5 Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say
May 17, 2012
It surprises people to hear that pastors sometimes curse. But really, that’s all I can do sometimes. When you see terrible tragedy where you have absolutely no response other than sadness and despair, cursing happens…because you can do nothing else.
Likewise, sometimes when I see utter beauty a word will slip through my lips, brought from the very depths of my emotional being where words live only to be used in situations where no word seems appropriate. Usually that’s a curse, too.
Pastors sometimes curse. Christians sometimes curse.
And, really, I hear things slip from Christian mouths with reckless abandon that I believe are far worse than curse words. Here are just 5 (there are undoubtedly more):
5) “That’s not Christian…”
I’ve heard this a lot. I once told a person that I meditated. They responded, “Well, that’s not Christian you know…”
See, the problem with that line of thinking is that it narrows what can be identified with living a life in Christ. Rob Bell does a great job in his book Velvet Elvis on dissecting the danger in turning the word “Christian” from a noun (as it’s used in the Bible) into an adjective. In the noun form, a Christian is a follower of Christ. In the adjective form, it describes an action…presumably an action that a follower of Christ should/shouldn’t do, and therefore sets up categories that have definite barriers. And in doing so, it implies some judgment that is unwarranted at best and untrue at worst. Consider these phrases that I’ve actually heard:
“It’s not Christian to fire that person.” (Implication: A Christian can’t do some things because they’re seen as “mean”)
“It’s not Christian to think those sexual thoughts.” (Implication: A Christian isn’t sexual, or if they are, they don’t think about it because God hates sex and real Christians can control such things)
“You can’t do yoga! It’s not a Christian practice…” (Implication: A Christian can’t borrow from other faith traditions…or, apparently, stretch with intentional breathing on rubber mats)
“You can’t get a tattoo; it’s unchristian to defile the temple of God.” (Implication: God has an opinion about the tribal band around your ankle)
People say it all the time, and while a generous interpretation of their words might be to assume they are calling a specific action/thought into question, the reality is that they just end up calling the person doing that thought/action “unchristian”…to hurtful consequences. For those questioning or skeptical of faith, it erects another barrier, and further narrowly defines who is in or out of a relationship with God.
What if someone were to say, “It’s unchristian to make that amount of money”? Or, “It’s unchristian to have a house that large because you really don’t need that much space”?
We should ban “Christian” in the adjective form. We can’t use it with any consistency.
4) “I love the sinner but I hate the sin..”
See, the problem that I have with this phrase is that it assumes that “sin” is a specific action that is done/can be undone. If that’s the case, name the specific action that you hate.
“I love you, Tommy, but I don’t like it when you break my glasses.” “I love you, Sarah, but I don’t like it when you kick my shins.”
But really, I haven’t heard this phrase used in those ways. I’ve only heard it used when people are talking about identity.
“I love gay people, I just hate that they act on their homosexual orientation…”
There we go. There’s an honest statement.
And an unhelpful one.
It’s unhelpful because, you can’t love me apart from my sexuality. I really don’t think you can. It’s part of what makes me who I am, even if it’s not the whole of my definition. So, if you were to say to me, “I love you, but I hate that you’re heterosexual…” I would probably stop listening right then and there because, well, I wouldn’t believe you.
You can’t love me and yet hate an essential part of me. This phrase is disingenuous.
3) “You need to surround yourself with some good Christian people…“
I once had a well-meaning friend tell me this when I was trying to sort out a problem. I think they were suggesting that I seek faith-based advice. I understand that sentiment.
But one of the problems with this sort of thinking is that, well, when you live in a bubble all you breathe is soapy air, and you may begin to think that is all there is.
As a pastor, people want me to have office hours at church. But in all seriousness, I can’t all the time. If I don’t go to the coffee house a couple times a week, I suffocate in my bubble. I need diversity because it is only in diversity where my thoughts, beliefs, and ideas are challenged.
And really, if I only see Christians all the time, I’m a pretty crappy pastor.
It is narrow to believe that somehow surrounding yourself with only one worldview will help you see the world better.
And besides, sometimes Christians surrounded people and then burned them on stakes…
2) “You just have to do God’s will…”
I am utterly suspicious of people who claim to know the specific will of God.
I’m even more suspicious of people who claim that God’s greatest wish is to have us be in a relationship with God. I think this is where much “praise and worship” music get it’s singular focus.
In the abstract, I get what they’re saying. I think God does desire for humanity to live in shalom with it’s creator. But to claim that this will takes precedence over God’s desire to have humanity live in shalom with one another, and with the environment, and with other creation is, I think, short-sighted. Theology runs into a similar problem when it focuses so much on “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” and fails to mention the other persons of the Trinity.
We run into real problems when we begin to think that with regard to specific situations (like, say, my future husband/wife) that God has one will.
I cannot see how that can be true. I love my wife. But do I think she’s the only person in the world I could have married? Do I think that I’m the only person in the world she could have married? No. I don’t. She’s bright, beautiful, and funny. There are lots of people who would have asked her to marry them (and still might…she’ll just have to say “no”). Likewise I’m beautiful and funny (jury is out on the “bright”), and could have found another partner.
I just found her and we decided to do this. (It was actually much more complicated than that…and a bit more romantic…)
I hope this gives some freedom to those in the world who believe that there is only one right job, one right spouse, one right school, one right anything that they must find or else they’re missing out on God’s will for their life.
And this leads me to the number one…
1) “It’s all in God’s plan…”
That you lost your baby. That your sister was murdered. That you got cancer. That your life is in shambles.
I really can’t think of a worse thing to say to someone, especially when they’re in pain.
We cannot use God to fill in the gaps between events and the people they effect. We want to give solace, to promise that there is a purpose behind madness, but if there is one thing that the cross shows us definitively, it’s that God takes the pain in the world and makes resurrection.
But we should not think that this means that God makes the world’s pain, or the specific pain in a person’s life. It’s an important distinction.
One of the reasons I left faith for a while was because I had heard too many times that God was flipping switches on people: causing children to die, cancer to spread, poverty to happen, etc.
Not only do I think that saying this to someone is adding hurt to hurt, I think it breaks the second commandment. When we say such things, we use God’s name in vain; we use it “uselessly” as the word is better translated.
So when you’re confronted with the news of your friend’s tragedy or a relative’s pain, stand in solidarity with them and scream, “Dammit!” I’m a reluctant Christian at times because I think that those who call themselves Christian don’t think enough about their words.
Frankly, I wish they’d just curse more.