Much has been made lately of the removal of “In Christ Alone” from the new Presbyterian hymnal. The debate in committee and the reason given for the hymn’s elimination was the particular use of a particular word: wrath. As Christians sing their theology, words matter.
In an article in USA Today, Mike Harland, director of LifeWay Worship, the music department of the Nashville-based publisher, said “The faith of current generations and future generations is shaped by what we say and what we sing. That’s why you stress over every word.” Indeed, in hymnody, words matter.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly in 2012 affirmed that words matter by re-committing denominational funding and web presence support to the Words Matter initiative of the National Council of Churches. But the particular words that seem to matter to the NCC Words Matter project apparently do not include the Word of God, written and Incarnate. Or at least that’s the impression one gets from the fact that neither the Word of God contained in the Bible nor the Word of God made flesh in Christ were ever mentioned in the recent Words Matter workshop held at the Aug. 1-3 Big Tent event of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Led by Meagan Manas, staff specialist for Justice and Peace with Presbyterian Women, the Aug. 3 workshop was attended by approximately 15 people. After reciting the children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” she refuted it, stating that “Words can cause the biggest hurt.”
What started with a mandate for human-inclusive language where terms like “man,” “mankind” and “brother” should be replaced with “human beings,” “humanity” and “brothers and sisters,” morphed into advocacy for gender-neutral and gender-inclusive language for God. On the one hand, language related to God must be neutered and on the other, it must include Mother language whenever Father is used.
For some this is not enough. Manas said the women began to “think about how important words in our own lives … words have a power to do things … if a little girl hears all her life that God died for all mankind, does she know it means her?”
“If we are continually singing about taking the blackness of our hearts and making it white — does that not become racist?,” she asked.
If you take the time to drill down into the history of the Words Matter project you find that it began with two questions: “1. How does our language for God, one another, and our world move us toward God’s justice? 2. What new/other imagery is there to help us connect with God?”
They then describe how those questions will be explored. Starting with “unmasking the power of language and the part it plays in patriarchy/kyriarchy, including exploring God-language as a cultural construct.”
Kyriarchy may be a new term for some but remember here, words matter.