November 30, 2020

Riffs: A Meme On What You Can’t Say Around Christians

(Thanks to all of you who are already supporting Jesus Shaped Spirituality, or JSS.)

We probably need a new category around here: “Words As I Ride Into The Sunset.”

Catholic blogger extraordinaire Amy Welborn has been studying me for a couple of years now, and she knows what’s red meat to my post evangelical soul.

So this morning, she sent me two examples (1, 2) of a “meme” we’ll call “What Is Something You Feel You Can’t Say Around Other Christians (or in Church?)”

For the kind of response IM readers have been used to in this space, check out young Luke Sky…..Alex Arnold at “I Am Not A BIV.

Sorry to disappoint, but I suppose the 8 year career of the Internet Monk has been full of the kind of things I couldn’t say around Christians or in church, but felt I could say to thousands of readers on the same journey via the blogosphere. Mistake? Depends on whom you ask, and when, and where they were in the journey. But in 1200 posts, I tossed a few good pitches and I hit a few batters. I’d take some things back (and have,) but other things will be there for those on the same journey I’ve been on for as long as I can find the space.

There are some places that Christians will allow you to stand up and say “the sermon is pop psych” or “I’m not a young earth creationist” or “why do we act like we just invented Christianity this year?” What a gift it is to be able to speak truth and be supported by a community of the one who IS the truth.

In the church I grew up in I always heard that we believed in freedom of conscience, the right of private interpretation, the priesthood of the believer, soul competency and the sacred right to differ from the majority.

I heard about all of that, and I heard that it was other denominations, with their bishops and their hierarchies, that were hung up on conformity all the way down the line.

Well….let’s just say that it’s a good thing they don’t give awards for “Ironic Reversals of Reality” anywhere. Someone would need to build a shelf. A long one.

I’ve discovered there’s a good reason you can’t speak your own convictions among many church and denominational Christians. And I’m not just talking about a crabby email or comment.

My own denomination has a population of leaders who have been openly condemning bloggers like Wade Burleson and Tom Ascol for several years now, as for the first time, the usual regime of assumed power-preachers and denominational power-brokers discovered there was actual, real, thoughtful, articulate dissent being published out there. And that dissent was treated as a threat to the denomination’s unity and mission of evangelism, to the point that bloggers were publicly ridiculed in many denominational speeches in the past 2-3 years.

Be clear on this: I have no problem disapproving of the blogger who uses his/her power of personal publishing to lie, insinuate, gossip and undermine. But I am stunned and saddened to see how legitimate dissent, honest questioning, personal struggle, authenticate analysis and necessary discussion or consequences have been called sinful and destructive. It’s a tragic error.

Some bloggers have been irresponsible. I may have been too honest, too vulnerable, too transparent in my blogging at times. But when we mistake the silence of pre-programmed, enforced conformity with Christian unity, we’re already the victims of our own delusions.

There are still doors in Christendom where the truth needs to be nailed, and some of them aren’t far away from where you are.

We need to talk about what is and is not happening among real Christians living real lives.

We need to hear the truth about the Christian experience, not just the scrubbed and glowing testimonials.

We need to have the assumed wisdom and answers of denominational leaders scrutinized, just like every pastor has to face his critics in every healthy church anywhere.

We need a vibrant discussion of the “whys” and the “what fors” in the things we require of one another in church, denomination and ministry.

We need courageous writers who will tell the stories that can’t be spoken among Christians who are determined to create a culture of secrecy and religious conformity.

There may be a price for honesty, asking questions and telling our stories. But there will never cease to be a need for someone who has the courage to ask tough questions and tell honest experiences in the midst of organized religion. We won’t ever get the truth of our human and Christian journeys from the official spokespersons or the press releases. We have to speak it to one another and support one another in the consequences.

We can’t speak falsehood to ourselves, one another and our children. Even if the truth is clumsy, painful, inconvenient or unwelcome, it is still the truth and we should love it for Jesus sake.

So Amy, I’d love to answer that meme, but right now….I’ve probably said enough. (Love you and what you do.)

But now we have a comment thread: What Can You NOT Say Around Other Christians (or In Church?)


