The latest iteration of the Methodist’s ‘Inclusive Language Guide’, suggests replacing ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ with neutral terms to avoid offence. But these are biblical terms imbued with theological meaning, argues Aaron Edwards. We lose them at our peril


Source: Photo by Emma Bauso:

It is entirely unsurprising that, according to its infamous ‘Inclusive Language Guide’, the Methodist Church now sees ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ as potentially problematic terms. This is a seemingly inevitable next step following the various rubicons that have already been crossed within this progressively-infiltrated denomination, and I am sure there will be plenty more to come. Doors have been opened which cannot now be closed. Long-term theological erosion has not only been left unrepaired, it has been actively subsidised.

Their concern in this instance was that referring to husband and/or wife “makes assumptions about a family or personal life that is not the reality for many people.” Methodism’s reaction to the public outcry about this was that their intentions have been “misrepresented”. I can sympathise with this, as one whose own intentions behind wording have been aggressively misrepresented by the very Methodist leaders who likely signed off on that ‘Inclusive Language Guide’.

This is part of a wider undermining of normative Christian morality

I can also see how it may seem like a case of simply trying to prevent people feeling uncomfortable by assuming they’re married when they’re not. Even so, this is no reason to stop using two terms which occur some 500 times in the Bible, imbued with such profound theological significance, and to replace them with a lifelessly neutral term like ‘partner’. This is not simply about avoiding offence through terminology; it’s part of a wider undermining of normative Christian morality in general.

The gentle slope

Lest we forget, when Methodism accepted gay marriage in 2021, it simultaneously accepted co-habitation, and also began positive ongoing consideration of polygamy. The significance of a one husband and one wife marriage is now relegated to just one of many possible options for a “God-ordained” relationship. Within this wider context, the advice to minimise the use of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ cannot be considered coincidental.

Things like this usually happen gradually, with sensible-sounding bureaucratic arguments about ‘care’, ‘harm’ and ‘safety’. Yet they are anything but harmless. In The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis highlighted “the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts”. He said the “greatest evils” occured “in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.”

For example, the ‘Inclusive Language Guide’ states: “Many cultures have traditionally held the view of gender as binary: as male or female, he or she.” This subtly implies that male and female are not the objective ‘norm’ but simply a historically-perceived cultural majority. This is untrue. Barring our very recent moment in the secular West, all cultures saw gender/sex as binary: male or female. And wherever marriage has not been “held in honour” (Hebrews 13:4), it has usually been Christian missionaries who challenged it.

In recent years, ‘heteronormativity’ has become a negative concept, an exclusionary offence to homosexual or gender-dysphoric people. But it is simply what everyone had always observed to be self-evidently true. Even in ancient societies where homosexuality or androgyny were practiced, they were never seen as the ideal or norm.

Today, however, if you say heteronormativity is actually ‘good’ you’re likely to be labelled abnormal. Danny Kruger MP (an evangelical Christian) was pilloried in the press last year for citing heteronormative marriage as, “the only possible basis for a safe and successful society”. To many, this view now counts as ‘extreme’. Yet heteronormativity is not really an opinion; it’s a factual reality. Human civilisation literally cannot flourish without it.

In 1973, the American economist George Gilder referred to the burgeoning anti-heteronormative movements in the West as a kind of sexual suicide actively “destroying the cultural preconditions of profound love and sexuality: the durable heterosexual relationships necessary to a community of emotional investments and continuities in which children can find a secure place.” Many still believe this to be obvious, even if fewer and fewer feel able to say so publically.

A new normal

A key symptom of our present cultural crisis is that younger generations are now routinely taught to view their inherited religious and linguistic boundaries for gender/sexuality as either obsolete or perpetually alterable according to individual preference. The negative implications for future generations who are raised to think this way are incalculable.

The Church is meant to offer light amid the chaotic confusions of our times. Yet it’s increasingly clear that the revealed truths of God’s word and the natural laws of God’s created world are radically questioned today even inside the Church. The question that plagued the very first husband and wife: “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1) remains with us. Paul spoke of “a time when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

We live in such a time.