ISSUE #6: Stanford’s Woke Redefinitions & Methodist Church Split

The Power of Definitions

by Amy Heimann

Stanford University wants to stop offending people. At least, that is the most charitable explanation of their latest efforts to remove “many forms of harmful language…in Stanford websites and code.” A newly released Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI) goes into length on how various words and phrases are actually grievously offensive and should be banned immediately. This list has been ripped apart across the country by politicians, celebrities, witty tweeters, angry facebookers, and even Stanford’s own student-led campus newspaper. Here’s why:

The List Everyone is Encouraged to Not Read, but Know what is on it Anyway

Among the first 28 offensive and hereby banned words are “blind study”, “blind review”, “committed suicide”, “handicap parking”, “paraplegic”, “tone deaf”, and “walk-in office hours.” To analyze two of these more closely, Stanford reasons that “blind study” and “blind review” are insulting and dangerous because each “unintentionally perpetuates that disability is somehow abnormal or negative, furthering an ableist culture.” Considering that blind studies and blind reviews are actually preferred methods for scientific experiments, this inclusion on the EHLI list points to the farcicality of items to follow. (Like how using the term “Philippine Islands” is politically incorrect, unless people of Filipino heritage use the term, then it’s okay.)

Under the heading “Culturally Appropriative” is 13 words and phrases including “brave”, “guru”, “tribe”, and “tribal knowledge.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Pocahontas” is also banned, though no mention is made of certain politicians on that one. Next up is “Gender Based” language that is “not helpful” and oftentimes “exclusionary.” The 29 words/phrases here include “congressman/congresswomen”, “freshman”, “he”, “mankind”, “manmade”, “seminal”, and “she.” The terms “preferred pronoun” and “transgender” are henceforth also banned from Stanford’s websites for the absurd reason that they “suggest that non-binary gender identity is a choice” and that being trans is “something that is done to a person, that some kind of transition is required.” Hmm. Well obviously.

Nineteen “Imprecise” terms that shall not be used anymore include “abort the plan”, “child prostitute”, “Hispanic”, “Indian Summer”, “Karen”, “peanut gallery”, “straight”, and “survivor.” One may no longer say “people of color” but rather only “BIPOC” (which stands for black, indigenous, and people of color). Perhaps most upsetting to the citizens of the United States and the reason for most of the backlash the EHLI has received is the inclusion of the word “American” on the offensive and harmful language list! Yet, the list goes further.

“Institutionalized Racism” puts forth 34 banned words and phrases. These include “blackbox”, “blacklist”, “brown bag”, “cakewalk”, “gangbuster” (because, heaven forbid, it “invokes the notion of police action against gangs in a positive light”), “grandfather”, “master” (noun, verb, and adjective), “scalper”, “slave labor” (because it “references a time when enslavement of people was allowed” and naturally must be antiquated and obsolete), and “white hat hacker.” It is also forbidden to say “to call a spade a spade.” Why? Stanford writes, “Although the term has its origins in Greek literature, the subsequent negative connotations with the word spade means that the phrase should be used with caution or not at all.” Lest SPADE be offended.

There are 14 “Violent” phrases on the list, starting with “abusive relationship”. Why? Because “the relationship doesn’t commit abuse. A person does, so it is important to make that fact clear.” Lest RELATIONSHIP be offended. Other violent sayings include “beating a dead horse” (lest DEAD HORSE be offended), “crack the whip”, “killing two birds with one stone”, “more than one way to skin a cat”, “rule of thumb” (“Although no written record exists today” of why this phrase is violent), and “war room” (movie anyone?). 

Finally, the list comes to “Additional Considerations”. Here, one will find dangerous language such as “African-American” (one may “interpret hyphenating their identity as ‘othering’”), “gypped”, “hillbilly”, “hip-hip hurray/hurrah” (German citizens apparently used this cry during WWII), “hold down the fort” (heaven forbid anyone protects their wife, children, home, or livelihood), “immigrant”, “long time no see” (mocks peoples “who spoke pidgin English”), “normal person”, and the verb “prostitute” (because it “unnecessarily correlates corrupt or unworthy purposes with sex work.” Because sex work isn’t corrupt or unworthy.). Stanford also instructs its students to no longer “submit” an assignment for grading. Instead, papers and other class projects should be “processed” by the deadline. Lest CLASS ASSIGNMENTS be offended.

