded in Jn 6:35, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst." In contrast, the New Revised Standard Version (1989) renders the same statement in more inclusive language, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

Supplemental liturgical texts and materials have been developed with sensitivity for inclusive language. A resolution of the 1985 General Convention called for the Standing Liturgical Commission to prepare inclusive language liturgies for the regular services of the church. This resolution and subsequent legislation by General Convention led to the publication of Liturgical Texts for Evaluation (1987), Prayer Book Studies 30-Supplemental Liturgical Texts (1989), and Supplemental Liturgical Materials (1991). These resources include liturgies for Morning Prayer, Order for Evening, Evening Prayer, and Holy Eucharist, as well as supplemental musical materials for use in these services. The First Supplemental Eucharistic Prayer in Prayer Book Studies 30 prays to God who "remembered us from our beginning and fed us with your constant love," and "redeemed us in Jesus Christ and knit us into one body." The Second Supplemental Eucharistic Prayer prays to God who "took us by the hand, and taught us to walk in your ways." Even though we wandered away, God would not forget us, "as a mother cares for her children."

Concerns for inclusive language have been raised with respect to issues other than gender. There have been calls for language in the life of the church that includes and welcomes all people, whatever their race, age, ethnic or regional background, or sexual orientation.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.