Preacher's Daughter: What Evangelical Christians Mean When They Say...

Camp Worship
By Paul M. Walsh [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, a friend sent me a link to the blog Stuff Christian Culture Likes. Not to be confused with the evangelical site, Stuff Christians Like, Stuff Christian Culture Likes zeroes in on the strangeness of US evangelicalism with a more jaded perspective.

The blog raises an issue that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently—that is, that evangelicalism has its own weird language, with its smattering of words that take on a completely different meaning in evangelical culture. It even coins words and phrases of its own. In another post, I outlined some of the terms related to Christian patriarchy that I think you should know. Here, I offer another list of problematic entries (in no particular order), each paired with a corresponding Christian Contemporary Music track that you can find on YouTube.

  • People Groups: Christians* like to travel to foreign countries to share their faith, build latrines, and take pictures of themselves with poor children. When raising money for these “missions trips,” they often refer to the people of color they will be ministering to as “people groups.” When Africa and the Middle East are involved, they like to define “people groups” as “tribal” kinship groups. They reserve the term, “unreached people group,” for very rural populations that have allegedly never heard of Christianity, as in “the unreached people groups among the tribes of Papua New Guinea.” Christians probably do not intend this as a racist and offensive term, but they are the only people you will ever hear use it. “Kiss His Glory” is the sort of easy-to-translate song that a missionary would teach to a people group.
  • Secular Humanism: Christians do not understand this phrase in the way that most people do. Thanks in part to the extremism of the late Francis Schaeffer, Christians believe that secular humanism is an evil and anti-Christian philosophical and epistemological approach. It is usually cast as the opposite of a “Christian worldview.” Christians believe that many of the evils of contemporary Western society arise from the evils of secular humanism. Example: “I homeschool my children to protect them from secular humanist indoctrination.” Secular humanism is decried in songs like rapper Spittin’ 4 Jesus’ “Only You.”
  • Abortionist: A doctor who provides abortion services. This is a derogatory term, usually uttered with deep contempt and disapproval. It is only used by members of the Christian Right. Example: “I don’t believe in killing, but I’m not saddened by the death of that abortionist, George Tiller.” Among the anti-abortion crowd, songs told from the perspective of the fetus are popular.
  • God is Not a Democrat or a Republican: This is a catchphrase taken from the sentiment behind professional Christian Jim Wallis’ 2005 book, God’s Politics. It’s often uttered by the kind of conservative evangelical who believes that he (often “he”) is somehow cutting edge. It literally means that God is more concerned with economic inequality than the Republicans, but that He (God is always an upper-case “He.”) is also against abortion rights and “homosexual behavior.” This sort of evangelical is often into hipster-y Christian music like The Psalters, Christian Contemporary Music’s response to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.**
  • Mom of Many: Women who use this phrase as a badge of honor are usually members of the Quiverfull movement, which shuns birth control and family planning so that women can have “as many children as God desires.” They see family planning as a sort of “slippery slope” leading to abortion. The phrase is never used by women who just happen to have a large number of children. Example: “I’m a homeschooling mom of many seeking like-minded women for fellowship and Bible study.” Moms of many very often prefer instrumental hymns and soft music from Quiverfull luminaries like Rebekah (Pearl) Anast.
  • In Rebellion: This does not refer to popular uprising against tyranny. Young adult evangelicals—particularly those from the homeschooling movement who still live at home—are said to be “in rebellion against God-given authorities” when they go against the wishes of their parents. This sometimes denotes drug use, but it usually refers to the fact that a young person has entered into a romantic relationship—and posibly a sexual relationship—of which the parents do not approve. This is often equated with the behavior of Satan, whose real crime was rebellion against God. Example: “Please pray for our eldest, as he is currently in rebellion.” One way that parents try to guard against this is by teaching children songs like “I Will Obey” when they are very young.
  • Woman’s Highest Calling: When Christians use this phrase, they are referring to the “calling” of being a wife and mother. If a skeptic asks a Quiverfull parent why she will not allow her daughters to attend college, she might say, “We believe a woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and mother.” This implies that a woman does not need a higher education because she is not expected to work outside the home anyway. People who use this phrase are generally proponents of “Biblical submission” and homeschooling.

What I hope is clear from this short post is that evangelicalism is a completely different language, one that we should all learn because of its growing role in shaping political discourse. Members of the Christian Right speak in a language that is not always transparent to those of us on the outside. They don’t mean what we might think they mean, or what we would mean if we used the same words. This is partly why conversations with these folks can be so difficult. But I think we have to know the basics in order to offer logical critiques that make folks question their ideology. What are some other words or phrases that you have heard?


*From this point on, “Christians” denotes North American evangelical Protestant Christians, not all Christians.

