A Unabomber Victim Speaks Out

(Ok, this post isn’t what you’re thinking based on the title, but I thought it might grab your interest. Gelerntner was a Unabomber victim.)

David Gelerntner, professor of computer science at Yale, has just written a great article on the generic “he” and all its putative replacements. This is an issue of importance to Christians because it affects Bible translation as well as our many-faceted witness to the world.

Take some time and read the article.

I was especially struck by these two points:

  1. The same writers who would never use a generic “he,” either turning it plural or somehow adding in “she” (either with he/she or random replacement), eschew “authoress” and “priestess.” They’re insisting on giving women their place among pronouns, but taking away women’s place among nouns!
  2. The “generic she” isn’t generic! It shouts femaleness.

How can English style enthusiasts keep limpid prose coming when ideologues are hovering over their keyboards with a ruler, ready to slap knuckles at every infraction?

And the basic point of the article: Since when does our beloved melting pot called English get to be ruled, French-like, by some linguistic bullies?

The question for evangelical Christians is where we fall in the debate. We can jump in like any citizen, but it’s like Calvinism-Arminianism issue. If I know that the use of the label “Calvinist” or “Arminian” (whichever position I take!) is just going to create misunderstanding with those who only know a caricature of the theology behind the label, am I being spineless to avoid using it when it’s extraneous to my purpose? Likewise, if I know that the generic he will be offensive (I’m not saying I know that; it depends on the writing situation), do I want to lose my readers to score a conservative cultural point? Are we going to win the culture war by being sticklers on pronouns?

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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