Comments on gender-neutral language.
Unlike Hemington, I can think of more destructive forms of censorship, but I’m happy to explain why we change the words “man” and “mankind” in passages selected for “Opening Words”—and only for that page—to words like “humanity” or “humankind.”
Page 1 of this magazine is not intended as a historical exhibit. It is meant, like the opening words in a UU Sunday service, to welcome people to the magazine.
In 2004, we tried printing passages as they had been written, but heard from a number of women that these passages often created a barrier rather than extending a welcome. “While I want to retain the words of our ancestors,” wrote one minister, “I do not expect to be greeted with gender-biased language on the first page of our Association’s journal.”
We decided that we had three goals for “Opening Words”: to set the tone for the issue, to welcome readers, and to share the wisdom of the ages and the values of the Unitarian Universalist Association. We won’t change the meaning of a passage, but when it is clear that an author, writing in a different era, used the word “man” to refer to the human race, we feel perfectly at ease adjusting it for “Opening Words,” just as a minister would for worship. A modern translation of the Bible strives to be faithful not only to the meaning of the original text but also to the idioms of the present. That’s the balance we’re trying to strike, too. We also always note the change.
—Christopher L. Walton
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Christopher L. Walton is editor of UU World. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah and is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.