This author can think of dangerous language that has somehow been overlooked for inclusion. What about “able”, “other”, “nailed it”, “bombed at the box office”, “come and take it”, “ok boomer”, or “child-bearing”? What about “overlooked”? Why is “cracker” not a racially insensitive word? Why not ban “white supremacist/supremacy”?

To Be Serious for a Moment

A large portion of the backlash against Stanford University’s EHLI is that many words on the list have nothing to do with the reason they are offensive. Take “blackbox” for example. A quick internet search reveals the top three definitions: 1) an airplane’s flight data recorder, 2) a system which can be viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs without any knowledge of its internal workings, and 3) an internet-based trading platform for stocks and options. None of these definitions equate the word “blackbox” to anything derogatory. Some words, like “scalping” may have been derogatory in the past for historical reasons, but today are used quite differently with an altogether different meaning. One camp, which Stanford seems to fall under, suggests that words never lose their original connotations and can never be redeemed.

Another camp suggests that language evolves and words pick up and lose definitions over time. Cambridge Dictionary falls into this camp. Last October, the famous reference work updated certain definitions to reflect new usage. The definition of “woman” now reads: “1) an adult female human being, 2) an adult who lives and identifies as female though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth”. “Intersex” is defined as: “Relating to the state of having a body that is between male and female”. The definition of “Gender” now reads: “a group of people in a society who share particular qualities or ways of behaving which that society associates with being male, female, or another identity.” “Ze” is the new official gender-less personal pronoun. Cambridge Dictionary argues that these published definitions are necessary for learners of English to know, in order to understand the language. What is the problem with this second camp?

Sociology Theory 101

In the 1930s, a group of philosophy students from the University of Chicago pulled together class and conversation notes to publish Mind, Self, and Society, a book which lays out Symbolic Interactionism as theorized by George Herbert Mead (1863-1931). This theory has stood the test of time and scrutiny and remains a favorite for philosophy, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and communication scholars. Symbolic Interactionism has three premises. The first states: “humans act toward people or things on the basis of the meaning they assign to those people or things.” The idea can be restated: people react to nouns based on the definition they give those nouns. Or, stimulus à interpretation à response. The second premise is “meaning arises out of the social interaction that people have with each other.” This argues that nouns do not have inherent definitions. For example: a short, four-legged mammal that rubs up against one’s legs and meows is not inherently cute, mean, affectionate, lazy, protective, or selfish. It is only by interacting with other people that such a noun acquires one or more of those meanings. (Two closely related ideas to this theory are the self-fulfilling prophecy and the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which states that the structure of a society’s language directly affects how people act and think.) To a symbolic interactionist, then, when the collective/societal interpretation/meaning/definition of a thing/noun changes, not only does the response change, but the noun itself changes as well. In other words, if Mead’s theory is correct, when a society agrees that “woman” does not necessarily have two X chromosomes, or that “she” is disparaging, then those agreements become reality. Scary stuff.

How to Combat WOKE Language

The third premise of Symbolic Interactionism gives hope. It states, “an individual’s interpretation of symbols is modified by his or her own thought processes.” Therefore, every person has the power to resist the drone of “alternate narratives” or “subjective truth” and remain steadfast in their belief of the world around them. If one remains in THE Word and listens to the Absolute and Objective Truth, the Alpha and Omega, their understanding of life on earth will not be tossed to and fro by the collective agreements of others.

U.S.A.’s Largest Protestant Denomination Splitting Over Moral Beliefs, Other Reasons

by Amy Heimann

Well over 1,300 congregations across the country have voted in favor of disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church (UMC) in the past three years, with massive breaks occurring in the fall/winter of 2022. Another 3,000-4,000 are expected to follow suit in the next three years. Why? And what happened in 2019 to cause the receding tide of churches away from the UMC?

