Person-First Language Belongs in Bible-Believing Churches
Most people are averse to change: the operative word being “most,” because some people really do enjoy it. It’s crucial, though, that as much as we desire for things to stay the same, there are absolutely circumstances under which change is overwhelmingly favorable. As Christians, we are called to be in this world but not of it: with that said, it’s important for us to remember that God has no restrictions on who He can use and work through. Don’t believe me? Check out the story of Balaam beginning in Numbers 22, where God works through a sorcerer to prophesy about the coming of the Messiah, and Balaam, himself, is blind to things that even his donkey can see.
Maybe person-first language is a product of this world, but it does have implications for us, as Christians. The idea of person-first language is that it distinguishes between a person and their condition or disability. In some cases, we already do this all the time: “She has cancer.” We can see that “she” is distinct from “cancer.” A person can suffer from cancer and still maintain their identity.
When we start to talk about mental health, incarceration and addiction, however, we quickly see that our current labeling system makes a person’s condition synonymous with their identity. Think “alcoholic”; “addict”; “offender”.
The King James Version of the Bible does a beautiful job of separating the individual from their affliction, particularly in the gospels. In the gospel according to Luke, for example, Jesus heals “a man whose right hand was withered,” “Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils,” and “a woman having an issue of blood”, among many others.
Why does this matter? In short, because God is sovereign over absolutely everything. We are the created; He is the creator. Our identity is in Christ alone, not in our earthly suffering. There are absolutely people who struggle with substance abuse, and we can pray for them and support them. Person-first language does not deny that the problem exists. Rather, it asserts that we are all so much more than what we struggle with.