Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Inclusive Language

Back in the mid-eighties, I was an organist and music director at a non-denominational church in Austin, Texas. Being somewhat progressive, the clergy at this church were really into “inclusive language.” It was the new thing. Gone were the verbal shackles of a male-dominated spirituality.

God was no longer referred to as “he”, just God. The words “lord” and “master” and “king” were verboten, for they had connotations of an oppressed society. (Referring to Jesus as “he” was questionable since Jesus was really God, you know.) The phrase, “washed me whiter than snow” was changed to “purer than snow.”

The hymn texts were edited and re-printed in each Sunday bulletin. I became pretty adept and creative at this editing process. Texts to choral music were also changed. Over time, the choral arrangements had all the ‘him’s’ and ‘kings’ crossed out with less offensive words penciled in.

Now that we’re firmly implanted in the 21st century, I think we’ve come a full circle regarding inclusive language; at least we have in the church were I currently sing. I find it all terribly interesting.

The Episcopal church where I’m a member is so progressive, so inclusive, that we’re beyond having to change the verbiage to reflect it. It’s almost as if we’re saying, “Changing ‘he’ to ‘God’ in the music? Oh, that is so retro; so twentieth century!”

We know it. At this point, we’d rather keep the integrity of the music intact and perform it as the composer wrote it. Our priorities have changed.

So, during rehearsals, whenever we come across penciled in words with the ‘he’ crossed over, our erasers come out and we expunge the vestiges of when people had to be “included.”

They’re all included now; at least they are in the Episcopal Church. We no longer have to herald it in the music.

For that reason, it’s pretty refreshing to sing “he” again.



At 9:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that music should be performed as the composer intended it to be. I hate it when hymns get changed almost as much as when someone adds a million notes to the Star Spangled Banner!


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