I remember a conversation I had many years ago with a church member when I was the Student Minister at Scarsdale Congregational Church, in Scardsdale, NY. We were talking over coffee and I had just been hired, still in seminary, to do my Field Education placement with the church.
I had not yet joined the United Church of Christ and was still a Southern Baptist, who had transfered from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. Having been at Union Theological Seminary in New York for one year, I was getting used to the importance of words, how they are said, and what impact they can have in conversation, from the pulpit, and spoken during the Pastoral Prayer time in worship.
The conversation between me and this church member revolved around my use of the pronoun 'Him' in reference to God. "What's the big deal," I asked, "You know I mean that God truly transcends gender and the masculine pronouns are how we've come to understand God. Besides, this is how the Bible references God." My fellow church member (and former denominational leader) explained that unless I am willing to better navigate the use of pronouns in my prayers, sermons, and conversations--how was she to know if I "really" believe what I say when I say that God transcends gender? In other words, she couldn't possible know. It is as if I am saying one thing to church members but in reality, mean something totally different. It's like the political candidates who say they are against NAFTA in Ohio but say they support it in Texas. In general they support its revisioning but given the audience, their response differs in the particulars.
So today I am very keen to be as authentic as I can possible be. Whether in my sermons, my Pastoral Prayers, or in conversation, I am very careful of gender language. And, to keep me on the right path, I am even careful in my personal prayer time when the door is shut and I am alone with God. Even then, I am mindful of the words I pray.
In another example, the Washington Times, a conservative-run newspaper has issued some new changes it is making in its reporting. Here are those changes:
1) Clinton will be the headline word for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
2) Gay is approved for copy and preferred over homosexual, except in clinical references or references to sexual activity.
3) The quotation marks will come off gay marriage (preferred over homosexual marriage).
4) Moderate is approved, but centrist is still allowed.
5) We will use illegal immigrants, not illegal aliens.
As you can see, they are being mindful of the little things to ensure that what they say truly reflects their appreciation of diversity and of the diverse constituents who read their paper. Simply taking off the quotes around 'gay marriage' is a huge step--leaving the quotes around the two words only serves to reinforce the pejorative argument that the idea of gay marriage is not only illegitimate but also reinforces a charge from many conservative pundits and religious leaders that it's a charade used for political purposes.
One can see the correlation between the change of aliens to immigrants too--the former sounding like something so foreign that it must be regarded with immediate mistrust and the latter, more descriptive and thus more humanizing. The former turns people into a feeling of disconnect, the latter into a 'these are people we're talking about' discussion.
What we say does matter--as much as how we say it. Regardless where you stand on the issue of political correctness, admitting how our words affect our behavior is the first step in reminding us that many of the issues that affect us involve people--people just like, or only slightly different, than you and me.
h/t to Joe.My.God