WE CHRISTIANS have a remarkable talent for sticking our feet in
our mouths. When searching for words most commonly associated with
"Christian", I come up with a list that is not pretty.
I think part of this can be attributed to a handful of phrases
that, if stricken from our vocabulary, might make us a little more
tolerable. Yes, these things may mean something to you, but, trust
me, non-Christians don't share your love for these tried-and-true
They are not intended to tell you to believe or not believe a
certain set of things. Christians have a public-relations problem;
that much is self-evident. So, in as much as I can respond to that,
I want to offer these clichés as advice on how to change the way we
approach people about our faith.
So, in no particular order, here are ten phrases that Christians
should avoid. There will be ten more next week, and then, the week
after that, ten suggestions of antidotes to such clichés.
1. "Everything happens for a reason." I have
heard this said more times than I would care to hear. I'm not sure
where it came from, either, but it's definitely not in the Bible.
The closest thing I can come up with is "To everything, there is a
season," but that's not quite the same. The fact is that faith, by
definition, is not reasonable. If it could be empirically verified
with facts or by using the scientific method, it would not be
faith; it would be a theory.
Also, consider how such a pithy phrase sounds to someone who has
been raped. Do you really mean to tell them that there is a reason
that this happened? Better to be quiet, listen, and, if
appropriate, mourn alongside them. But don't dismiss grief or
tragedy with such a meaningless phrase.
2. "He/she is in a better place." This may or
may not be true. We have no real way of knowing. We may believe it,
but to speak with such authority about something we don't actually
know is arrogant. Also, to focus on the passing of a loved one
minimises the grief of the people he or she has left behind.
3. "Have you asked Jesus into your heart?" As
many times as I've heard this, I still don't really know what it
means. Why my heart: why not my liver or kidneys? This also makes
Christianity sound like a purely emotional experience rather than a
lifelong practice that can never entirely be realised. But, yes,
asking people if they are engaged in a lifelong discipline to
orient their lives toward Christ-like compassion, love, and mercy
doesn't exactly have the same ring to it.
4. "Do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and
saviour?" Again, this is not in the Bible - anywhere. And,
for me, it goes against the whole Christlike notion of the
suffering servant. People tried to elevate Jesus to the status of
Lord, but he rejected it. So why do we keep trying? Also, the whole
idea of a lord is so antiquated that it has no real relevance to
our lives today. Be more mindful of your words, and mean what you
5. "Jesus died for your sins." I know, this is
an all-time Christian favourite. But, even if you buy into the
concept of substitutionary atonement (the idea that God set Jesus
up as a sacrifice to make good for all the bad stuff we've done),
this is an abysmal way to introduce your faith to someone.
I didn't ask Jesus to die for me, and, if I'm not a Christian, I
really have no concept of how that could possibly be a good thing.
The whole idea of being washed clean by an innocent man's blood is
enough to give any person nightmares, let alone lead them into a
deeper conversation about what Christianity is about.
6. "Love the sinner, hate the sin." This is a
backhanded way to tell someone you love them, at best. It also
ignores the command by Jesus not to focus on the splinter in our
neighbours' eyes, while a plank remains in our own. Bottom line: we
all screw up, and naming others' sin as noteworthy, while remaining
silent about your own, is arrogant.
7. "The Bible clearly says . . ." There are two
points on this one. First, unless you're a biblical scholar who
knows the historical and cultural contexts of the scriptures, and
can read them in their original languages, the Bible isn't "clear"
about much. Yes, we can pick and choose verses that say one thing
or another, but by whom was it originally said, and to whom?
Cherry-picking scripture to make a point is called proof-texting,
and it's a theological no-no. Second, the Bible can be used to make
nearly any point we care to (anyone want to justify slavery?); so
let's not use it as a billy-club against each other.
8. "God needed another angel in heaven, so called
him/her home." This is another well-meaning but
insensitive thing to say. This assumes a great deal about what the
person you're speaking to believes, and it also ignores the grief
they're going through. The person who died is, well, dead. Focus on
the needs of the living right in front of you.
9. "Are you saved?" Regardless of whether you
believe in hell, this is a very unattractive thing to say. First,
it implies a power/privilege imbalance (i.e. "I'm saved, but I'm
guessing you're not, based on some assumptions I'm making about
you"), and it leaps over the hurdle of personal investment and
relationship, straight into the deep waters of personal faith.
If you take the time to learn someone's story, you'll probably
learn plenty about what he or she thinks and believes in the
process. And who knows? You might actually learn something, too,
rather than just telling others what they should believe.
10. "The Lord never gives someone more than they can
handle." What about people with mental illness? What about
people in war-torn countries who are tortured to death? What about
the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust? This implies that,
if really a horrible thing is happening to you, God "gave" it to
you. Is this a test? Am I being punished? Is God just arbitrarily
cruel? Just don't say it.
Christian Piatt is a writer, editor, speaker, and musician.
A different version of this article appears at sojo.net.