JEDI Language: Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Vocabulary for Hymn Writers

May 22, 2023
scrabble tiles spelling "words"

As the world around us changes, so does our use of language. Although we have some common images and words that we use often in “church-speak,” we are all becoming more aware of how our language can aid inclusion, honour diversity, and assist with striving for equity and justice. If you’re a hymn writer, songwriter, or choral composer, perhaps these vocabulary ideas, taken from various “Living Language” articles in past issues of Gathering magazine (written by Editor Susan Lukey) will be helpful to consider.

•Instead of the word see, try experience, feel, notice, or discover.
•Instead of the word hear, try receive, encounter, or invite.
•Instead of the word walk, try journey, travel, trek, or accompany.
•Instead of the phrase stand up, try join, share in, or present yourself.
•Avoid using dark or darkness for evil and light for good.

Capital Letters
Within English religious language, there is an old practice of capitalizing pronouns when used in reference to God or to Jesus. According to the current United Church of Canada style guide, we no longer capitalize pronouns relating to the Divine. In fact, we try to avoid third-person pronouns when referring to the Divine, since English pronouns in the singular favour using male or female (he/him/she/her), which also limits our expression of the Divine.

In previous generations, writers in English might have used a capital letter for any noun, an influence from the German language, where all nouns are capitalized. The advent of the printing press led to more standardization of the rules of capitalization. Now, capitals are reserved for the beginning of a sentence, proper nouns, titles, and acronyms. Each language has its own rules for capitalization.

So, in writing worship materials, here are some specifics:
•Holy God, we praise you! Rather than Holy God, we praise You!
•God is with us. God holds us in love. Rather than God is with us. He holds us in love.
•The word creation is always lower case, unless at the beginning of a sentence or when referring to Creation Time.
•Word is upper case when referring to Jesus and lower case when referring to scripture (e.g., the word of God. Jesus, the Word).
•Way is only upper case, as in the “Way of Jesus,” when referring specifically to the Way that Jesus taught.
•The light of Christ is lower case (e.g., this is the light of Christ), unless light is used as a name or in a title of address, such as at the beginning of a prayer (e.g., Come, Light of the World!).

Tammy-Jo Mortensen and Susan Lukey, Editors