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Do pronouns matter?

Jim Miesner
Courtesy of Jim Miesner

We live in a unique time. Not only is technology moving fast, but our language seems to be changing faster than ever. There are so many new words and re-definitions of words that it can be hard to keep up.

Historically, language has often changed naturally on its own. This has happened for many reasons like, efficiency (easier to say exam instead of examination), geographic separation (we say elevator and the Brits say lift), cultural environment, and the like.

But today, something different is happening. We are artificially changing our language to make people feel better. Old examples of this are saying “stewardess” instead of “flight-attendant,” or saying “disabled” instead of “handicapped.” While there is nothing wrong with these specific changes, we need to recognize that the sole purpose of artificial language changes is to redefine how people think. Knowing this, we must make sure our language is taken care of, both for ourselves and future generations. We must consider it precious and guard it, since it is how we define our world and communicate in it.

One of the best ways of doing this is understanding how some are trying to restructure our language. These artificial changes can take many forms. Sometimes definitions are rewritten (like when Merriam-Webster recently changed the definition of racism). Other times new words are made up (The term "birthing people" in place of women or mothers would have made no sense just a few years ago), and sometimes it's not the definition of a word that changes, but its context.

The dictionary defines “affirm” as:
1. To declare positively; assert to be true.
2. To declare support for or belief in.

Ultimately, affirm means we all believe the same thing. Loving someone and affirming them are entirely different things, but they have come to mean the same thing in today's culture. We can no longer love someone unless we also affirm their feelings. We must believe someone's identity is defined by their self-perception and to believe otherwise is hateful. That's why we must use preferred pronouns. It's not enough to love and care for someone anymore, but we must also believe their beliefs.

When we really think about it, though, if we're called to love people, and the only definition of love is believing someone's beliefs, then doesn't that make preaching the Gospel a form of hate? How can we show love to a Hindu or Muslim unless we affirm and pray to their gods instead of our own? If someone believes something about Jesus that conflicts with Scripture, then wouldn't the loving thing be to adopt those beliefs? In this insane definition of love, there would never be an end. In a world of constantly changing beliefs, we would be affirming all sorts of things that completely contradict each other (i.e., the feminist movement and the transgender movement). It doesn't take much logic to realize we can't affirm everyone's beliefs. Even those that champion these values recognize that. Otherwise, they would affirm those who are unwilling to affirm.

This hypocrisy can be frustrating. Yet, in today's highly political climate, it can be dangerous to speak up. For example, if we refuse to believe that a man can give birth or use preferred pronouns, it could end in job loss or worse. This makes it easy to rationalize not saying anything. We can tell ourselves, who am I to stand up and speak the truth. Is it really worth the risk? Why does it even matter? Yet often, it's the little people and seemingly trivial things that are the most important. Because when we hold our ground even in small matters, the larger battles can be won. But if no one is willing to stand for basic common sense, then we can only imagine what our language will look like in 10, 20, or 50 years. Could basic thoughts that we take for granted one day be impossible to express?

It is alarming to consider that possibility but, all of this doesn't mean we should be argumentative with those who believe we should radically restructure our language. Rather, we need to find the middle ground. We must be willing to ask the tough questions in a loving and Christ-like manner. When someone associates affirmation with love, we need to be eager to go deeper into that belief. We need to ask if they believe affirmation and love are the same. If to love and to affirm are the same, then should we affirm everything? Even if that thing hurts somebody? What makes an idea worthy of our affirmation and what doesn't? Do our words decide the truth, or is truth immutable no matter how we say something?

In between these questions, we must lovingly listen to their response. Because if we are only thinking about winning an argument or what we will say next, then we won't reflect Christ in our conversations, and that is the most critical part in all of this. We must walk with them and seek to understand the truth not as adversaries but as friends. This is how we tear down spiritual strongholds. Not by our arguments or ideas, but by reflecting Christ in all the small moments.

Jim Miesner is an author and ghostwriter of several books. He currently lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and two kids. You can find more of his musings on jimwriteswords.com.

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