Monday, September 10, 2007

Eclipse of the masculine pronoun

For several years now, conservative Christians have been waging a counteroffensive to defend and preserve the use of the gender-specific language in Scripture and liturgy. What I find I ironic is that, in the meantime, I see an increasing number of conservative Christians slipping into the use of unisex euphemisms and circumlocutions in their own speaking and writing.

This doesn’t especially surprise me. Most of us learn our mother tongue through osmosis. Unless you’re a professional writer, you don’t generally give much self-conscious consideration to the idioms you use. As a result, I notice that Christians who vehemently oppose radical feminism and egalitarianism are unconsciously capitulating to unisex speech codes.

The most conspicuous example is the use of plural pronouns with singular nouns. This is an obvious grammatical error in English syntax. For pronouns are supposed to agree in number with the nouns they take.

I’m thinking of sentences like, “A lawyer represents their clients.”

In the past, the sentence would have read, “A lawyer represents his clients.”

But, of course, that’s deemed to be sexist by the social gatekeepers in the media and academia. As a result, this solecism (using plural pronouns with singular nouns) has become ubiquitous.

This is just another example of the silent revolution in American culture. Like unisex showers in college dorms, this was never put up for public debate—much less a national plebiscite. Rather, it represents an unspoken imposition on the general culture. The social gatekeepers are the most effective when they go about their erasure of Christian values in the public square as quietly as possible.

Like body-snatchers who turn unsuspecting men and women into pod people, this campaign is most successful when conducted under conditions of low visibility. Preferably the dead of night. That way it arouses no opposition until the opponents are too few to overcome the social metamorphosis.

One of the problems when Christians allow their own linguistic patterns to be infiltrated by the enemy is that it creates a hiatus between our religious discourse and our ordinary discourse. In Scripture and liturgy we retain gender-specific language, but outside of church we lapse into gender-inclusive language.

The inevitable effect of this hiatus is to make religious discourse increasingly quaint and irrelevant. And that, in turn, raises the pressure to accommodate our religious discourse to the linguistic norms of the general culture.

Now, there are bigger issues in English-speaking Christendom than the generic masculine pronoun. I’m not suggesting that we turn this into a life-and-death cause.

However, Bible-believing Christians do need to become aware of this silent revolution. And Christian institutions should resist it.

Unbelievers are free to use gender-inclusive language. But Christians should retain their own usage. We should retain traditional constructions that reflect Biblical values.

18 comments:

  1. Steve,

    To see how far inclusive language has crept into complimentarian evangelicalism, check out chapter 7 --"Gender Language"--in the third edition of Southern Seminary Manual of Style from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. For an idea of how this manual suggests students write their papers, here is an excerpt from p. 105:

    As a general rule, try to find alternative expressions for the personal pronouns he, him, and his when one of these is used to refer to a hypothetical person or to people in general. Sometimes, however, using one of these pronouns in a generic sense is the best option. For example, using the generic he is better than creating problems of severe repetition or inept wording: In seeking alternative expressions, here are some possibilities:

    Reword to eliminate unnecessary gender pronouns. For example, instead of using "the
    average person does not read his Bible enough," substitute the for his.

    Recast into the plural. For example, instead of using "each teacher is expected to do
    his best," use "teachers are expected to do their best."

    Replace the masculine pronoun with "one," "you," "he or she." Use the last expression very sparingly. Alternate male and female expressions and examples. For example, a sentence may read: "I've heard members of the nominating committee say of different people: 'He is not the one for the job,' or 'He lacks the qualifications.'" Substitute she for one of the he's [if both males and females are being considered].

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  2. Wow, you're the first person I've seen to address this particular pet peeve of mine. The only place I disagree with you is when you say, "Unbelievers are free to use gender-inclusive language." As far as I'm concerned, when they butcher basic English grammar to fit their politically correct agenda, I'd just as soon lock 'em up. ;-)

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  3. waaaa waaaa boooo hoooo

    Poor males don't get any breaks in our modern world.

    why can't people just recognize that God is male, and therefore, MEN RULE!!!! Don't take away our pronouns!!!!!!

    waaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!

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  4. Anonymous said:
    waaaa waaaa boooo hoooo

    Poor males don't get any breaks in our modern world.

    why can't people just recognize that God is male, and therefore, MEN RULE!!!! Don't take away our pronouns!!!!!!

    waaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!

    ******************

    To the contrary, this PC stuff amounts to linguistic tokenism, in which women are *assigned* equal status. It's not based on achievement, but socially constructed.

    True women of accomplishment (of which there are many) don't need these rhetorical props and hand-outs.

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  5. Steve the Sensitive says:

    "To the contrary, this PC stuff amounts to linguistic tokenism, in which women are *assigned* equal status. It's not based on achievement, but socially constructed.

    True women of accomplishment (of which there are many) don't need these rhetorical props and hand-outs."

    So, did men universally earn the laud and respect that is accounted them in our modern Patriarchal society? Wouldn't a more 'true' way to address language be to use "their" rather than "he" or "she" in all cases that a man or woman hadn't 'earned' this honor?

    Men should zip it. They get a free ticket in the Western world in many ways.

    Way to throw women a bone though, Steve. You're VERY progressive.

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  6. I'm a woman, and Steve hasn't offended me at all. And using the masculine pronoun for an unknown gender needn't necessarily bestow honor on men. For example, when I say, "A person who posts anonymous comments on a blog is a coward who doesn't even have the courage of his own convictions," that's not a compliment.

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  7. "The social gatekeepers are the most effective when they go about their erasure of Christian values in the public square as quietly as possible."

    Except that the gatekeepers are now in the churches promoting the agenda from within. And it's not just the "liberals" anymore.

