Inclusive Language Excludes God

Another excellent article from Pastor Peters on his blog Pastoral Meanderings:


I did not come up with that title.  I borrowed it from someone more creative.  But it is a powerful statement of the problem with most inclusive language.  It does not stop with the inclusion of women with men in those places where men clearly is inclusive of all people.  Inclusive language is most dangerous when it seems either a balance of male/female terms for God or it seeks to remove God from any terminology which might be considered gender specific (never mind that God in His gracious wisdom has chosen to have Himself addressed in gender specific terms all the while reminding us that this does not presume all the freight of human anatomy — except with respect to the Incarnation).

I had occasion recently to peruse in more depth the ELCA hymnal Evangelical Lutheran Worship and found the most distressing part of it was the awkward wordings assigned to mask how we formerly addressed God:  He, Him, His, Lord, Son, etc.  Although this hymnal is certainly not alone in its attempt to either balance or remove entirely the personal pronouns which imply gender.

Example from the Preface:  It is right to give our thanks and praise. OR even worse: It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Example from the Gloria in Excelsis:  Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth.

Example from the Venite:  O Come, let us sing to the Lord, Let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before God’s presence with thanksgiving, And raise a loud shout to God with psalms. 

Example from the Benedictus:  You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way… (skipping His makes it all clearer, right?)

Example from the Creed: Nicene Creed from “his only Son” to “God’s only Son” (which also eliminates the linguistic reference to the relationship between the Father and the Son)

Hymn examples abound:   Praise the Almighty! Lord, I adore you! (all to remove one silly little Him yet other hymns are spared some of the more radical surgery — perhaps because they are too well known?)

So much inclusive re-wording in hymnals makes for awkward singing and removes the beauty from the language.  We ditch the poetry in order to embrace the twisted syntax of political correctness.  Once upon a time we all knew and understood  the use of the words “man”, “mankind”, and “he”, and were not offended by them. Now, it seems, we would rather risk subverting the wonderful texts of the poets of the past and distorting the way we speak about God in order to please those who look to be offended by language that does not honor the stilted values that deny the privilege of speaking of God as He has spoken to us.  Over the course of time we will be accustomed to the awkward sound of politically correct praise to God but God Godself will never get over our foolishness and idolatry.

Why is it that we think we have the authority to change the Word of God to fit a political agenda?  Although God is certainly not male in a physical or biological sense, He has chosen to reveal Himself as Father and as the only begotten Son of the Father. When we feel uncomfortable with the way God has defined and made Himself known to us, we are ultimately uncomfortable with God Himself.  Our inclusiveness is rather exclusive toward God — suggesting to Him that His own revelation is not good enough for us.  “Lord, we just don’t like some things about You, namely, the way You have revealed Yourself to us.  It make us uncomfortable to address You as You have revealed Yourself to us so will avoid the vocabulary of Scripture in order to address You in ways that do not offend our sensibilities.”

It appears that the most forbidden words are the words which God has given us to speak of Him and to Him.  It violates the very nature of His revelation and the most constructive principle of worship, namely, that saying back to God what He has said to us we repeat that which is most sure and certain…

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

Norm has been involved behind the scenes in many of the "go-to" websites for Lutherans going back many years.


Inclusive Language Excludes God — 9 Comments

  1. When the belief is that it is not the Word of God, but merely contains the Word of God great license is obtained. The root of the problem isn’t the political agenda, it is is the fundamental belief of their formal principle. They do not see it as the Word of God, but a cultural construct designed to convey God’s word to the people of that time. That means they are free to muck around with it so they can convey it with in our contemporary culture context.

  2. In the early 2000’s a friend and I attended an ALCM (Association of Lutheran Church Musicians) worship seminar. It kicked off on Friday evening with a “hymn fest” which turned out to be a trial run for the new ELCA hymnal. Our reactions to the “updated” gender language ranged from amused to incredulous to nauseated. The contortions to avoid refering to God with “male” pronouns are indeed torture to the ear and tongue. As a church musician, I used to value ALCM’s offerings, but dropped my membership several years ago when my conscience would no longer allow me to be identified with them. I have also attended and thoroughly enjoyed the triennial LCMS conferences, although I stayed home last summer. I will not make that mistake again, trusting that our reorganized synod will again host future conferences.

