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Ecumenical group explores the power of language
participants represented a broad spectrum of ages, races, cultural
backgrounds, gender, sexual orientations, abilities,
denominations/communions, and professional fields.
“Our vision,” said the Rev.
“This vision is grounded in the Gospel mandate to affirm life and carry
forth the healing love of God found within the gospel of Jesus Christ in the
face of the death-dealing effects of sin in our world,” Tiemeyer said.
gathering approached language issues using a descriptive rather than a
proscriptive method. The
conversation was grounded in relationship and listening to each others’
stories of experiencing the power of language and the breaking through of
Each person at the August gathering responded to the prompt:
Share with us an experience when you
noticed the power and/or importance of language (words, symbols, or images)
and the impact of that language on your life, your faith community, or your
relationship with God. This
experience may have helped you embrace the Divine more fully or it may have
been destructive, harmful, or painful to you in your personal and/or faith
After listening to one another’s stories and noting their own responses,
participants met in small groups to discuss what they had learned from the
stories, led by co-facilitators Virstan Choy and Aleese Moore-Orbih.
stories told by the group called for language expansion—expanding the way we
think and talk about ourselves, others, and our God.
Instead of restricting language, the stories called for adding more
Chris Lewis, a student at
called for a breaking down of the “cliques” of our own communions to foster
an expanding vocabulary and imagery for who God is and how God is revealed
in our lives.
stories told by the group called for expanding the understanding of how
language is tied to systems of power and has been and can be harmful,
oppressive, and death-dealing.
Ray Hill, the pastor of an urban United Church of Christ congregation in
Other participants also noted that when “inclusion” or “political
correctness” is the goal, the dominant culture continues to be held up above
culture is not demeaned in my church,” said Teresa Chavez Sauceda, a
Presbyterian who describes herself as Chicana, “but it certainly is not
lifted up.” The
internalizations of descriptions created by dominant groups for “others” --
even experienced through the lack described by Sauceda -- can reinforce
stereotypes, ignorance, and oppression.
stories told by the group called us to expand contextual cultural
attentiveness --understanding that language speaks differently in different
Officer for Racial Justice and Human Rights, a
joint staff appointment
with the United Church of Christ who is affiliated with the American Baptist
Churches and Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., described the
huge cultural difference she often moves between, calling for more
understanding of one another’s contexts.
“Truth be told, there are those who are opposed to language like ‘God the
Father’ because they never had a father, or they had a distant or abusive
father,” Blount said, using a common example in discussions of language.
“But truth be told, there are those who would deeply grieve the loss
of ‘God the Father’ because they never had a father, or they had a distant
or abusive father.”
stories told by the group showed that in an environment created through
respectful intentional listening, compliance to rules about specific words
was not as helpful as commitment to understanding the impact of the power of
“There was no list of forbidden words created; rather, we pursued a
consciousness of how language shapes our own experience as well as the
experience of others – precious wisdom,” said Inez Torres Davis, Director
for Justice of Women of the ELCA.
This kind of commitment can lead to real, meaningful analysis of systems of
power that oppose the Gospel; extending a life-affirming hospitality within
the church and community.
Hedahl, Professor at Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary, characterized
campus discussion around language there as revolving around the difference
between “compliance” and “commitment,” and agreed that understanding what it
at stake in the language we use is more valuable than simply following a
list of rules.
stories told by the group also called for spreading this conversation to as
many different places as possible.
In beginning to think about how to spread these conversations, the
participants acknowledged the need for a variety of methods that might
include listening, dialogue, liturgy and hymnody, humor, story-telling, art,
and social media networks.
What was learned at this gathering will be shared with the NCC
Said Torres Davis, also a member of the working group, “Our hope is to have
such conversations occur in congregations, pericope studies, classrooms,
forums, Sunday schools, pulpits, and so forth…The scholarship on expanding
language has been done, including liberation, mujerista, womanist, feminist,
GLBT, ableist, patriarchal, and other analyses of power within the faith and
within those who hold the faith. It is now time to begin applying this
Among the 25 participants, eight were men, six were under 30, three openly
identified as LGBT, eight were clergy, nine were lay, five were seminary
professors, three were seminarians, Ph.D. candidates or recent grads.
Three participants identified as Latino/a, seven as African American,
three as Asian, one as Native American, eight as Caucasian, and three as
Participants came from the following communions:
the African Methodist Episcopal Church,
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 36 member faith groups -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
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