Presbyterian inclusive language guide updated

‘Well Chosen Words’ brochure can help people navigate expanding beliefs about inclusion

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — When the last edition of the “Well Chosen Words” guide to inclusive language came out in 2010, “brothers and sisters” were listed as “Words that include,” and preferable to the commonly used “brothers” and “brotherhood,” which were listed as “Words that exclude.”

In the latest edition of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s guide, “brothers and sisters” is now listed as “Words that exclude,” with “siblings” and “humankind” being the inclusive terms.

“It was done well, for the time that it was done,” the Rev. Shanea D. Leonard, Associate for Gender & Racial Justice in the PC(USA) Office of Gender, Racial & Intercultural Justice, says of the 2010 guide. “There were some things that were outdated in there that needed to be done over. It’s been expanded to not only include the ways in which we encounter God within the text …  it includes a chart of words that help us to build a more inclusive kin-dom.

“The biggest part of the revision, which I’m super proud of, is the addition of terms that are very common within the LGBTQIA community. So, they’re words that some people who are not immediately connected to the community may not have ever even heard of.”

That section includes terms that are becoming more common in regular discourse such as:

“LGBTQIA+ — An acronym for ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual.’ The plus sign refers to the expansive nature of the term to continually include all identities.”

The guide also defines every one of those terms and terms not widely used, such as:

“Gender-expansive — Conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender identity and/or expression than typically associated with the binary gender system.”

The guide was developed by Leonard’s office; the PC(USA)’s Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries; Presbyterian Women; and the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns.

A carryover from the previous version is a table of expansive images of God in Scripture that says, in its introduction, “Our language about God should be as intentionally diverse and varied as is that of the Bible and our theological tradition.”

The guide is based on a long history of General Assembly mandates on the use of inclusive language in worship, education, publications, and theological and biblical reflection. The 2021 revision specifically responds to overtures at the 223rd GA in 2018, “On Celebrating the Gifts of People of Diverse Sexual Orientations and gender Identities in the Life of the Church,” brought to commissioners by New Castle Presbytery.

The new guide is available for free download on the PC(USA) website. The differences between the last edition, which had a strong focus on removing male-centric terminology from church language, to now, with a focus on non-gender-binary language, demonstrates how language continues to evolve, which can be confusing and disorienting for many people.

That, Leonard says, is part of the intention behind the guide: to help people navigate changing times.

They concludes, “This is also a document we can put in your hands that will be helpful in building the kin-dom of God.”


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