  1. Bob,
    I agree with you that many don’t like to hear criticism. That was part of my point about the difficulty of both giving and receiving it. The thing that strikes me about some of the comments is that they certainly fit the bill of something we can’t say in church, but the reason we can’t say them is more interesting. Some of these comments “can’t” be said in church because they would rightly be seen as sarcastic and mean. People wouldn’t say them because hopefully they have the grace to know that is how they would be taken(and wouldn’t fit the Biblical injunction for speech that builds others up). Some of these comments though touch on issues that should be dealt with and I think it would be good if we could find our way clear in the body of Christ to speak those truths in love. It isn’t easy, but Christ never promised it would be either.
    Jeff M
    P.S. Thanks for the compliment. I can’t say I always like to hear criticism, but since I ask for it openly I always try to take it in the spirit of love and work on improving. I am blessed with a church where people will come to me with suggestions and feedback and it has helped me to grow tremendously. I am far from perfect, but I keep moving forward to the goal.

  2. Jeff M,

    While I can only speak for myself, in this thread, I suspect that it is true for many commenters. I express myself here, because I know that it won’t hurt either my tangible witness, and the people I know and worship with.

    It’s safe here, and just knowing that others are struggling with the same things makes it easier.

    I will say that some of my deepest scars from religious people, (including my last Baptist pastor) came from when I did talk to them, trying to use the Biblical method. (But also recognizing that I communicate better in writing than verbally when talking with a domineering type.)

  3. Yes, someday we ought to have the thread where we talk about what was done by leaders that burned us.

  4. Its amazing how once you get started, they just keep flowing. Probably not a good thing, but when you spend a lifetime in the subculture, they just keep popping up.

    With that in mind. . .

    If I hear the phrases “tough but tender” or “a servant’s heart” one more time – especially in relation to a discussion on Christian manhood – I’m going to scream.

    If I hear one more doe-eyed young Christian wife waxing on about her godly, strong, wise, wonderful Christian husband. . .

    Some days, if I have to hear one more message about abstaining from sex until marriage from someone who’s already married. . .

    Why do so many Sunday School classes, youth, and young adult groups focus on discussions of sex, dating, and marriage? Do they think younger people are not capable of understanding other topics?

    OK, got that off my chest.

  5. Anon a Me says

    Here’s one…

    I just finished my last day as a staff member of a large Baptist church today. My first thought, as I walked out the door….I want a drink…several of them! And, I want to have them in a public restaurant…which I did!

  6. I’m giving my money to another ministry. Don’t start quoting Malachi to me unless we have some place to store grain around here.

    Yes, John the Baptist preached against Herod’s adultery. But he also said those who have food and clothes should share them with those who do not. A thought to ponder.

    You’re not being persecuted because a store puts up signs saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in December. If it bugs you that bad go in the store and yell MERRY CHRISTMAS. Chances are they will say “Merry Christmas” back to you.

    “The Passion of the Christ” was a terrible movie.

    If there was a fire here, or if someone broke in and stole something the police and fire department would come out here. So why are we tax exempt?

    I’m in my 30s. I’ve never had sex. I want to very much.

  7. Anna,
    I agree with you that this is a safe place to vent a little frustration. It is one of the reasons I like coming here and reading and even posting so much. : ) Hopefully, I am not coming across as some guy who has it all together and looking down my nose or something. I guess this is close to my heart, because the last church I was at had a couple who didn’t like anything I did in ministry and went behind my back at every turn to try and undermine me there. I found out later from the senior pastor that they had desired to contact the church I am at now to tell them all the things that are “wrong” with me. I honestly had no idea they were doing any of this at the time and frankly I still haven’t found a way to confront them about the issue. If I bring it up with them, I may betray the confidence of those who told me what was going on in such a way that it hurts more people. I prayed about it and debated in my own heart and mind how to deal with it and in the end I just swallowed my words, forgave them for what they had done and wanted to do and moved on. Not too long ago they were called on the carpet (Matthew 18 style) over another situation that they created and apparently they were somewhat repentant. If you ever do that thread on getting burned by others iMonk, count me in.

  8. I’ve got one:

    –My father is seeing a woman who is not his wife, and I don’t have a problem with it. I value my relationship with him too much to make a stink over that.

  9. Michael,

    I don’t know if I can say this on your blog, but I’ll try.