    "this was never put up for public debate—much less a national plebiscite"

    Here we have the end game of protestant individualism. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes.

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  8. Anonymous said:
    ---
    Except that the gatekeepers are now in the churches promoting the agenda from within.
    ---

    Yet concludes:
    ---
    Here we have the end game of protestant individualism.
    ---

    Isn't this sort of like saying, "The institution is the problem, so it's the fault of the rebels"?

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  9. David J. Barfield9/10/2007 10:24 PM

    Anonymous girl,

    Do men get a free ticket in the Middle East? If you can't identify yourself on a blog, something tells me you wouldn't be quite so bold in, let's say, Iran or Syria. I'm sure you'd hop into a barque upon command...

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  10. "Way to throw women a bone though, Steve. You're VERY progressive."

    Way to be so needy and reliant on men that you need a man [Steve] to throw you a bone. You don't need bones. You are woman, hear you roar.

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  11. "Isn't this sort of like saying, "The institution is the problem, so it's the fault of the rebels"?"

    Never said it was the institution, only that the rebels are within the institutions. And without any concept of a concilliar church, who is to say they are wrong?

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  12. Anonymous said:

    "Never said it was the institution, only that the rebels are within the institutions. And without any concept of a concilliar church, who is to say they are wrong?"

    This assumes, w/o sake of argument, that bishops can't be rebels. What about the Arian bishops?

    And question at issue is not, "who" is to say they are wrong, but "what"—the Word of God.

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  13. _. Main trends and schools in Orthodox theology in the 20th century. Lecture and seminar (4 academic hours)

    Splits in modern Orthodoxy. Splits in the Orthodox Church: New and Old calendarists, Russian Church Abroad. Nationalism in the Orthodox Church: heresy of philetism. Reasons of these splits. Main Orthodox theologians in the USA, France, Greece, Great Britain, Serbia, Romania. Liberal and conservative trends in modern Orthodox theology.

    _. Readings:
    _. Vladimir Moss. The Orthodox Church on the Crossroads. (1917-1999). St. Petersburg., Aleteya. 2001. Chapter V: Splits of Old calendarists in Greece and on Balkans.
    _. Evgeny Pavlenko. Heresy of Philetism: Old and Modern // Vetrograd-Inform. # 9 (54). 199. PP. 17-24 (in Russian).
    History of the True Orthodox Church of Greece (“Old calendarists”) 1924-1994. Vozdvizheie # 7 (27( 1998). PP. 9-45. (In Russian)

    Orthodoxy facing feminist theology. Lecture and seminar (4 academic hours)

    Feminist theology in Western Christian thought, the main problems and perspectives. The problem of sexism and its theological and social aspects. The role of women in the Church in Western theology. Orthodox response to the problems of feminist theology. Conservative and liberal Orthodox reaction to feminist theology. The role of women in the Orthodox Church. The problem of women diakonia. Theological aspect of feminist theology: The mystery of God in feminist theological discourse, Orthodox understanding of it. Sex and gender from Orthodox point of view. How to speak rightly of God? Feminist theology and critical discourse about suffering God in feminist theology. Social aspects of feminist theology, the role of women in society and in family. Different Orthodox views of the problem. Mother Mariya (Scobtsova) – martyr of our time – and her response an Orthodox response to modern quests of feminist theology.

    _. Readings:
    _. Inter-orthodox Theological Consultation: Place of a Woman in the Orthodox Church and the question of women ordination. (1988) // Orthodoxy and Ecumenism. Documents and materials. Moscow Patriarchy. 1999. PP. 407-417.
    _. Evgeniya Neganova. Theological aspects of sexual difference. Relation of the image of God and sex in human beings. // Proceeding of the International Christmas Conference (27 January – 2 February 2002). Moscow 2002. (7 pages in the Reader). See also in: www.kiev-orthodox.org/theology/neganova_s-diff.htm.
    Grigory Benevich. Mother Mariya, Vladimir Solovyev and Alexander Block: the Theme of Sophia. // Mother Mariya (Scobtsova) (1891-1945): spiritual biography and heritage. St. Petersburg: St. Petersburg School of Religion and Philosophy. 2003. PP. 143-162.

    http://www.crc.ceu.hu/ocrc/syllabi/syll8249/Benevitch.doc

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  14. Paul Manata - I don't know exactly what you mean by:

    "Way to be so needy and reliant on men that you need a man [Steve] to throw you a bone. You don't need bones. You are woman, hear you roar."

    You sound rather sexist, and un-Christlike, but that may not be a charitable observation on my part.

    I think many so-called Christian men need to keep this verse in mind:

    "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Ga 3:28"

    So stop with the superior, sexist attitudes, Paul. The Word demands it.

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  15. I think many Anonymous commentators need to keep in mind that this text:


    "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Ga 3:28"

    Refers to equality soteriologically; there are no second class citizens in the kingdom insofar as there are no ethnic barriers, ceremonial barriers of the Law, etc. Men and women in Judaism (and Paul is addressing the Judaizers) were separated by a barrier, literally, in the synagogues. The same Paul that said "There is neither slave nor free" is the same Paul who said, "Slaves obey your masters" and who sent back Onesimus to Philemon. Complementarianism is no more making women second class citizens in the Church than the Son is a Second Class of God in the Godhead. It is high time Egalitarians quit raising this objection.

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  16. Steve,

    Does this post fall in line of answering at all who should have authority over a man?
    If that is the proper question.

    Mark

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  17. johnMark said:
    Steve,

    Does this post fall in line of answering at all who should have authority over a man?
    If that is the proper question.

    Mark

    ******************************

    Skimming through it, I don't agree with the exegesis. I may have to do a separate post on the subject.

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