Accents & grammar: what’s good for the olympics is alright in the pulpit

I can’t say I’ve been watching all that much of the Olympics. But I did pick up on Digby Jones, Baron Jones of Birmingham taking a swipe at Alex Scott for not pronouncing her G’s at the end of a word. Here he is taking a pot shot:

The comments garnered some pushback on twitter. Notably, Stephen Fry commented:

While Scott herself was quoted in The Times as saying:

I’m from a working-class family in east London, Poplar, Tower Hamlets & I am PROUD. Proud of the young girl who overcame obstacles, and proud of my accent! It’s me, it’s my journey, my grit.

A quick one to any young kids who may not have a certain kind of privilege in life. Never allow judgments on your class, accent, or appearance hold you back. Use your history to write your story. Keep striving, keep shining & don’t change for anyone.

We, of course, wouldn’t be like that in the church, would we? We don’t expect people to have a particular preaching voice, do we? We wouldn’t pick people up on their grammar and spend more time worrying about their accent, or specific words they use, than the truth they’re proclaiming, right? I wish it were so.

Sadly, we have so few examples of genuinely working class people with regional accents in our pulpits at all. That might be, in part, because we weed them out before they get that far. It might be, in part, because all those doing the teaching ensure that anybody they train preaches like them, accent and all. It might be, in part, because we are predominantly middle class – and we are frequently told to preach to the people in front of us – we take care of the sensibilities of the people to whom we are typically preaching, who often have views about accents and proper pronunciation (as they judge these things).

But just as any pundit should be judged by their analysis, not their accent, so preachers ought to be judged by the truth they proclaim, not their accent. Who really cares if somebody drops their G’s or uses regional slang? Can’t such things be helpful in reaching people who speak in exactly these ways who are largely missing from our churches? Wouldn’t it be great if we could move beyond all this, whether on TV or in the pulpit?