    Your 100+ “come home to Rome” e-mails aren’t the same. You can, and do, “say around Christians” that they’re inappropriate and counterproductive. Thank you for not really forwarding them to me, BTW. (Though, wretch that I am, I think I really do want to see the one written in first-person from Our Lord.)

    All the examples I gave involved friends. The church in the last one is one which many of my friends attend, and I would never, never tell them how horrified many of us non-members were by the funeral altar call. Nor would I ever bring up the elephant in the living room with any of my friends: that I may be a friend, but I’m also a “project.”

    I wan’t trying to Evangelical- or Baptist-bash. But something is very wrong with a subculture where friendship comes with an underlying agenda. It’s nothing like conversion e-mails from anonymous internet readers–not that I discount the hurt and annoyance those cause.

  10. As a pastor:

    I doubt at times just like you do.

    I’m tired or being expected to “walk on water.”

    People hurt me deeply when they criticize my
    family, especially when yours isn’t that great either.

    I struggle with the same things that you do.

    I fart, cry, get angry, make love to my wife in the middle of the day, find ultra dogmatic people unloving.

    I think that America’s churches as a whole are in big trouble. So sue me.

    I think many pastors today are afraid to make the needed changes in their churches to be culturally relevant for fear of upsetting the “pillars of the church” and thus lose their jobs.

    I think the so-called “pillars of the church” are all too often “barricades” that keep people away.

    This is NOT your church. It belongs to Jesus Christ.

    I still don’t understand why God allowed my daughter to die and seven. If one more person tells me that “God needed another angel in Heaven”, I’ll scream. People are not nor do they become angels.

    I have a hard time understanding why God has allowed my wife to get cancer after her faithful service to him for decades.

    After a number of years in the pastorate I got tired of people and their petty behaviors. So, now I travel and help pastors with their church struggles. I am far more rewarded and satisfied.

    There are millions of Christians that are truly Christian that don’t believe as I do.

    Churches hurt pastor’s wives more then they do pastors with their cutting words and gossip.

    Yes, my daughter got pregnant without being married. Why is it that it’s more serious then when it happens in your family?

    Stop staring at my daughter in church. Yes, she’s got tattoos and piercings. It’s too bad that you’re not rejoicing that she has returned to Christ and His church.

    Sometimes I wish I had chosen another profession then ministry and it’s because of church people.

    My wife and my favorite saying is, “the ministry would be great if it wasn’t for church people.” lol

    Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t choose another profession. In spite of all that people put me through, I would not think of doing anything else.

    Yes…God could get the glory, but it would be nice to receive a few compliments from His people from time to time.

    Most churches don’t pay their pastor half of what he is worth.

    I don’t care who reads this and knows it’s from me. It’s how I feel…so get over it.

    As your pastor, I loved you with all of my heart and soul and only wanted the best for you and your walk with Jesus.

    I could go on and on…but this is enough.

  11. for o.h.: Oh, my. I’m so sorry that so many people just don’t get it. I am part of an “evangelical” church body (Friends, or more commonly known as Quakers), but there isn’t a single person in this household, and there are very few who attend our church (I do suspect one or two), who would have any desire to “convert” you. Wow. What blows me away is that there are probably Christians who are more considerate toward people in other faiths – FALSE GOD faiths – than toward you for simply being in a different denomination of the CHRISTIAN faith. I pray that your friends will come to understand that we all – ALL OF US, EVERY DENOMINATION – are branched off of the Original Roman Catholic Church. Likewise I hope that our Catholic friends don’t all believe we are going to hell because we aren’t members of their denomination. None of my Catholic friends have ever treated me that way – maybe I am a rare and blessed individual, but they consider my faith in Christ to be all I need to be part of the catholic (meaning “whole” here) church, as I do them – I say that not to gloat over my own good fortune, but to show that there is hope! We are all of the same faith. May the Lord forgive us for not loving each other (His most urgent command), and “considering others as better than ourselves”. I think acceptance falls somewhere in that spectrum.