  3. It’s not gender-specific, but E?W changed “Built on the Rock” to “Built on a Rock.” Not only do they deny the manhood of God, but they also reject the exclusivity of Him. I can’t speak for individual churches, but the hymnal has clearly gone universalist.

  4. ELW has also changed the pronouns in the Psalms: all the male 3rd person singular pronouns referring to the Lord were changed to “you”, and so, “You make me lie down in green pastures.”

    An actual conversation in my study: when a congregation I served decided to stop our benevolence to the synod, then of course the Bishop wanted to talk with me. Fwiw: he liked me and he is a very likable fellow. We talked in my study for almost 2 hours on ELCA issues. I brought up the ELW and the way inclusive language has tampered with the Word of God, the Scriptures, esp. the Psalter. Bp. J. said with a big smile, ‘But when I pray them I know what they are actually saying.” Me: “You do…I do… but not everyone…not a confirmand and so by using the ELW we will be catechizing them wrongly!” Bp., with a face that I remember as, I never thought of that before, said, “Oh, yeah…”

  5. Nothing is worse than the change in the Second Article to read “became fully human” rather than “became man”. Fortunately, LSB rejected that change and has preserved the correct wording. To speak of the Incarnation as “becoming fully human” is to deny an actual Incarnation since there is no such thing as “fully human” apart from our concrete forms of male and female. Since there is no abstract “fully human”, that change in the Creed confesses a different Christ.

  6. OK – I have to plead mental denseness here. In the examples from the Preface, the Gloria in Excelsis and the Venite, I don’t see what the problem is in replacing a pronoun with its antecedent. I find the first example under the Preface to be worse than the second (exactly the opposite of Pr. Peters’ conclusion) because it turns the focus from the object of thanks and praise (Him/God) to the source of the thanks and praise (our). Other than some possible stylistic awkwardness of phrasing (that is why pronouns were invented, isn’t it?), I don’t understand what syntactical or grammatical problem this creates. Antecedents and pronouns are interchangeable (except in the reflexive, as beautifully illustrated in the last sentence of the third to last paragraph). These are changes that I could see being made even by those who do not bear the “gender inclusive” agenda but merely seek to clarify the antecedents of the pronouns.

    I will grant you the example from the Creed because they substituted the incorrect antecedent… although it is not unheard of to use “God” in reference to the Father only rather than the entire Trinity.

    The other examples I will agree are horrible and egregious examples of mucking up good hymnody and liturgy. Just not seeing it in the first few examples given. Please pardon my mental denseness – maybe it is the head cold I’m fighting at the moment.

  7. @Phillip F #3

    I was miffed when LSB changed the tense of the verb in the first line. It used to be present perfect – “Built on the Rock the Church doth stand….” Now it is future certain – “Built on the Rock the Church shall stand….” To me, that says we are not currently standing on the Rock but we will be in the end. Present perfect means it is currently and will continue to be, “even when steeples are falling.”

    I will, however, give them props for keeping the present perfect in Joy to the World (“the Lord is come”) rather than adopting the past perfect (“the Lord has come”) of the secularized version of this song.

  8. I have a copy of ELW as well as most Lutheran hymnals published in the US for the last 75 years or so. I’ve got to say, 10 setting for Holy Communion is quite ambitious, and from a musical standpoint, the book is pretty impressive. The artwork is also particularly appealing to me. It’s a shame that I could simply NEVER use it. It doesn’t seem as bad as the UCC’s New Century Hymnal or other books that praise the Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, or have the I believe in God, the Father-Mother almighty creeds, but it’s beyond my comfort zone before I even start with the theological issues. Plus, I happen to really like the NRSV Bible (it’s style, not it’s theological choices; I don’t particularly trust it too much), but I really don’t care for NRSV psalms. Imo, liberal denominations would do FAR better to stick with the updated Coverdale psalter from the episcopal ’79 BCP, a far superior translation. I’m keeping a copy of ELW for reference and for musical ideas, but in terms of practicality and usefulness, I’m just a huge fan of the LSB. Best book on the market, imo.

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