Inclusive Language

The words of the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed—those historically used to represent the Trinity—are gender-specific in nature. However, if one were to ask an Internet search engine, “How many names are there for God in the Bible?” the answer would range from a bit more than 20 to 953, just at a quick glance. This demonstrates humankind’s desire to understand God in ways that are personal, familiar, powerful: one who provides anything humanity may ever need. This desire to name God is also a spiritually creative way in which God can be represented in diverse cultures around the world. Remembering the multitude of names for God gives us access to the insights and experiences of others, and increases our ability to claim the church as connectional.

In worship the church shall strive to use language about God that is intentionally as diverse and varied as the Bible and our theological traditions. Language that appropriately describes and addresses God is expansive, drawing from the full breadth and depth of terms and images for the triune God in the witness of Scripture. Language that authentically describes and addresses the people of God is inclusive, respecting the diversity of persons, cultures, backgrounds, and experiences that flow from God’s creative work. Such language allows for all members of the community of faith to recognize themselves as equally included, addressed, and cherished by God. (W-1.0302)

Inclusive language for humanity is often mistaken for political correctness. However, as seen above, the intent is not to give in to the politics of the day. The intent is to help leaders and churches to offer an invitation for others to have full relationship with the God whom each of us experience in a unique way. This is a very real example of servant leadership: when hospitality is offered, and the church can be a place in which an encounter with God is offered to all.

Word cloud of names for God Another important aspect of the statement above is its call is not to simply use inclusive language for humanity, but to use expansive language for God. Such language seeks to provide a multiplicity of ways in which to see and interact with the triune God. The joy of using expansive language for God is that it liberates us from the limits of our humanity—in which God is often trapped by our own inability to imagine the boundless ways in which God presents God’s self to us. Expansive language also helps us to recognize that God calls us to act in new ways.

As an example, this prayer of confession, based on Psalm 23, images God as a shepherd:

We are but sheep in your pasture, good Shepherd. You lead us to plush meadows and cool water. And yet, in our midst are the weak, the small, and those whose blemishes are there for all to see. Too often, they are left hungry, thirsty, and left to die as prey for the sly foxes, who are just waiting and watching. We confess, that instead of sheltering them in the midst of the flock, far too often we push them aside to the margins of our fold. Teach us to be like you, Jesus, so that we may tend to the least of these, as you care for us.[1]

For Reflection and Discussion:

What are some examples of how you might imagine God in new and expansive ways?

How has thinking about God in expansive ways assisted you in your own faith journey? How do you see this making a difference in the lives of others and in your leadership?

*A downloadable brochure on inclusive and expansive language is available at

[1] McQueen, Derrick, St. James Presbyterian Church in the Village of Harlem, N.Y., November 26, 2017.