  12. Gypsy,

    Thanks. There seem to be a number of internet Catholics who would think your soul in danger for not being Catholic, but I’m pretty confident there aren’t any in real life. I’m sure I haven’t met any. American Catholics, at least, have too many holy Protestant family members and friends to be able to go around thinking that way: the evidence of the Spirit outside the Catholic Church is impossible to deny. I have a charismatic Protestant friend who has the most incredible Eucharistic mystical experiences; and the fruits of it in her life are too clearly evident for any sane Christian to be skeptical of it.

  13. Additional:

    As a Christian, the scariest thing I know of is


    1) The gay agenda
    2) Al-Qaeda
    3) The Liberal Media
    4) The Evolutionists-Humanist school teachers


    The DAYSTAR Christian Network!

  14. Wow, Michael! The comments on this post are becoming more fun and interesting to read than those posted on “Post Secret”!

    Hope you are doing well!

  15. J. Michael Jones,

    You must not have seen GOD TV Network yet.

  16. Larry KY says

    This is a good post and revealing one. While there are a couple of good Gospel rooted replies, most are revealing as to the general condition of the church. Paul noted it well, and much Luther noted it well. A pastor friend of mine have observed it in many churches we’ve been in, around, had knowledge of and associated in one way or another with in this state.

    We tagged it, the “my law is better than your law” syndrome, or better a revelation that what is REALLY being preached and taught from the pulpit and/or Sunday school room(s) in spite of the “confession” of the church in so many words “justification by faith alone” or “we are not saved by our works”, and that is nothing but “l”aw and not even THE Law. One can ALWAYS tell when what is really being preached or lived within any given church, across all denominations, is sans Gospel and rather a diet of “l”aw or confounded lawgospel or lawgospellaw or some other mishmash mélange of confusion. The tell tale sign is always this kind of legalesque “pissed” off with something you can/can’t do around another Christian. In other words one can tell when mostly “l”aw is being preached and taught when this kind of judgmental attitude arises over mostly things of indifference or adiaphoria – hence – “my law is better than your law”.

    For example you will find a pastor finally speaking his upset with the congregation and vice versa over basically nothing, just nit picking needling. When you see that situation you can pretty much guarantee that what is coming from the pulpit is a “jesus” that is another “jesus”, a WWJD, a walk/talk like “jesus’, a form of sanctification that is not getting use to one’s justification but a “cleaning up of life” (paganism), and a “faith” that is something other than a naked utterly passive trusting in Christ. A kind of preaching/teaching within that cannot answer in Gospel, “yes”, to the question, “You mean if I don’t get better I STILL get to go to heaven”. A preaching that trips and stumbles all over the stumbling Stone of the scandalous offense of the Cross. And the life of the church reveals that deeply in spite of a confession that says, “justification by faith alone in Christ alone by pure grace alone”, “Jesus is not NEARLY enough.” The pastor/elders/deacons will gripe and moan about the congregation and vice versa. Why? Because nobody is living up to every body else’s “l”aw. Killing Law, the Hammer of God is obviously not preached or taught nor understood here, much less the Gospel, the real naked Good News.

    So you have this “tightening up” as we saw with the Pharisees rather than the loosening up that the Gospel brings. As the law is preached in reality, works salvation even if denied outwardly, the congregation, preacher and all, tighten up and from sinful hearts arises these murders, slanders and such. “The Law is”, as Luther says, “the most salutary doctrine of life, but it cannot help a man toward righteousness (at all). In fact (more so to the reality and point) it hinders him (completely). Much less the works of man gained by so called natural precept performed over and over (repetition sanctification) again.” (ldh – paraphrased). But we NEVER understand this and so we return to the dog vomit of our works. Oh we will call it “gospel” or “the full gospel” or so called Law and Gospel confounding “full council of God’s Word” (as if there is something other than Law and Gospel), we will call it ‘biblical’ or ‘bible derived’…like the Pharisees of old we do indeed “search the scriptures and think that by them we have life…”, but we definitely loose sight of the fact that, “…it are these that continually bear witness of Me (Jesus, and as taker of sin/giver of all righteousness…the end.). And so we pretend with our masks on every Sunday that we are hunky dory, no real sinner here, no sinner with INVINCIBLE sins, just conquered sins or “struggles”. Jesus only died for invincible sins past, present and future not “conquered sins” which is an ever “in the present” denial of the need of Christ FOR ME. We never talk “normal” and avoid certain conversation in the presence of the church, pastor, deacon, elder, other laymen – “no real sinners here, just faking it ones”.

