The Hospitality of Words: Three Tips for better Gender Relationships

When we think of hospitality, we usually think of sharing food, but our words to one another can also be a form of hospitality.

When food is shared, we sit around a table, give people our best from the kitchen and invite conversation. Guests feel welcomed when the host is warm, attentive to their comfort, and is more interested in learning about them than about expounding on his or her own life and ideas. Host and guests become friends when the guests experience a warm connection and feel the dignity of being cared for graciously. Guests become friends if the host is more interested in learning than expressing. Click To Tweet

Words are like food. The hospitality of words is the suspension of judgment and exclusion. It’s the invitation to connection and shared meaning. When we come together around a social table, we want to introduce ourselves with our own name. We want the dignity of naming ourselves so that we tell the story of who we are. African Americans and First Nations people have named themselves and have rejected the white persons naming with all its prejudice and history. As a woman and for many women like me, we would also like to hear our name, the name given us by God. We are women. We do not want our name hidden within other namings. Words are an invitation to connection and shared meaning. Click To Tweet

When we use terms like ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ to mean ‘all people,’ we are implying, if even unconsciously, the ‘covering’ term for whoever is at the head of the table. Such words create the perception that the male is the normalized presence, and the female is included under or subsumed within that norm. In addition, when the term ‘man’ is used, it means that women have always to interpret the context of whether they are included or not. If women have to interpret the meaning, the word ‘man’ is actually an awkward gesture, hospitably speaking.

Three Tips for Gender Hospitality

I. Use ‘humanity’ or ‘humankind’ instead of ‘mankind’

Humanity’ comes from the 13th Century word ‘hummus’ meaning the ‘earth.’ ‘Mankind’ is also a 13th Century word ‘man-kende’ from ‘man + kind.’ Today ‘humanity’ is a more generous word to use when writing or speaking of mixed gender groups.

  • Mankind is struggling with anger and fear.
  • Humanity is struggling with anger and fear.
  • Jesus loves all mankind.
  • Jesus loves all of humanity.

II. Use ‘person’ instead of ‘man’ 

‘Person’ is a truly gender neutral word. Women must process after hearing the word man, “Does this include me?”

  • Every man must decide what his true calling might be.
  • Every person must decide what his or her true calling might be.
  • The Holy Spirit speaks to each man.
  • The Holy Spirit speaks to each person.

III. Use plural pronouns or ‘one’ instead of ‘he’

When communicating to both males and females, using inclusive forms of speech and writing, shows consideration for a gender diverse audience. Such care with language implies “I see you.”

  • When a visitor comes to your church, extend to him a warm welcome.
  • When visitors come to your church, extend to them a warm welcome.
  • When selecting a parent for the Youth Trip, make sure he has a passport.
  • When selecting parents for the youth trip, make sure they have passports.

Dear fellow workers in Christ, we notice when you use gender-inclusive language. I sat in a large conference for ministry leaders when the main speaker said something like, “Every pastor must be a man of God. He must be a person of integrity and character.” I am sure that the speaker was not thinking of me, a woman pastor.

Being thoughtful with naming words is a small gesture of hospitality, but it goes a long ways towards letting us know that you see us as co-workers and friends in Christ. Though this will require a conscious effort on your part to pay attention to your words, consider that each time you make the effort, you have blessed a sister in the room. Consider too that culture often does not make this effort, so whenever we are thoughtful about our words, we are consciously inviting others to Christ’s table.

“…language is much more than a (mechanistic) tool that humans utilize for communication. It is a complex system that leaves perceptions, meanings and imaginations into a ‘system of representation.’” Branson & Martínez, Churches, Cultures, & Leadership.

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