“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”Matthew 4:4.
I wonder how many of you, like me, learned this in Sunday School and can still remember it, if not chapter and verse, then certainly remember the words. I wonder how many of you noticed that it started “Man” as opposed to “Humanity” or “People”?
I wonder of those of you who noticed, how many thought it mattered? I am of a generation where it was still totally normal to learn these verses in the King James version and completely understood that “man” used in this context, meant humanity. It didn’t really bother me that much, although there were times when the easy assumption of my peers that I couldn’t do something because I was a woman was an irritant and the Anglicans lost me in 1990 because my Vicar wouldn’t allow me as a woman to train as a lay reader. Now of course, that would be unlikely to happen, but I am a Methodist through and through.
However, whatever our position on these things, the Methodist Conference has asked us to be very intentional about using inclusive language. As the mother of a female mechanic, I understand that there is a need for this. I recognise that a company proud of having female mechanics can quickly become one that singles out the one or two they have in a field where it is still rare, and I also recognise that this can be embarrassing and belittling, as if somehow it is the fact that Sophie is a woman, rather than her top marks at college that make her of interest to the company.
In Galatians 3:28 we hear “In Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female for all of you are one in Christ.” We will not always be perfectly right as we seek to be inclusive, but let us try to be as careful of each other as we can so that no-one feels excluded, and when we notice someone else getting it wrong, let us also be understanding of the ways in which old habits die hard and the King James verses that we learned with such discipline as youngsters still roll off the tongue. Let us be kind both in our trying to be inclusive and in our trying to understand each other’s history.