Hymn Text Editorial Policy

If I were working on a new edition of the Hymnal, this is the editorial policy I would put in place.

1) Male-specific language shall not be used to refer to human beings in general, humanity corporately, or individual humans of unknown or otherwise unspecified gender. Specifically prohibited are the words “man” and “mankind” to refer to humanity, the words “brother(s)” and “brethren” (without their feminine counterparts) to refer to the fellowship of the church or the family of humanity, the word “son” (without “daughter”) to refer to our filial relationship with God, and the word “fathers” (without “mothers”) to refer to ancestors or forebears.

Existing hymns that use these words and phrases shall be edited to remove or expand them.

2) Male specific pronouns (“he”, “him”, “his”) for God which do not occur in direct relationship to male-specific titles (“King”, “Father”) shall be edited to neutral forms (“who”, “whom”, “whose”) or removed entirely (“God”, “God”, “God’s”) whenever doing so will not alter the meaning, rhythm, meter, or rhyme scheme of the text, provided that doing so does not create absurd or excessively awkward outcomes.

3) Male specific titles for God (“Father”, “Lord”, “King”) may be retained in existing hymns if they seem central to the hymn’s meaning, or if changing them would fundamentally alter the character of the text or the people’s relationship to it.

3a) Male specific pronouns for God may be retained in hymns that retain male titles.

3b) If the only use of a male specific title occurs in a Trinitarian formula (“Father” and “Son”), provision 3a does not apply to the rest of the text, and provision 2 should be considered.

3c) If the only use of a male specific title occurs in a Trinitarian doxology at the conclusion of a hymn, an alternate doxological formula shall be provided as an option. Poets, hymn writers, and theologians shall work together to provide feminine-language and neutral-language rhyming doxologies in a variety of hymn meters, which can be used for this purpose.

4) As often as possible, when male specific titles are retained in existing hymns, an alternate form that uses feminine titles (“Mother”, “Queen”) should be provided. These alternate forms may be provided as separate entries in the hymn book, additional/optional verses in the primary entry, or in a supplemental resource which carries the full authorization status of the primary hymnal. The most appropriate location for any feminine-language variant should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

4a) When producing feminine-language variants, female specific pronouns (“she”, “her”, “hers”) are appropriate.

4b) When simple replacement of male-specific titles with female-specific titles causes incongruities in the rhythm, meter, rhyme scheme, or meaning of the text, hymn writers, and theologians should work together to produce a more thoroughly edited variant which is both singable and sound. Those working on these texts may take the opportunity to produce texts which more fully explore the theological implications of feminine imagery.

4c) In the case of texts still under copyright, the editors shall seek permission from the rights holders and work with the original authors when possible, to produce feminine language variants. If the rights holder objects to the alteration of a text, this fact shall not preclude the original, unaltered text from appearing in the hymnal without any variants provided.

5) New hymn texts and songs which use feminine titles, images, and pronouns for God shall be sought, encouraged, and commissioned. The body of existing feminine-language hymnody shall be examined. As many as are fit for the public worship of the Church shall be included.

6) New hymn texts and songs which use gender neutral, gender ambiguous, or gender non-binary titles, images, and pronouns for God shall be sought, encouraged, and commissioned. As many as are fit for the public worship of the Church shall be included.

7) When taken altogether, the editorial choices made in response to the above provisions should result in a balance of masculine, feminine, and neutral language for God. It should not be possible for a reasonable, but theologically unsophisticated, reader to examine our hymnody and conclude that we believe God is literally male.

8) Use of “archaic” pronouns (“thee”, “thou”, “thy”) shall be retained if present in the original text and the meaning is clear to modern speakers.

8a) Texts which were previously edited to remove archaic pronouns shall be restored to their original form whenever doing so does not render them unintelligible to modern speakers.

9) Texts which, due to the evolution of pronunciation, no longer rhyme as originally intended shall be lightly edited to restore the original rhyme scheme.

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