The history of the divide can be traced to the sexual revolution in the 1970s, when a General Conference of the UMC declared that, although homosexual individuals are to be regarded with the same brotherly love as all humans, the practice of homosexuality is incompatible to the Christian belief. Unfortunately, many UMC leaders and congregations have ignored the statement in the denomination’s Book of Discipline. Again, in 2019, the international UMC General Conference voted to ban LGBT clergy and marriages from their churches, likely under heavy pressure from African bishops who uphold more traditional teachings of the Bible, but the declaration was met with similar disregard as the popularity of gay-rights has increased rapidly in America. The decades between these decisions and the ensuing distain on each side of the issue have bred divisiveness within the denomination, paving the way for a massive splintering that many saw coming for years. Interestingly, the UMC had plans to formally divide the denomination into two halves – conservative and liberal – but never got around to putting the plan into action under the excuse of COVID-19. Yet, the 2019 General Conference greatly contributed to the bleeding of congregations by allowing individual churches to disaffiliate based on matters of conscience. Those congregations have to vote with a two-thirds majority and pay the UMC a hefty fee in order to separate, but will be allowed to then own their church property. The deadline is December 31, 2023.

An additional propulsion seems to be the formation of the Global Methodist Church, officially begun on the first of May, 2022. The Global Methodist Church launched in response to the delay of the next General Conference, which has been postponed three times and is not set to convene until spring of 2024. Without such a conference, UMC leaders have not signed the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, the document that would detail the legal aspects of breaking into two Methodist bodies. Nevertheless, hundreds of churches worldwide are leaving UMC to join Global Methodist Church instead of waiting, as Global Methodist is widely considered to be the conservative option.

By the end of last year, regional conferences were hosted all across America, with delegates voting on whether to depart from the liberal UMC. Fifty-eight churches in the Louisiana Conference voted to disaffiliate. Seventy churched voted to leave in the North Georgia Conference. The North Alabama Conference ended with 198 churches disaffiliated. The North Carolina Conference saw the departure of 249 congregations, about 32% of the attending UMC churches. Two of the four Texas conferences met for a vote at the beginning of December 2022. By the end of the day, 145 congregations voted to leave the UMC from the Northwest Texas Conference. Meanwhile at the Houston-based Central Texas Conference, 93% of the attending delegates voted in favor of disaffiliation, leaving the UMC only 51% of their original 598 congregations. Congregations have also been splitting from the UMC outside of conference. In the southeast area of Texas, 29 of the 34 UMC congregations have left for the Global Methodist Church or an independent Methodist branch. Another 44 have left from the north Texas area.

While the majority of press coverage concerning the split from UMC chalks up the massive divide to long-lasting LGBT issues, it may not be the only point of relevance. The Texas Right to Life organization would like to believe the UMC’s stance on abortion is also driving away members. They remind everyone that UMC was openly involved with a pro-abortion group until 2016 and cite a statement released by the United Methodist Women which declares:

“The United Methodist Church has crafted a position on abortion that respects the sacredness of life and recognizes tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, holding that in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures (The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2016, ¶161, K ) …. United Methodist Women affirms these positions and so opposes the new Texas law on abortion as a danger to women and an intrusion on families.” 

Some churches are leaving UMC for entirely financial reasons. Whiteschapel and St Andrews, two somewhat liberal mega-churches in Texas, chose to leave because they consider that the declining UMC gives them no benefits in return for the thousands of dollars they pay the denomination. Some congregations also like the appeal of owning their own property and having a voice in choosing their own pastors, which is not often the case within the UMC.

Not all conservative-to-moderate congregations take issue with the current state of the UMC. Officially speaking, the UMC does not promote LGBT lifestyles, but rather calls the homosexual practice incompatible with Scripture. Some congregations believe that they are protected by this doctrine, regardless of whether other churches abide by it.

A long-standing member of the Methodist church in Fredericksburg said that while their congregation has not met for a vote, she thinks they will stay with the UMC. “If [our pastor] doesn’t want to do a [gay] wedding, he doesn’t have to,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s right to tell some people ‘you can’t worship with us’.” Rev. George Lumpkin, senior pastor of United Methodist Church in Fredericksburg, was asked his opinion on whether the congregation would join the split from the UMC. He replied in the negative with a smile. “We’re not going to judge anyone,” he said showing no interest in expounding on the topic. “I think…we’re just going to figure out how to welcome everyone.”

