Updating the PAOC Statement of Faith: Gender and Language

We should update the PAOC statement of faith. I’m sure other people have thought this. However, I haven’t heard too many people talk about the fact that our statement of faith contains much gender exclusive language. Gender exclusive language uses terms like “mankind” and “policemen.” Gender inclusive language uses terms like “people” or “police officers” (here is a short video primer on gender inclusive language).

Here are some excerpts from the PAOC statement of faith (found here):

  • Referring to a believer’s relationship to demons, the statement says (5.3.2) that “He cannot be possessed by them [demons] because his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.” I guess female Christians can be possessed by demons.
  •  “Man was originally created in the image and likeness of God” (5.4). Perhaps the PAOC follows the belief of Augustine that women do not bear the divine image.
  • “He fell through sin and, as a consequence, incurred both spiritual and physical death” (5.4). Women actually got off pretty good here!
  • “Salvation has been provided for all men through the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross” (5.5.1). Oh dear…not so good here.

I could go on.

Now…the PAOC statement of faith does not, of course (!), mean what I have suggested above. Hence, many people will read this and wonder what the big deal is. However, language matters. Do you think it makes a difference if I refer to a female as a “girl,” a “lady,” a “woman,” or as “ma’am”?

Words are not really the main issue here.

  • A recent study has shown that gender exclusive language can actually make women feel ostracized. As part of the study, some women went through a mock job interview. The women who were interviewed using gender exclusive language responded “with a lower sense of belonging, less motivation, and less expected identification with the job” compared to the women who were interviewed with gender inclusive language.[i]
  • Gender exclusive language suggests that men are probably being privileged over women in ways other than just language.
  • Another recent study suggests that in many cases those who are more resistant to gender inclusive language tend to have sexist beliefs.[ii]

Some people will still think the issue of gender inclusive language is just silly. But since many people (and many women in particular) do not think this is silly, then we owe it to them to be respectful and considerate and we should avoid using language that may be perceived as pejorative. Plus, gender inclusive language is simply more accurate.

I am pleased to say that because we recognize the value of women in ministry in the PAOC, we have been ordaining women since 1984. I’m also happy to say that as the PAOC has been making amendments to their constitution, they have indeed used gender-inclusive language.

It is also due time for us to update the language in the PAOC statement of faith. (Note: In contrast to the constitution, the statement of faith is not updated often. I don’t know if there have been any changes since 1994, and I think 1980 before that.)

UPDATE: On April 30, 2014, the PAOC General Conference voted in favor of revising the statement of faith using gender inclusive language. The changes should appear on the PAOC web page soon enough.


[i] Jane G. Stout and Nilanjana Dasgupta, “When He Doesn’t Mean You: Gender-Exclusive Language as Ostracism,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36.6 (2011): 757-769.

[ii] Oriane Sarrasin, Ute Gabriel [no relation J], and Pascal Gygax, “Sexism and Attitudes toward Gender-Neutral Language: The Case of English, French and German,” Swiss Journal of Psychology 71.3 (2012): 113-124.

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5 thoughts on “Updating the PAOC Statement of Faith: Gender and Language

  1. Very timely discussion Andrew. Doing a research on Women in Ministry at the PAOC archives last week and noted the language in the statement of faith too.