The Power of Language

Since the time of written language, what one wrote and said has mattered. What one writes and says still matters. Today with written and spoken word traveling worldwide in a matter of seconds there is great power in the words we say and write. The power of what we say and write can be increased or decreased by the word order and word choice is also true for the church. How the church presents ideas and concepts matters greatly. The use of certain words holds significant meaning. The words that are used and the order of the placement of the words communicate ideas and concepts to people in ways that cannot be changed or taken back. One’s words that are harmful are rarely forgotten. I have learned a lot about the use of language because I am a professional direct support care provider for adults with developmental disabilities. These individuals see language very differently.

As I have served alone with youth and adults with developmental disabilities, I have been taught a great deal about the meaning of words and the order in which people put words together. The first lesson I was taught by a great friend of mine was that the order of one’s words indicates the value of the words; the word used first carries more value than the second word in a phrase. This was made clear to me in a conversation about person first language. Person first language forces a community to think about the person first and about a distinction that describes a person last. Individuals in the community that serves people with disabilities have written a great deal of their material from this perspective. This concept is one that I think the community of people with disabilities has to offer the church.

The church often loses sight of the very fact that people are people first and that any label is only words used to describe the attributes, emotions, abilities, gifts, talents, weaknesses, disabilities, idea etc. that make up a fraction of the whole person. Writing words in a certain order forces the church to remember that as people first, all are welcome. The order of words has become a way for people to include or exclude individuals from worshiping communities. In the current century, it seems that inclusion of labels is a way to set people apart. I do not think dividing people into separate groups by labels is necessary for the church. Including people into the worship of the Creator is a good and holy practice, and all worshiping congregations must take greater care to bring in people.

This same logic of person first language can be applied to understand a person’s sexuality. People who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender do not have to be labeled as such in the church. If the church for one reason or another is using this clarification, it is important that the church keep the word order of placing the value on the person-hood not on the sexuality. This simple change in the way we speak and write means the difference of how individuals view other individuals and how individuals view themselves.

A second lesson the church could learn from the disability community is one of riding the world of taking a label that describes a person and one of their qualities to become a negative idea or concept. The example I am thinking of is the movement to stop people from using the word RETARD or RETARDED to describe anything other than a medical diagnosis. However, the church could apply this same respect for language when teach our children and teenagers about many other words. Using the word Gay to say that something or someone is not fun or not interesting is wrong

The third conviction about language I would like to bring to the attention of that church that affects the whole church as well as the GLBT community is that of gender inclusive language. This type of language plays a role in the disability community as well. In the disability community the meaning of a word is taken for the literal meaning more often than not. People with disabilities often do not understand sang words or words with multiple meanings. Speaking and writing about God as God and Human’s as humans communicate more fully than always using masculine language to describe God. Seeing a god that is gender natural and including both genders in talking about people helps portray a bigger picture of whom God is and who humanity includes. The church has to become a place where we are aware of how we use our words. Using our words to include people and make it a place that is inclusive with our language.

The use of words matters a great deal. When communicating about our beliefs and values, one must take the time to think about the language that is being used, what is being communicated by the order of the words, and the need to respect the meaning of words and use these words correctly. We should be using our words to build people up, welcome people, and spread the kingdom of God.