**Evangelicals often try to imitate things considered “hip” in secular culture, though often not with very much success.

by Kristin Rawls
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32 Comments Have Been Posted

Love on

verb, not to "love someone" but to "love on someone" in "I went to (insert country here) with my missions team to bring God to the unreached people groups there, and we loved on ALL these little children who didn't know the joy of Jesus Christ!" I've never heard anyone but Ev Christians (usually women, though not exclusively) use this phrase, and then it's mostly in reference to children. I think it's supposed to be about demonstrating platonic (er, "christlike?") love for someone, but the idea of loving ON someone, as in thrusting (sorry) your christian love on them, as opposed to giving or offering it, is so in line with the evangelical way of pushing christian views at nonchristians it's kind of creepy.

You are so right! I forgot

<p>You are so right! I forgot about that one. I've seen it mostly used to talk about women and children who are going through a hard time, but also in missions context.</p>

I've heard it used for

I've heard it used for animals. "I volunteer at the Humane Society, where I get to love on all the animals while they wait for homes."

Here in Texas I hear this

Here in Texas I hear this term used all the time for animals by most everyone, not just evangelical Christians.

I hear that a lot from the

I hear that a lot from the younger, hipster-y types. They use it mostly when referring to children. Honestly, it's always really creeped me out.


Way into this series as someone who grew up around a lot of evangelical christian influence—lots of things ringing bells, drawing giggles and generally digging up interesting stuff from the past to revisit knowing "what i know now"! Thank you!

I would just like to add that

I would just like to add that Father God is also used in traditionally black churches. The only times I have heard the phrase was from Baptists of mostly black congregations. And while the use for intimacy is similar, some of the other connotations differ.

Definitely different

Definitely different connotations. Thanks for clarifying this.

No, I have heard expression a

No, I have heard expression a lot in the rural South during emotional prayer.

The ocean that divides?

It's interesting for me to see the differences that arise when you're divided by an ocean. I grew up in Austria after the Balkan war broke out. Raised by a catholic mother and an orthodox father. My family celebrates Christmas twice, and Eastern too, if it doesn't fall on the same weekend. - Being more interested in science and history, I diverted from The Path at age 9, while still attending religion lessons like my father wished. Even after explaining to my family in detail my views on religion, I have never experienced anyone feeling the need to thrust their religion upon us unwashed masses of lost sheep condemned to burn in hell for all eternity.
But maybe I'm just that extra bit of ignorant.
What I do remember is that all religion teachers (no matter their confession) were remarkably smart and approachable and me and my classmates loved having philosophical discussions with them

Two things bother me about your blog.

A. I did not see any references to "courting". This seems like a pretty big gap.
1. No references to using "pray" instead of "think" in conversation.

Those are the two words that really stung me when skirting with this culture.

Right, I felt that this post

<p>Right, I felt that <a title="Preacher's Daughter: Evangelical Wedding Songs: Wifely Submission and the Cult of Biblical Womanhood*" href=" target="_blank">this post </a>had more to do with "courting," and that does come up a bit in the comments.</p>
<p>I had never really thought about "pray" being used instead of "think," but wow, you're right. "Pray about what to do." "Pray about my direction in life..." "Pray about my future spouse."</p>

I see my mistake.

I thought that the "stuff christian culture likes" blog was yours. I was surprised courting wasn't on that blog.

It's not mine, but she does

It's not mine, but she does talk quite a bit about "courting" there. She has an entry, I think, on "not dating." And she talks about "getting married young," etc. Courting comes up quite a bit.

I don't understand this. What

I don't understand this. What does "Pray about x, pray about y" mean in practice? Do people keep a list in their heads of all the things they need to chit chat with God about? Do they trot that list out before they go to sleep? Like, "God, I really want to get married. Maybe you should concern yourself with finding me a spouse. Amen, Kate."
Granted, I was raised in a secular household by agnostics and most of my friend where wobbly Presbyterians, so this is way, way outside my realm of experience.

Some self-aware North

Some self-aware North American evangelical Protestant Christians call this "Christianese."

Bless You - the evangelical

Bless You - the evangelical equivalent of "have a nice day.

"I'll Pray for You" - code used by evangelicals to get someone to spill the dirt and confess their sins. Often these "prayer concerns" are "lifted up to the Lord" at Aglow Fellowship and like minded women's groups. To an outsider, this looks like a group of aging sorority sisters gossiping.

"Have you Accepted Jesus Christ as Your Lord and Savior?" The key that uncracks the code and separates the evangelicals who are "washed in the blood of the lamb" (forgiven of their sins thanks to the blood of Christ that was shed during his crucifixion) from the rest of us unwashed goats.

