The Fourth Sunday in Lent
On Thursday morning of this week I found a number of strange, angry, and snarky messages in my voice-mail box. One caller wished me a merry Christmas over and over again because, he claimed, that’s how his mom and dad raised him. Another assured me that a special place in the underworld has been reserved for me due to my departure from God’s ways.
These callers were referring to the recent news reports you may have seen about Grace Church School. Last fall the school published an Inclusive Language Guide that was leaked to the press and pounced upon as a left-wing, “woke” attempt at thought and language control. Certain headlines declared that students were now banned from referring to their parents as mom and dad. Wishing each other a merry Christmas, or even the bland “happy holiday” was now outlawed. Talk radio picked up the story, inciting fury in people. They called the parish office from all over the country, some while driving their cars, to shout at the volunteer (my wife) answering the phones. What do we say to these things?
The first thing we might say is that the document is a product of Grace Church School, not Grace Church. The two institutions are separate corporations, governed independently from each other. Thus, when we could get a word in edgewise with the callers we referred them to Grace Church School. What is more, if Grace Church were to produce an Inclusive Language Guide, it would look very different from the school’s document. It would look different because our contexts are different.
Here at Grace Church we say without apology such things as Merry Christmas, Happy Easter, Jesus is Lord, and eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. At the school it is a more complicated thing. I teach 5th Grade Bible there, and the students are wonderful. It is my joy and delight to introduce them to the New Testament as a foundational document of western civilization. Many of the students are not Christians and it is not my aim in that context to make them so. At the same time we can’t understand the New Testament without talking about Jesus and the resurrection. Right now we are puzzling over why the day Jesus died is called Good and not Bad Friday. Will I wish them a happy Easter at the conclusion of our discussion? Not in the classroom, but I certainly will here at the church once we get through Lent.
Earlier in the term we were working on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The question was, what can we do to help the homeless and hungry? We who live in New York City encounter people like Lazarus every day. The primary thing I wanted to stress to these 10 and 11-year olds is that they exercise caution, and talk about it with their parents. Should I say “talk about it with your mom and dad?” Some don’t have both a mom and a dad. Others spend the majority of their waking hours not with parents, but with paid caregivers. So what are the most effective words to say? If language is available that makes sense and does not needlessly exclude some students, why would I not use it? The school’s document is not a manifesto, but a guide toward more careful language. Do I agree with everything in it? No. Is it a perfect document? Hardly, but it comes from a good place. Are students being discouraged from referring to their parents as mom and dad? Of course not. What is said on talk radio is not necessarily true.
Wow, we live in angry times. The world would be a better place if every person on the planet were filled with the true Spirit of Jesus. You see, I can say that here because the Weekly Epistle emanates from the church. A blessed Lent to you all. Join us on Sunday, when we will be reciting all 10 Commandments. Fun!
The Rev. J. Donald Waring
Rector, Grace Church