By the time the dust settles, the UMC predicts a 38% total drop in membership. Keep an eye on the 2024 General Conference to see if liberal church leaders revise their Book of Discipline now that so many conservative members have broken away. If they do, a majority of the African Methodist churches will likely pull the plug on their affiliation as well, taking roughly 7 million people with them.

Who’s In Town? – Native Plant Society of Texas

There is a non-for-profit organization in town which boasts over 200 members, yet has monthly meetings with a cozy, friends’ group vibe. People come early to meetings for chit chat and indulging homemade refreshments and the members stay late to discuss whatever topic is at hand, with the wizened taking newcomers under their wing of experience. This is the Fredericksburg Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas. NPSOT’s goal is to “promote research, conservation and utilization of native plants and habitats” to create and keep healthy ecosystems. Our local chapter eagerly applies the society’s vision to the Edwards Plateau.

The Fredericksburg chapter usually holds 10 meetings per year with guest presentations on various conservation and horticulture topics. Additionally, the group often forms field trips to area gardens or ranches and to state symposiums. There are also annual members-only native plant sales to encourage active participation in habitat creation and members often share seeds with each other. The wealth of information is generously shared not only in meetings, but also via newsletters and the chapter website, where video recordings of past presentations are linked.

Becoming a member of the Native Plant Society has perks beyond educational tours and plant sales. In this organization, friends are soon to be made who share a love of nature. Attend the January 24th meeting held at 6:30pm at St Joseph’s Halle for more information or visit to download the membership form.

Also, This:

18-year-old Elected Mayor in Earle, Arkansas. Jaylen Smith won the run-off election in his hometown of about 1,800 last month, becoming the youngest black mayor in America. His stated priorities for office are bringing in a grocery store and improving public safety. In addition to being mayor-elect, Smith is also a lieutenant in the local police department and a student of Arkansas State University Mid-South.

Appeal Withdrawn in Texas Court Over Gun Rights. In the first half of 2022, U.S. District Judge Pittman ruled that a Texas law banning 18-20-year-olds carrying guns was unconstitutional. The State of Texas filed an appeal in September, but TDPS Director McCraw has withdrawn the filing two weeks ago. A Firearms Policy Coalition spokesman happily responded to the news, saying that young adults should have the same rights as all other adults.

Iranians Keep Protests Alive Despite Arrests and Executions. On September 16th, violent interrogation practices by the Iranian Government caused the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested for improperly wearing a hijab. The event sparked demonstrations with the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” and has led to the longest-running anti-government protest in the country since 1979. Along with defacing and damaging political symbols like statues and paramilitary buildings, protestors are also burning head scarves and knocking turbans off the heads of Shia Muslim clerics. The Iranian government has responded by killing over 500 people, including over 65 children, sentencing over 25 citizens to death by hanging, and torturing even more in custody.

Book Review

Marmee: A Novel of Little Women by Sarah Miller.

Sarah Miller achieved success in 2017 with her novel Caroline: Little House, Revisited. This book lovingly recreated the story of the Ingalls family from the perspective of Laura Ingalls’ mother, Caroline. In October 2022, Miller published another novel in the same fashion, this one focusing on the March family of Louisa May Alcott fame.

Marmee retells the story of Little Women in the form of Margaret March’s diary, which spans multiple years. This book is a chance to meet an incredible woman, however fictional, who must make impossible choices for those she loves most. In it, readers get a clear backstory of the financial straits that beset the March family leading into the Civil War, as well as the feelings, insights, and motivations of the beloved mother raising four daughters alone. An understanding of Marmee and Father’s relationship is also more vibrantly painted here than in Alcott’s original. Although Marmee can be easily read and appreciated as a stand-alone novel, it may be beneficial to have a recollection of the plot and events in Little Women in order to reap the full richness of Miller’s text.

Die Deutsche Ecke

The final element of the German alphabet likely unknown to readers is the ß (called the Eszett or Sharp S). A descendant of Latin script, the Eszett is sometimes described as an “ss”, which is not entirely, strictly, perfectly true. Although the Eszett represents the “s” sound, there are various rules in German orthography for determining whether to spell with an s, ss, or ß.