"I am affirming but not welcoming" - phrase uttered by progressive evangelicals who want to distance themselves from Fred Phelp. They claim they can't be homophobic because they have gay friends. But they still believe homosexuality is a sin. Their more conservative brethren chant "love the sinner not the sin."

"I'll pray for you" is also

"I'll pray for you" is also used as judgment.

As in, "I'm going to a secular concert with my friend tomorrow." and the Christian responds with a hesitant, "I'll pray for you." clearly believing that you will be led into evil and influenced by Satan.

I can't tell you how many times someone offered to "pray" for me, when what they really meant to say was "I think you're making a bad choice." This can take many forms, implying that you are not being Christian enough, you are not acting like a "good Christian girl", you have opinions, you are not letting the men and leaders tell you what to think, you are not good enough, you are stupid and being misled, you aren't doing what THEY think you should be doing, etc, etc. The list can go on for ages.

It's basically a very Christian way to appear kind and caring, but in fact it barely disguises judgment, contempt and sometimes, downright hate.

As a 3rd-generation agnostic,

As a 3rd-generation agnostic, I find this very helpful. Another source I've actually found illuminating is the work of Jack Chick:

which I learned about via indie comic books:

They seem to encapsulate the views of many politicians of the last 12 years, especially the placing of personal statements of faith much higher than good works. The foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Catholicism is understandably not so popular.


Your analysis of the Psalters as being Ed Sharp rip offs is off base. Psalters have existed since the late 90s, Ed Sharp only since the later part of this decade. They are not what I would call a hipster phenomenon either for a number of reasons I will not go into. The Psalters also do not focus there energies on the "saving souls" which is the primary concern of Christian Evangelicalism, but rather on challenging oppressive power and domination (including that of LGBT folks). Let's not confuse Christian anarchism and evangelicalism, they are polar opposites on the spectrum of Christian traditions.

Otherwise I really liked the article, though it brought back some unpleasant memories.

I covered an event that

<p>I covered an event that required me to see them live. In the course of that evening, they used the term "people group" to designate a poor rural African community. At another point, their attempt to "challenge oppressive power" involved mimicking what they took as an "African accent." I understand that one band member has some sort of African heritage, but this was not explained, and it translated as cheap mockery. You may believe groups like the Psalters are something different, and you may interpret their scream-y music differently than I did. But I personally have particular disdain for conservative Christians who pretend to be "progressives" or "liberals" but really are not.</p>
<p>The fact that they've been around since the '90's does not mean they aren't copying Edward Sharpe now. I still say they are, except that they scream a lot more.</p>


I've never actually seen the Psalters live, but I have met a few folks who have been in the band and talked to them extensively. I can't speak for the all of them, but two I've met were quite radical in the way they think (both theologically and socially). I'm appalled to hear that the show you went to included a mocking of African accents. I'm not the psalters largest fan or anything, but I've tended to believe in the past that they are part of something more genuine and authentic than the Christianity that I grew up with and that you are describing in this article.

I'm interested if you think that Christian radicalism/Christian anarchism is simply conservative evangelicalism masquerading as progressivism. Do you think that there such a thing as Christian radicalism or is it merely a phenomenon of hipsterdom? Have you encountered a Christianity that is authentically "progressive" or "liberal" or does it all wreak of conservative evangelicalism that has co-opted radical language for its own hidden christian-y agenda?

To reply to your second

<p>To reply to your second paragraph: Yeah, I am pretty cynical about the evangelical-emergent movement, and suspicious of anyone who is trying to repackage evanlgelicalism at all (I think that's a fundamentally problematic project from the start). I'm not very optimistic about the people you're describing. In addition to what we've already talked about, they have no feminist theological influence and seem to believe that they're past the whole sexism thing because "women are preaching and teaching."&nbsp; Someone actually said that to me when I covered that event, and added, "What more do you want?"</p>
<p>I do think there are some genuinely progressive Christians, but I did not find them in that movement. I think they're more often found in mainline liberal denominations like the UCC, some Disciples of Christ, PC-USA, Episcopalians, the mvoement of open and affirming Baptists etc. Those folks got past the evangelical baggage decades ago, for the most part. They make the evangelical-emergent stuff look backward and reactionary in comparison. Of course, there are problems with all of this as well, but at least it's not repackaged evangelicalism, at least not usually.</p>

I'm an evangelical Christian

I'm an evangelical Christian and have spent a lot of time in that sub-culture. A few of these are right on, but a lot of them are really bizarre to me. Maybe I live in a different sub-culture? I feel like some of these are the most bizarre fringe elements of Christian culture. Christian culture is its own thing with its own jargon, and there's lot to be made fun of. But it kind of pisses me off when people mock stuff without knowledge.

Without knowledge?

