Monday, May 21, 2012

GA-Item 11-15, "Words Matter Project" opening the Re-imagining door again?

The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC) is the sponsor of GA’s item 11-15 “A Resolution to Encourage Participation in the Words Matter Project.” The Words Matter Project is connected to the National Council of Churches of Christ through the Justice for Women Working Group. The Presbyterian Women’s Justice and Peace committee is involved in the project. The project, which in some ways seems benign enough, with some fairly even resources, is nevertheless, a track back to the Re-imagining years of mainline denominations, when some radical feminist advocated using other names such as Sophia in place of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Historically the committee that began the project listed several goals with two questions:

“1. How does our language for God, one another, and our world move us toward God’s justice?

2. What new/other imagery is there to help us connect with God?


a. Unmasking the power of language and the part it plays in patriarchy/kyriarchy, including exploring God-language as a cultural construct,[1]

b. Emphasizing the effects of language on real, physical lives, connecting our lives and our personal and social realities with God’s justice,

c. Learning how to have productive dialogue with folks of differing opinions, bringing this sacred conversation to the wider church and the world, and

d. Lifting up other names or images of the divine which emerge from scripture study, prayer, meditation, or other life experience to express the multiplicity of who God is.”

In one document entitled "Words Matter: Promoting dialogue rooted in diverse contexts that continually explores language as a life-giving tool," the authors explain the project is meant to return the mainline denominations ‘back’ to the use of more expansive language for both God and humanity. They state that they wish to go further than naming God and are concerned that using such words as blindness to speak of human sin hurts those who are physically blind or using darkness to speak of evil is hurtful to those who are not white.

Two problems emerge within the project. First, this is a totalitarian attempt at controlling language. The biblical text becomes extremely problematic but also most literature and human speech would face the possibility of either becoming useless unmeaning words or politically incorrect words. And secondly, the project leaves the biblical God without any concrete absolute identity. The benign part is linked to the fact that several persons with a fairly orthodox background have written devotional pieces for the project. One of the dangerous maneuvers is the instructions placed above all devotionals:

Words affect all of us differently. As you read this prayer, read with generosity, and consider which images and words speak to you, and which make you bristle. Instead of agreeing or disagreeing in the “Comments” section, please use that space to expand upon an image or word from the prayer that resonated with you, or that you felt was missing, and write an expansive prayer of your own.
The prayers are theoretically prayers for Lent. But they are not really devotional in the normal sense but are rather meant as an exercise for using correct language which will not offend anyone. The prayers that were to be written in reaction to the published prayers (and no one responded) are meant to show another person what words you are comfortable using rather than truly worshiping Christ as Savior and Lord.

Although most of the prayers themselves are biblically centered it is bothersome that one is addressed to Sophia.

In the same manner another devotional piece, Lenten Devotions, which offers both good devotions and flawed ones has as its basic problem devotions meant to teach the correct use of language. In the first devotion (Romans 5:12-19) the author, Lydia York, A Minister in Discernment with the United Church of Christ, who serves on the board of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns, focuses on Paul’s use of Adam and Jesus to speak of the one who brought sin into the world and the one who removed the curse of sin. York is concerned that Eve is not used as a representative of humanity. In the second devotion, (Matt. 4:1-11), Dr. H. Frederick Reisz, Jr., President Emeritus of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, uses the temptation of Christ to show how words can be used wrongly, “they wound and heal.”

The third devotional, (John 3: 1-17), written by Jason Stewart Sierra, staff officer for the Episcopal Church Office for Young Adult and Campus Ministries, is the story of Nicodemus’ visit with Jesus. Sierra turns the story away from Jesus’ word’s that one must be born again to the idea that we must better understand earthly things in order to know God. As he puts it:
Jesus here calls us to learn a new language—or to re-learn what we know about the world so that we might learn about God, to re-look. In order to step into the holy we are called to know the mundane as God would have us know it, to spend that energy of re-seeing, re-looking, re-naming the world.
Another devotion, taken from Eph. 5:8-14, and written by Rev. Irene Monroe, who is the Coordinator of the African American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion, has to do with the use of the words light and darkness. Monroe insists that the Bible pushes racism with such sections as Genesis 9:18-27 and Ephesians 6:5-8. She states, “The Bible is replete is [sic] racialized language that has damned and subjugated people of color.” [2]

