Seminary Policy On Gender-Inclusive Language

Definition: The policy at CDSP is that gender-inclusive language, i.e., language that strives to include both sexes equally, should be regarded as standard in public discourse, and that gender-exclusive language should be avoided as much as possible. The American Academy of Religion defines gender-exclusive language as follows:

  • For the purposes of this policy, exclusive language is defined as a consistent pattern of English usage where the male is taken to be the normative human person; i.e., the word "man" connotes both the male and the human as such. (Adopted from The New Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, J. G. Davies, ed., SCM Press, 1986.)

This policy on gender-inclusive language applies whenever a speaker or writer has free choice about diction—in lectures, discussions, papers, announcements, sermons, public notices and publications of all sorts. Formal academic writing is the context in which the principle applies most strongly, because such work is most clearly in the control of the writer.

Applications of the Policy:

Language about human beings: The primary focus of this policy is on terms that refer to people. Gender-inclusive diction avoids the generic use of terms such as "man" (also "men," "mankind," "family of man," "city of man," "brotherhood," "clergyman," etc.). In their place, terms such as "human," "human being," "people," "humanity," "humankind," "earthly city," "mortals," "member of the clergy," etc. can be used to designate individuals and groups. The possibilities for gracefully rephrasing one's writing and speaking, once one develops the habit of doing so, are amazingly diverse.

Pronouns may present special problems. In particular, the pronoun "he" is no longer widely understood as generic. Gender-specific pronouns are appropriate when the antecedent is known, but duplicate pronouns ("he or she," "him or her," etc.), or the plural ("they") are better when the antecedent is not known. Pronoun gender may also be alternated ("she" in one sentence, "he" in the next); or the composite "s/he" may be used in writing. A good guide to gender-inclusive style is Casey Miller and Kate Smith, The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing (Harper & Row paperback, 1980).

Language about God: Language about human beings can be made consistent with the sex of a group or individual, but the concept of "sex" in relation to God is meaningless in Jewish and Christian thought. Scriptural witness speaks of God in (grammatically masculine) generic pronouns that—in Hebrew and Greek—have no sexual implications whatever. Rich scriptural images provide a wide range of personal metaphors, male and female, to convey God's relationship to created beings.

This question involves personal piety as well as formal theology. Whether gender-inclusive language can or should be adopted in reference to God on a particular occasion depends on the topic under discussion, the tradition from which one comes, and the audience to which one speaks.

Direct quotations in academic work: Direct quotations, especially in formal academic work, should not be changed to make them gender-inclusive. This is an instance where the writer does not have full freedom of diction but must observe scholarly standards of accuracy. One should also respect the place of a text within its historical context, and not "fix" a writer's language anachronistically.

If quoted matter is offensive or controversial, on the other hand, it is appropriate to comment in a footnote or to add the Latin (sic) ("thus") to the quoted text to show one's awareness of the anomaly. Note, however, that one addition of (sic) is sufficient for each quotation.

Implementation by CDSP faculty: The President and Dean and the faculty of CDSP commit themselves to work for clarity and consistency as they undertake to apply the principle of gender inclusivity in their own writing and speaking, and in their supervising and teaching of students. Faculty members will exercise personal judgment as they work out ground rules consistent with their best understanding of the ethical issues and linguistic options involved. Such ground rules, to be constructive and fair, should be stated clearly at the beginning of each semester's study.

Liturgical language: See the CDSP Chapel Customary for policies regarding gender-inclusive language in the liturgy.