At an increasing number of seminaries and Christian colleges, it is common to see a policy about inclusive language. Policies like these are sometimes dismissed by conservatives as politicized and heretical, but that isn’t necessary. In fact, dismissing inclusive language can be a stumbling block. Not only can adjusting something as finite and transitory as our words constitute good news to the poor in spirit, it can also be more theologically accurate.
One element of my faith in which I find myself pushing back against the crowd, even in a progressive tradition like my own Episcopal Church, is in the Nicene (Constantinopolitan) Creed. Every Sunday, we stand and recite our faith by saying aloud the ancient creed. When we do, I find myself straying from the prescribed wording somewhat. I have recreated it below, with alterations in bold, followed by some annotations explaining the use of certain pronouns and why I avoid using other gender specific pronouns:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
kingdom reign will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Who, with the Father and the Son,
he is worshiped and glorified,
He And has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
The Father – I’ve made my peace using the male pronoun for God in the specific sense of being Jesus’ Father (and therefore ours). Jesus has a mother, Mary, who plays prominently in the gospels and in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions as well. Episcopalians have a far softer Mariology, but it is there.
Him/his/he – These pronouns in the second stanza refer to the person of Christ, his humanity. He was born a male and accepted use of the male pronoun by others and often self-referred as male. There’s a lot of nuanced ways to understand how his use of gender actually defied normative expressions of his own day, so much that I trust you can find plenty with a simple internet search.
And was made man – The earliest Greek forms had ἐνανθρωπήσαντα (‘was made fully human’), and Latin translators rendered it homo factus est (‘made man’). Both Latin and modern English forms of “man” imply all of humanity, but also refer specifically to male forms thereof. (This is also true of the line some traditions use; “for us men and our salvation” – linguistic integrity insists ‘men’ is a stand in for “humanity,” i.e. Christ came because of human sin) Because Jesus was, by all canonical accounts, biologically male, I leave this line in place when I recite the creed.
Kingdom – In Greek, βασιλείας, which is also translated as empire. “Reign” is less… coercive. It also isn’t associated with the gender specific word ‘king.’ I don’t see any substantive theological difference to warrant one over the other.
The Holy Spirit stanza is the trickiest. There are two male pronouns used in the current version used by the Episcopal Church, and without any good reason that I can find. The Hebrew spirit of God, רוּחַ (‘ruah’) was decidedly feminine. As texts aged, I suppose, into Greek, Πνεῦμα (‘pneuma’) is gender neutral rather than feminine. Spiritus, the Latin equivalent, is decidedly masculine… For this part I simply drop the male pronoun and make the last line a continuation of the one before it by swapping “He” with “And.”
So there you go. If you’re a member of a tradition that uses the Nicene Creed, I hope the inclusive language above is helpful. Even if you don’t use it, maybe it inspires some thoughtful dialogue in the comments below. Sound off, let me know what you think!