Monroe combines that with the insistence that “We must, as Christians, look at the systemic problem of what happens when the racialization of light and dark imagery has a broad-based cultural acceptance in our society today.” In other words (pun intended) the author believes that the biblical use of light and darkness is meant to hurt others, therefore we should not use the words as metaphors for good and evil.

The ACWC is asking that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) promote and encourage the Words Matter Project. They are asking that the GAMC “include the Words Matters Project on its website’s carousel of rotating features for one week each quarter.’ They are asking that the GAMC along with the ACWC “develop and distribute a bulletin insert promoting the Words Matter Project.” And they are asking for money, “Direct the General Assembly Mission Council to provide support to the National Council of Churches’ Justice for Women Working Group for Phase 2 of the Words Matter project in the amount of $4,000.”

In the rationale the ACWC points out that “To date, Presbyterian Women’s Justice and Peace Committee of the Churchwide Coordinating Team has contributed $3,000” to the project. The ACWC is trying to make sure that the PCUSA contributes as much to the project as the Evangelical Luther Church in America and the United Church in Christ has contributed.

This is an open door toward something the PCUSA has thankfully moved away from in the last several years. That is, a project that in the end moves the denomination away from the clear biblical language of the Church. Language about God can neither be whim nor be filled with political or cultural adjectives; the Church lives by the truths of Scripture.  More so, the Words Matter Project is a move toward totalitarian ideas about all language. The 220th GA should reject this recommendation.

[1] The document list the definition of patriarchy as “commonly understood as the dominance of men over women in a variety of ways relating to differences in power, opportunities, and even the language that is used for people and God.” They define kyriarchy as a “term coined by feminist theologian Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza is used to describe all systems of “lordship” of one person or group of people over and against another, i.e. men over women, white over black, straight over lgbt, ablebodied over differently abled, etc. Schussler-Fiorenza, and the J4WWG, believes these systems of power to be interconnected and deeply entangled with one another, so that one may not speak of discrimination against women without also speaking of racism, heterosexism, etc.”

[2]It is important to point out that the authors of these documents are combining such abusive words as 'retard' with widely accepted words such as light and dark. There is a difference.


Pastor Dennis said...

Of course the fall of the human race occured when the Devil assisted Adam and Eve to delve into the real implications of the vocabulary of the word of God. They found the evidence that the language was "exclusive" and they reached out to redress the situation.

Viola Larson said...

Pastor Dennis,

Pastor Dennis said...

Another thought is that we need to "bristle" at the word of God. Jesus made this happen all the time and it was very upsetting to this disciples (for example John 6). There is an opposition between us and God and understanding our angers are a part of our healing and our salvation.

Terrye McAnally said...

Kyriarchy? Really? Not only are we going back to "Re-imagining" days, we are also back to the 2001 GA, when 4 hours of "debate" could not move the PCUSA to affirm the sole saving Lordship of Jesus Christ. Thanks, Viola, for not letting this fly under the radar, as so much ACWC stuff already does. If we fudge on the Lordship of Christ we are denying much more than the power of a single word. If we may not say, "Jesus Christ is Lord," we are giving up on the core affirmation of Christian faith. Words do indeed matter, but so does logical reasoning about the potential consequences of this kind of folly. TerryeMac

Viola Larson said...

Terrye I wasn't at the 2001 GA but I watched the whole thing on my computer. I couldn't believe some of the things people were saying. People like different kinds of fruit so we should have different ways for different people to come to God! That is when I realized how far the PCUSA had fallen.

I am also remembering how hard the ACWC fought at the last GA to keep a commissioners resolution, which insisted on diverse theologies in committees, from passing. They couldn’t stand the thought that those who were orthodox in faith might be a part of their committee.