    So this reveals the kind of preaching/teaching and life of the church that is REALLY going on in spite of a “vigorous confession” to the contrary if asked. That REALLY we are preaching, teaching and living as if we “work our way to heaven” and NOT by the so called protestant difference justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and we are not one wit different in REALITY to Rome, Trent just has the guts to put in print what most protestant churches attempt to avoid officially but preach/teach/live in reality. A theology of Cross is NOT yet another “doctrine” to be confessed to, but the WAY or STATE of being of the OPERATION of the one captured by the Cross, as opposed to a theology of glory which too is not a “confession” per se, but the way or state of being one operates within.


    Larry KY

  17. I reluctantly approved this comment. I will not approve any more “law/gospel” themed comments on this thread. (I will, of course, allow responses to this one.)

  18. Bob Sacamento says


    Some of these comments “can’t” be said in church because they would rightly be seen as sarcastic and mean.

    Some, yes. Point taken.

    j. Michael Jones,

    As a Christian, the scariest thing I know of is … The DAYSTAR Christian Network!

    You need to watch more TV, dude. TBN is way scarier. TBN is to Daystar as “Cujo” is to “Lassie, Come Home.”

    And here’s a couple more:

    No I don’t think it’s right to cuss, but I think 10 minutes of foul language is rather benign compared to 10 minutes of the gossip that is always coming out of your mouth.

    I have serious concerns about how my kids might be affected by Harry Potter, but I worry alot more about how they might be affected by Bible Man.

  19. Memphis Aggie says

    “In my case, it was reading a confidential letter to a roomful of my peers, without my permission and on a complete misunderstanding that was never brought to me. And I still don’t have an apology for it.”

    Ouch! My sympathies

  20. “You’re not fooling anyone”! Can I have a little flag with that on, so I can sit at the back waving it? Brilliant.

  21. Scott Miller says

    “I don’t like most Christian music (CCM).”

    “I like prog rock” (Neal Morse in particular).

    “That song we sang in worship was not scriptural.”

    “Quit singing to Jesus like he’s your Cosmic Boyfriend”. (Thanks to Michael Horton on the White Horse Inn for that one, which I use all the time).

    “Are you Arminian or Calvinist?”

    “What do you believe?/What does this church believe?” Most people (even pastors) can’t answer.

    “I’m a libertarian”.

    “No, I don’t want to go down and picket the abortion clinic”.

    “My grown-up kids are heathen and don’t want anything to do with God”. (but you can pray for them).

    “My wife has bipolar disorder and takes medication”. at which point they back away. or tell me how she needs to be prayed for or delivered.

  22. Mike Stidham says

    To the songleader with the “great” new choruses:

    —You are neither passionate nor desperate for God. You’re just a whiny emo wannabee. Find some new adjectives. NOW!

    To the pastor who just left a men’s rally:
    —Yeah, I’m a man. That doesn’t mean I like golf, baseball, mountain climbing or most other athletic pursuits. Nor do I want to hear in every sermon about your exploits as the captain of your high school varsity team. Trust me, it’s neither drawing me closer to Jesus nor yourself.

    –Sometimes “brutal, transparent honesty” from the pulpit is WAY over-rated; because if we dared to get that honest about OUR issues, we’d be shunned faster than an Amish guy with an iPod.

  23. Unless it’s preceded by the word “birthday”, you aren’t allowed to say the word “party”. Instead you are expected to use the church-speak phrase “time of fellowship”.

    Pastors(as vulnerable as any of us BTW) don’t get “canned after getting caught having sex with their secretary”, instead: “They have entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of their staff and are stepping down from their position for a season, to receive counseling, and experience a time of healing with their family”. (Apologies for stealing the phrase from JSS). I also find it interesting that it seemed necessary to qualify that the other party was “female” as if a “same-sex unhealthy relationship” is much worse than a “opposite-sex unhealthy relationship”.

  24. Regarding the “manliness” of pastors –

    I also don’t want to keep hearing regular references to how hot you find your wife, or how you enjoy your sex life with her. (This one applies primarily to the “gen-X” pastors.)

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