Originally, the sound was written as a “z”, but that caused confusion in pronunciation because the Eszett should be closer to “s” whereas “z” is often pronounced “tz” aloud. Adding to the issue was the loss of phonetic differences in the 13th century, when words spelled with an “s” began to be pronounced with a “z” and words spelled with a “z” began to be pronounced with an “s”. Enter the ligature ſʒ which was also represented as “sz” and (eventually) became the ß. Whether you wrote with the “sz” or an “ss” depended greatly on where in the word the letter should fall (at the end of the word, between vowels, etc.).

As printing became increasingly common in the 18th century, Germans were somewhat at a loss as how to type the Eszett. Should they adopt “sz” or “ſſ” or “ſʒ” or “ß”? The first Orthographic Conference in 1876 could not decide. (Progress was made in standardizing when to use the character, however. In the German Orthographic Conference of 1901, the Eszett was declared to be used directly after a long vowel or diphthong and at the end of a syllable, provided that the Eszett was the end of the word stem.) It was not until 1903 when the Typographic Society of Leipzig declared “ß” to be the official representation of Eszett. Up until that time, multiple renderings were in use in books and on signs, occasionally using “ss” when all else failed. Fast forward to the German Orthographic Reform of 1996, which slightly altered the rules of when to use the ß instead of an “s” or “ss”.

I bet you were not aware that the Germans officially update their language every couple of decades!

Switzerland and Liechtenstein both chose to eliminate the Eszett altogether in the 20th century. The Education Council of Zurich stopped teaching the letter in schools in 1935 and by the 1940s, most newspapers in those countries dropped the letter as well. Plans and proposals to abolish the letter in Germany were made in the 1940s and 1950s, but with no implementation. The Orthographic Conference of 1996 reduced the usage of “ß” significantly in Germany and Austria by adopting a generalization on when to pronounce long verses short vowels. That year was the last year the conjunction dass was written daß.

Why is the Eszett still around? Well, it does come in useful for distinguishing words like reisen (to travel) and reißen (to tear) and meanings like in Massen (in massive amounts) verses in Maßen (in moderate amounts. While it is not likely that the Eszett will be abolished any time soon, it may eventually fade away before the 22nd century and will probably be dependent on whether computers and smart phones continue to offer the option of typing it.

The last remaining problem with the Eszett, is that the Council for German Orthography had not approved a capital version of the letter prior to 2007. Now, this did not stop people from making up their own versions when they chose to write/type in all caps. Still, official German documents (such as passports) had to substitute “SS” or “SZ” when needed, as there was no official capital ß. The German dictionary “Duden” included a capital ß in its 1957 edition, only to remove it again in its 1984 edition, stating that the capital letter did not exist. Formalities, formalities.

A group of typographers finally made progress in 2007 by successfully submitting a proposed “Latin Capital Letter Sharp S” which was included in the 2008 updates to the international standard Unicode. German orthography jumped on board by making the capital ß standard in 2017. Whew!

All this is to say that, when you find the ß in a word, just pretend it’s an “s”. And when you want to write a German word but are not sure whether to use “s”, “ss”, or “ß”… you best consult a new edition dictionary.

The Good News

For untold number of years, the Christian Church has celebrated a Christmas season, instead of just recognizing the birth of the Savior as a “one and done” insertion into the Church year. By the fourth century, the Roman church designated January 6th as the observation of the Epiphany (when the magi from the east found the Christchild due to the revelation {literally, “shine upon”, which comes from the Greek “epi” meaning “upon” and “phanos” meaning “shine”} of the star of Bethlehem). Christmastide, then, became the 12 days between Christmas Eve and Epiphany.

Therefore, on the first day of Christmas (December 25), my true Lord gave to me a Savior who died upon a tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true Lord gave to me:

12 Tribes of Israel

11 Faithful Disciples

10 Holy Commandments

9 Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)

8 Beatitudes

7 Gifts of the Spirit (Romans 12:6-8)

6 Days of Creation

5 Books of the Law

4 Gospels

Faith, Hope & Love

2 Testaments/Covenants

And a Savior who died upon a tree.

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