Hi Theresa,

Perhaps you do live in a different subculture with different jargon, but that's no reason to assume that anyone is mocking this language without knowledge. Kristin has a background in evangelical Christianity and knows what she's talking about, though your experiences might be different.

Yeah, these are all things

Yeah, these are all things I've heard many, many times. "Moms of many" is a Quiverfull-exclusive term, and "abortionist" is largely relegated to the homeschool movement, but the rest I heard mostly in my early college encounter with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an organization considered to be on the liberal/mainstream spectrum as evangelicalism goes.

Oh, also, "in rebellion" and

<p>Oh, also, "in rebellion" and "woman's highest calling" are used <em>all the time </em>in the homeschool movement. Someone can be "in rebellion" over the slightest thing, like not throwing away a stash of secular albums.</p>

Stuff spot on

I covered US evangelical Xnity for the Wittenburg Door from 1995 until it closed the door in 2008 - not all of these phrases resonated with my personal experiences re the events I attended, people I interviewed, and stuff that got sent my way. BUT all of this Christian crapola was featured in various odd and sundry ways by various reporters situated throughout the United States.

As a formerly home-schooled

As a formerly home-schooled evangelical, "in rebellion" is still one of my favorites. It just makes me laugh out loud and recall my heathen desires to date (gasp!) or listen to non-creepy christian music in my teens. I'm glad to see it referenced here. Oh, and I seriously love this series.

Yeah, I've heard it several

<p>Yeah, I've heard it several times, but the one that sticks out the most had to do with a family I grew up with. They weren't always fundamentalists, but became very entrenched in the Christian homeschool culture over the years. Anyway, I remember being told that one of the kids I'd grown up with was "in rebellion," but like... With no additional information. And that leaves you thinking, "Does he have a drug problem? Is he going to jail for something? Or does he<em> just want to listen to secular music</em>? How concerned do I need to be?" Because it's all sort of classed as being "in rebellion," and because people can be private about what the "rebellion" entails... You really have no way of knowing if something serious is going on or not.</p>

Another comes to mind...

I've been thinking about this since I read it yesterday, and I thought of another bizarre term I heard a lot in church growing up (and especially at church camp). The term "brother" is used, basically, as your potential husband. Literally. Because when speaking of romantic relationships, a girl (and often times, her family as well) is always supposed to date in hopes of finding a husband.

So, the term "brother" is used- as in "brother in Christ"- which isn't so bad, except it is generally used with romantic undertones, SERIOUSLY tying into what you were saying in your blog on purity. As in, "don't wear clothes that are too revealing as to lead your brothers astray". So, basically, I'm going to pursue my "brother" in hopes of marrying him.... yeah, really creepy wording.

(Or, more like, HE will pursue ME... because the typical young evangelical woman DOES NOT do the pursuing. Nope. Never.)

This was a little hard for me to explain... hopefully someone else has heard it before?

Do you think that it is

Do you think that it is important to have a specific event that you can point to and say: "THEN, is when God saved me!"?

We Lutherans do NOT believe that baptism is mandatory for salvation. All the saints in the OT, the thief on the cross, and many martyrs have died without baptism. We believe they are saved and in heaven. It is not the lack of baptism that damns someone to is the lack of faith/belief that damns one to hell, as Christ states in Mark 16:16.

Many evangelicals think that Lutherans believe that salvation must come through Baptism. This is flat-out wrong! Baptism is one of several possible "when"s of salvation. It is always the Word of God that saves. (Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God). A sinner can be saved sitting in church listening to a sermon; listening to a Gospel program on the radio; or reading a Gospel tract. Baptism is NOT mandatory for salvation.

However, Baptism is God's mark upon us that he truly has saved us. We belong to him. Unless someone intentionally fakes believing, fakes repenting, and fakes a genuine desire to receive Christ's "mark" in baptism, the person being Baptized DOES receive Christ's mark stating: YOU, child, now belong to me.

In the evangelical conversion, you have two viewpoints, Arminian and Calvinist. The Arminian believes that he is saved when HE makes a decision to have faith and believe/repent. The problem is that when HIS faith is ebbing low, he begins to question the sincerity of his "decision": "Did I really do 'it' right?" Why this worry? He worries because his salvation was partly dependent upon HIM; upon HIS "decision".

The Calvinist, on the other hand, believes that he is either born the Elect or he isn't. There doesn't need to be any specific time of conversion, as long as at some point in his life, the Calvinist declares to the world his faith and belief---he IS one of the Elect. However, ask many Calvinists when they were saved and they will give you a blank stare and then answer, " salvation was a 'process'!"

Are there any examples in the Bible of ANYONE being saved by a process??

Receive the mark of Christ, brothers and sisters. In Holy Baptism, God's marks you as his: “Property of the King of Kings, Almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth".

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

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