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A compilation of essays and comments by concerned pastors, theologians and laypersons, challenging denominations who are denying Christ’s resurrection, ‘demythologizing’ Scripture, blessing same-sex relationships, ordaining non-celibate homosexuals.

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How preoccupation

—with pronouns led to trifling with the Trinity

by Frederick W. Baltz (WordAlone board member)

News: July 31, 2006

"Coming of Age: Exploring the Identity and Spirituality of Young Men" by David W. Anderson, Paul G. Hill and Roland D. Martinson (Augsburg Fortress, 2006), is a fascinating book for everyone concerned about young men and their disappearance from the church.

Based on 88 interviews with young men of varied backgrounds between their teens and mid-thirties, the book offers understanding and concrete, helpful suggestions to engage a spiritual problem that simply will not go away. photo of Pr. Frederick BaltzThe authors state that the church has been evolving into a feminized organization for a long time now, with a 30% male to 70% female ratio as the present state of affairs in some places.

Researchers have impressed upon us that it is extremely hard to be a boy today. Bridget Murray of the APA Monitor Online writes that schools are "antiboy" ("Boys to Men: Emotional Miseducation," July/August 1999, American Psychological Association.) Boys are more active than girls and get in trouble for not being as studious in school. Teachers often discipline boys more harshly than girls. Boys are given mixed messages about their feelings; they are to be sensitive (without models), yet faulted if they aren't tough. They are often victims of hurtful words. Girls' academic performance has increased while boys' has declined. Boys are more likely to hurt or kill themselves than girls are.

Anderson, Hill and Martinson say for every girl in therapy there are four boys.

In the churches we continue to find people who seem to be more interested in what they call "justice issues" than in reaching people with the good news of Jesus--what used to be called saving souls. A few decades ago these people decided that it was urgent for us all to stop using masculine pronouns for God. None of this has ever seemed natural to broadcast or print media, but it became the law in seminaries and elsewhere. The people who had the idea also had the power to make it happen. In fairness to them, some of their concern may have been evangelical; we were told that some women could not deal with the concept of God as Father in view of terrible things their own fathers had done to them. One suspects, however, that their chief reason was more ideological than theological.

Where was the research to support this pronoun revolution that became mandatory as things sometimes do in the churches? From all I've been able to tell, it was non-existent. No one ever really found evidence that banishing all male pronouns when used of God would actually be a good thing, or that there really were lots of women who would approve. They did it anyway.

For all anyone knew, the new avoidance of masculine pronouns for God might have some bad effects such as…

1) sending one more message to boys and young men that the church isn't for them, and that they should run just as soon as they could break free from their parents' authority.

2) trying the patience of large numbers of men and women, leading them to the conclusion that pronoun fixation is at best silly and at worst exasperating. (Were you ever in a place where the usual Lutheran Book of Worship words became "God recalls God's promises and leads God's people forth in joy . . ."? I'm not making that up.)

3) contributing to the erosion of the Trinitarian language that belongs to the orthodox faith. After all, if "he" or "him" is verboten, it is only logical that Father and Son must go too.

4) becoming a dialect spoken nowhere else that is by its nature exclusive and foreign, a dialect that even begins to resemble an obsessive/compulsive neurosis. How much difference is there between the person who will not step on a crack in the sidewalk and the person who automatically edits his or her speech of masculine pronouns for God? I submit: sometimes, not much.

Yet the use of this revised, ecclesio-speak language has been strictly enforced. Do not expect to enter seminary if you don't plan to speak it. Do not expect to get very far in church organizations until you have become fluent in it.

Is there a kernel of truth in the point behind inclusive language? Indeed there is, but the solution is not pronoun police, and certainly not an assault on the classical definition of the Trinity. The solution is first to affirm the classical language of the Trinity as one certain boundary, and then to practice an inclusive language that does not draw attention to itself. That probably means God will sometimes be called "he," and never called "she." Of course we know that God is neither male nor female, but we also know there are more important matters before us than to justify being preoccupied with that one.

The attempts of church leaders to transform society by removing masculine pronouns for God will probably rank somewhere between the attempts to adopt the metric system in the U.S.A., and trying to teach the world Esperanto. The reasons are not compelling except to the few who continue to enforce it. The Emperor/Empress has no clothes.