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.
Missio Alliance Comment Policy
The Missio Alliance Writing Collectives exist as a ministry of writing to resource theological practitioners for mission. From our Leading Voices to our regular Writing Team and those invited to publish with us as Community Voices, we are creating a space for thoughtful engagement of critical issues and questions facing the North American Church in God’s mission. This sort of thoughtful engagement is something that we seek to engender not only in our publishing, but in conversations that unfold as a result in the comment section of our articles.
Unfortunately, because of the relational distance introduced by online communication, “thoughtful engagement” and “comment sections” seldom go hand in hand. At the same time, censorship of comments by those who disagree with points made by authors, whose anger or limited perspective taints their words, or who simply feel the need to express their own opinion on a topic without any meaningful engagement with the article or comment in question can mask an important window into the true state of Christian discourse. As such, Missio Alliance sets forth the following suggestions for those who wish to engage in conversation around our writing:
1. Seek to understand the author’s intent.
If you disagree with something the an author said, consider framing your response as, “I hear you as saying _________. Am I understanding you correctly? If so, here’s why I disagree. _____________.
2. Seek to make your own voice heard.
We deeply desire and value the voice and perspective of our readers. However you may react to an article we publish or a fellow commenter, we encourage you to set forth that reaction is the most constructive way possible. Use your voice and perspective to move conversation forward rather than shut it down.
3. Share your story.
One of our favorite tenants is that “an enemy is someone whose story we haven’t heard.” Very often disagreements and rants are the result of people talking past rather than to one another. Everyone’s perspective is intimately bound up with their own stories – their contexts and experiences. We encourage you to couch your comments in whatever aspect of your own story might help others understand where you are coming from.
In view of those suggestions for shaping conversation on our site and in an effort to curate a hospitable space of open conversation, Missio Alliance may delete comments and/or ban users who show no regard for constructive engagement, especially those whose comments are easily construed as trolling, threatening, or abusive.