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St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Gender Neutrality

"He or she": No PC grammatical construction drives me more up the wall than this one. Can't stand it. Having abandoned the traditional usage of "he" as the generic pronoun, we must now employ "he or she" (or "she or he"), lose the singular, or somehow manipulate the sentence to avoid the offending pronoun altogether- and while the latter two aren't nearly as bad, I still prefer the old singular "he" for my generic pronoun use. All of the options- but especially "he/she," reeks of leftist agenda. Here I stand...

I could also rant about gender neutrality in Bible translations and liturgy, but I will digress- from ranting, anyway, which really isn't very nice or proper (though I could well "go off" about the Person keeping us down with her/his/its artifical grammatical oppression).

I will say, instead, that my opposition to "gender neutral" translations (and everything theological that falls in alongside them) comes from two streams. The first is this, and not terribly profound: the language simply sounds better when pronouns (and other words, such as "mankind" or the generic use of "man") are used traditionaly. This is obviously the case with "he or she," but I would contend that replacing the singular "he" with the plural also disrupts the language in a similar way. Likewise, erasing "mankind" from literature and liturgy, in favor of "persons" or a similar term, subtracts deeply from the language. Certainly, it is quite advisable to use "persons" or "humanity" in many situations, but likewise "mankind" and "man" are better sounding, carry more force if you will, in certain places. Call me a sexist, but "Lover of Mankind" just sounds better than "Lover of Persons."

But more importantly, particularly in translating the Bible, there is much at stake besides the flow and feel of the langauge. "Brothers and sisters" is acceptable enough perhaps, but downgrading "sons of God" to "children of God" or "sons and daughters" instead can erase some very important theological implications. Someone noted- I think maybe the Pontificator (who has a recent post along these same lines of gender and theology) or a Touchstone article- that when the Scriptures speak of sons of God, it cannot be translated sons and daughters without doing violence to the meaning. We are all- male and female- made sons of God through the one Son of God. We participate in the Sonship of Christ. Now, we may, in some places and senses, rightly speak of daughters and sons of God, as the Scriptures do in some places (almost entirely the Old Testament). But when we are speaking of the specifics of soteriology, we should speak of sons of God, and thus preserve the vital correlation with the one Son of God, Who is masculine in His Godhead, and has been made Incarnate as a male.

Compare, for example two translations of John 1:12, the first from the NIV-UK, the second from the KJV: "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." The first gives us "children of God": a term that certainly appears in the Scriptures. But in this passage we are supposed to understand that through the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Word of the Father, human beings are given power to become "sons of God." These are not generic children, but sons, coming into the relationship of the Father and the Son, being brought into Christ and His Sonship, so far as it is possible for man. Neutering this passage, and others like it, obscures the very nature of our salvation in Christ.

None of this is not because of some agenda of evil male dominance. What we must recognize- and this is something we have dreadfully diminished in our modern world- is that gender matters, beyond the level of sex, and that gender matters even within God Himself, and our salvation. God has created the world with these distinctions. Masculinity is not limited to maleness. Neither is femininity limited to femaleness- both transcend (but also operate inside of) biology. If we are called- all of us, men and women- to become sons of God, we are also called to have "Christ formed within us," and to be "pregnant with the Holy Spirit" as St. Symeon the New Theologian says. The Church is the Bride of Christ, the Wife of her Husband Christ our God, and thus carries a distinctively feminine character. Her character is especially shown forth in Mary, the Birthgiver of God, the Virgin Bride. Hers is receptivity, receptivity towards God, receptivity in love, from which Life springs forth. She embodies the life of the Church, and the life of each Christian- for we are also personally "temples of the Holy Spirit"; each one of us is a "church" as St. Maximus says in his Mystagogy. Thus we reflect both masculinity in our becoming like Christ, the Son of God, and femininity in our bearing Him within us (in our own "yes-saying" to God like Mary), and our composing the Bride of Christ- a Bride towards a God Who is masculine in His revelation of Himself. To reverse the roles, or to contort them into twenty-first century ideas, would be to distort and destroy them.

Which is all to say that gender does, in fact, matter. The Scriptures are woven with en-gendered langauge. Granted, one might remove some of those offending pronouns and, other than assaulting the English language (sorry!), not really interfere with the meaning. However, there are other very imporant points at which gender neutrality will destroy the meaning and subvert Scripture to the whims of modern bias.


Blogger Doug said...

Jonathan, thanks for the great post and the great discussion. You have a gift for expression and explanation.

7:07 PM  

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