Language guidance for Methodist ministers, issued by the Methodist Church of Great Britain, has caused some controversy on social media.
The “Inclusive Language Guide”, published in 2022, says its aim is to help Methodist leaders and members navigate sensitive topics, as well as to raise awareness and reduce the risk of people in more marginalised groups feeling left out, when unhelpful language is used.
But some conservative commentators have recently taken issue with the broad scope of the guidance, interpreting it as a watering down of the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, by claiming that the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ might be offensive to some, and suggesting ministers volunteer the pronouns they use for themselves, in conversation with people.
The document says: “Terminology such as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ may sound inoffensive but it makes assumptions about a family or personal life that is not the reality for many people. The words ‘parent’, ‘partner’ and ‘child’ are a good place to start. ‘Carer’ is also a neutral yet understandable way to refer to the primary carer of a child, who may or may not be their parent.”
There’s advice for avoiding ageism, racism and ableism, with suggested language to use in each context.
For questions of gender, the document suggests adding pronouns after your screen name in online meetings, and also offering them in conversations as a way of creating a safe space for everyone, although it states that no-one should feel forced to do so.
“For example: ‘Hello, my name is Robyn and my pronouns are she/her. Nice to meet you.’”
And for same-sex couples, the advice is to be guided by individuals: “For example: If Gary refers to Mike as his ‘husband’, do so in general conversation and – if relevant – when writing to or about him. If Gary and Mike prefer to be referred to as ‘partners’ then do so. Using the language that individuals use for themselves shows that we care as a Church and that we affirm them as a child of God.”
The Methodist Church responded to Premier News, saying the document has been in the public domain for some time, and that the intention of the wording in the document is being misrepresented.
“We are proud of our Inclusive Language Guide. It helps the Church hold conversations without making assumptions or inadvertently causing upset. Some find this especially useful when talking with those who may have had a very different life experience to their own.
“Couples getting married in a Methodist Church will discuss with the minister how they wish to be referred to during their service. This ensures that the ceremony reflects who they are.”
(This article has been updated by Premier News, to more accurately reflect the timelines concerned.)