The words we use are very important. But often, whether intended or not, there is another message being heard that lies beyond our words. This message is often subtle and remains unseen to its conveyor and subculture, in this case Christians and Christianity. But to those listening that reside outside of Christianity’s subculture, the unseen message is clear and often times disrespectful, unsettling, and very inconsistent from its stated intent. These messages are at times verbal, but more often they are written: bumper stickers, t-shirts, license plate frames, church signs, bulletins, and visitor packets.
Here are some:
Too Blessed to be Stressed: Seen on a license plate frame. Unseen messages:
- “So if I am stressed, I must not be blessed.” And who isn’t stressed reading this? God’s blessing, like rain, is given to both the just and unjust.
- “Jesus’ blessing results in stress-free living.” Says who?
- Very self-centered blessing. God didn’t tell Abraham, “I will bless you so you will not be stressed,” but rather, “I will bless you so you will be a blessing.”
Real Men Love Jesus: Seen on bumper stickers and t-shirts. Unseen message:
- “If I don’t love Jesus I am not a real man.” This one is laughable to most men.
Welcome to Church, Prepare to be Assimilated: Often said behind the scenes in church staff meetings or on visitor packets as “Our Assimilation Process”. Assimilation is the new catch-phrase for moving a church visitor through a process into membership, service, and small group involvement where a visitor is now assimilated into the church. All I have to say is Star Trek and most of you know where I am going.
The Borg is one of the more notorious villains in Star Trek. They are a civilization of beings (turned cyborg) who have been assimilated into the Collective, a term used to describe the many beings that have lost their individual identity and operate as one mindless mind. This mindless Collective is controlled by one ultimate cyber-being, the borg-queen, whose main goal is to assimilate as many beings into her Collective as possible. She sends out her cyborg minions who declare to their intended victim, “Prepare to be assimilated”.
Is this really the message we want to send? That when a person visits a church the leadership’s intent is that they become assimilated? That they become mindless beings of the Christian collective (often viewed as conservative Christian and right-wing republican), losing their unique identity in the process, and being controlled by some white man in some office somewhere? That once assimilated, they exist only for the purpose of the church-collective, which is often times to assimilate more and more and more people into the church-collective? That they become some androgynous person void of personality and identity?
Now you and I both know that, in most cases, this is not the intended case. So why use this term? Because when we do, this is often the picture that is painted of the church’s intent. The church has enough trust issues with people to be throwing around a term like assimilation when talking about people becoming a part of the church. We can do better than this. But blindly, church leaders grab onto a popular pithy phrase and use it without thinking. I mean, who really wants to be assimilated into anything? I don’t, do you?
So again, the words we use have dire consequences. It is important to really consider what is being heard beyond the words we use. The world is listening, what are we saying?