Monday, April 28, 2008

Language Barriers

“Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’;
anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

Matthew 5:37, NRSV

Language, or more specifically the words, used to convey meaning are inadequate. At the same time, human communication is bound, in part, to expression with words and their associated meanings. Clarity of meaning and verbal expression is compounded by the myriad languages spoken around the globe. Nonetheless, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church insisted upon perfecting language to express its actions when voting on motions and petitions.

The 2008 General Conference changed its wording from “concurrence” or “nonconcurrence” to “adopt” or “reject”. Then, yesterday from the floor, a delegate appealed to the Conference to refrain from using the word “defeat” when referring to the outcome of voting that rejects a motion. The delegate’s rationale is that words like “defeat” imply a victory for some. As Christians, the delegate admonished, we are all victorious in Christ; there are no losers.

It seems that whether a motion, petition, recommendation or action of General Conference is rejected or defeated, the words are infused with negativity and imply one side adopted or victorious over the other. Couple this with more than eight languages other than English in translation at the Conference and it seems ridiculous to expect any clear understanding of certain words conveying negative or positive meaning. Even though the superseded words “concurrence” and “nonconcurrence” are perceived to be confusing and cumbersome, they seem to be words less infused with energy around winners and losers, at least in English.

Perhaps the General Conference could simply agree, disagree or agree to disagree in the spirit of holy conferencing and basic human interaction founded upon the love of God for all. Maybe a direct “yes” or “no” would suffice.

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