Gender-neutral language

Many of our hymns use male-centric language, even when referring to all people. We sing how Christ came “‘mid mortal men” so he could die that “man might live” and that “man might not remain a slave“, for God is “just to every man“. We know this because God sent an angel with a message “to cheer the sons of day“. God called his missionaries who are “men of God” and have been “blest with the royal priesthood” to “bring to men the glorious gospel“. We seek to “love our brother” as we learn conduct as his “son“. It is this “faith of our fathers” that the “sons of men” join with the angels in singing.

These hymns are clearly talking about all people. No one believes only males will be resurrected or that the gospel was restored for only males. We even intuitively understand that not all missionaries have been given the priesthood and that God is the God of our mothers as well. We are used to male-centric language and have learned to translate it in our minds. Women are understood to be included, but the main stage is given to men.

Why is this the case? Often it comes from the scriptures. The hymn Love One Another quotes the phrase “by this shall men know” directly from John 13:35. Would we run into the problem of misrepresenting the scriptures if we made the hymn more gender neutral? The earliest Greek translation uses the word πάντες, which means everyone. Christ used gender neutral language, and it just got translated as men in the 1611 King James Version. Much of our scriptural language comes from the King James Version, which reflected the society at the time. 17th century England did not value women as much as men. Christ used inclusive language, and we should be more faithful to Him than the King James Translation, especially as we move towards a more international church. Many translations of the Bible and even this hymn in other languages already include gender neutral language.

Women should be included front and center, on equal footing with men, not as an after thought or “understood” to be included. Women have equal roles to play in the building of the kingdom. Just because society has always focused on men does not mean we should continue the practice in our new hymnbook. Using male-centric language sends a subtle message that men are more important than women and that women should be content being in the background.

These changes could be fairly straight-forward. Consider the following changes:

He dies a sacrifice for sin,
That man we may live and glory win.

Behold the Great Redeemer Die #191

My will to his, like son child to sire,
Be made to bend, and I, as son one,
Learn conduct from the Holy One

God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son #187

Savior, may I love my brother neighbor

Lord, I Would Follow Thee #220

Angels, messengers from heaven,
Come to earth once more;
Bring to men all the glorious gospel

Come, Rejoice #9

Brothers, Let us lift your our voices,
Loud your our anthems raise

Onward, Christian Soldiers #246

Who said to men us: “Come, follow me”

I Believe in Christ #134

Through resurrection’s miracle
To all the sons souls of earth

Upon the Cross of Calvary #184

Other hymns could be changed in a similar way. The changes are simple, but would make a powerful statement about the need to treat women equally. Even if you think people are okay with using men to refer to all people, we need to realize that is rapidly changing. It would be a shame if the new hymnbook were obsolete shortly after it was published.

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