I had some really encouraging fellowship last night...
January 17, 2013 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Despite having no ties to the community beyond a few old facebook friends and the blogs they link to, I'm fascinated by the language quirks of modern conservative Christianity. Less so the specifically theological terms (washed in the blood, new life, etc.), but more how particular words and turns of phrase mark the speaker as belonging to the community even when they are not talking about premillenialism.

For context, I'm seeing these mostly in facebook and blog posts by women in their thirties or younger. Often these are reasonably common words, but used in a grammatical context that sounds just a little bit different from what I'd say. The big ones that stick out to me:

encouraging - muuch more frequent that in is in my own speech, and seems to tilt more to preverbal adjective. I (think I) hear "That was a really encouraging book/sermon/website/role-model" much more from conservative Christians. And encouraging has an extra bit of meaning in this usage which I can't quite pin down ('spiritually uplifting' is close.)

convicted - Everyone can be convinced, or have a conviction about something, but "being convicted about" e.g. homeschooling, modesty standards, a political position (rather than "...for manslaughter") seems to be unique

"fellowshipping with" or "having fellowship with" someone.

"have a heart for"- to mean "have an affinity for"

"desire" as a command - I know this is partly due to differences in topic/attitude (since religious discussion sometimes goes for the mental states that adherents should aim for), but even if I was going remind someone that they should want mentors "desire strong mentors" is not what I would say.

I know some of this is probably confirmation bias or unique to particular people, but I do get the sense that these people are speaking a slightly different dialect from me, in addition to talking about different topics.

These don't tend (except 'fellowship') to be on lists of Christian jargon which like I said focus on theology. (“born again, assurance, redeemed, redemption, saved, mission, outreach, repentance”) Can you give me more examples or links to discussion of words or turns of phrase people use in this community use when they are *not* talking about theology or evangelism per se? I'm particularly interested in common words appearing in slightly different grammatical contexts and/or taking on additional shades of meaning.
posted by heyforfour to Writing & Language (47 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
blessed - they are never happy or lucky, but blessed.
posted by valeries at 9:18 AM on January 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

burden/ a burden on my heart - "I have a burden for X" or "The lord put a burden on my heart for X person"

word from the lord - I've seen this less often. Context is something like "I have a word from the lord for you," i.e., advice you should take seriously

Satan/the Devil/demons - life mishaps may be attributed to the forces of evil, particularly if they make it harder for to go to church or lead you to temptation

backslide - to leave the church and return to sin, which could range from drinking to not attending church to extramarital sex

temptation - pretty obvious

Sister/Brother - some circles use sister/brother plus last name, or plus first name. Whether you're "Sister Betty" or "Sister Smith" may depend on your status (age, role in the church, time served as a christian"

serving the lord - being a christian

worship - may include quiet prayer or singing or speaking in tongues

Also, terminology or phrases from the bible may be used in everyday speech, often with King James flavor.
posted by bunderful at 9:21 AM on January 17, 2013

Hilarious video rundown of what you're talking about.

Here's another one: When people don't feel good about something – "I have a check in my spirit."
posted by visual mechanic at 9:26 AM on January 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to chime in before I let this thread go where it will - all these examples are really interesting to me, and bunderful's first is exactly the kind of thing I'm most interested in: the fragment "have a burden for" to mean have a (mental) burden about something/someone
would never come out of my mouth. In my dialect, "I have a burden for Bob" could *only* mean "I have a burden that I am supposed to give to Bob" and even that is a little bit of a stretch.

Keep'em coming!
posted by heyforfour at 9:27 AM on January 17, 2013

"worship" -- used as a noun, usually replacing "[church] service." "Morning worship was amazing," for example.

"destroyed" -- as in "We were completely destroyed at worship last night." Seems to mean "had a highly emotional religious experience."

"church planting" -- starting a new church
posted by snowmentality at 9:29 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Most of these are words or phrases from popular Biblical passages that are applied to regular speech with the understanding that others in the faith Will understand the extra meaning/significance that the original context implies. "Fellowship" for example, has slightly different meaning and significance versus saying "we hung out," due to the Biblical command that believers not neglect to fellowship with one another (implying mutual teaching, support, and yes, "encouragement" in their spiritual walk). On that note, "spiritual walk" or just "walk"is another one.

Interestingly, you find similar appropriation of words/phrases in many other subcultural groups - English lit majors are notorious for this, in my experience.

Anyway, I grew up conservative Christian, and studied linguistics in college, so I'm watching this thread with fascination. :)
posted by celtalitha at 9:30 AM on January 17, 2013

To 'witness' to someone- that is to preach to someone else based on experiences of the Lord in one's own life. This usage comes from accounts of the Apostles' actual witnessing of miracles.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:31 AM on January 17, 2013

Oh, also "wrecked" in the same sense as "destroyed." In fact, I hear "wrecked" more often.
posted by snowmentality at 9:31 AM on January 17, 2013

Oooh. "A spirit of X" as in "I felt a spirit of discouragement in that house"
posted by bunderful at 9:32 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Truth" meaning not merely something that is true, but the Bible.
posted by kindall at 9:34 AM on January 17, 2013

The Lord "laid this on my heart" - related to bunderful's "burden on my heart"

Stewardship - being careful with the money and possessions God has given you (in part so you can give more money to the church and/or use them to do good in the world)

Ministry - some act of service you do for the church, or for the community for the service of God; not necessarily preaching. One of my "ministries" is folding bulletins for my church.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:36 AM on January 17, 2013

"Hold accountable" or "hold each other accountable" meaning to make sure that someone (or multiple people) keep up on a spiritual or behavioral goal, usually implies a combination of verbal support/guidance and prayer.
posted by celtalitha at 9:38 AM on January 17, 2013

Walk - used as a noun to refer to your life as a Christian. I used to hear the above-mentioned "encouraged" in relation to this. "Be sure to encourage your brothers and sisters in their walk with Christ."
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:39 AM on January 17, 2013

Using the word "precepts" without any knowledge of what it actually means...
posted by kuanes at 9:39 AM on January 17, 2013

"Discipling" meaning spiritual mentoring.
posted by celtalitha at 9:39 AM on January 17, 2013

"I didn't feel led" – as a reason why would might not do something, but placing the responsibility on God, who didn't lead you to do it.

"It's a God Thing." A coincidence that seems ordained.

"Will you hold me accountable?" – you share a potential sin that you're struggling with, and ask a friend to continue to ask about it.
posted by visual mechanic at 9:40 AM on January 17, 2013

healing - could be physical or spiritual healing

presence of the lord - a feeling that god is near

walk with the lord - mentioned above

Slain by the spirit - to fall to the ground during worship

hold up before the lord - "the smiths have been having a hard time since their house burned down, we need to hold them up before the lord in prayer."
posted by bunderful at 9:42 AM on January 17, 2013

Are you familiar with Stuff Christians Like? I'm not very familiar with the website but I read the book and found it amusing (and mostly true, judging from my experiences growing up.) It's humorous but respectful as the author is Christian himself.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:43 AM on January 17, 2013

Ooh, "hedge of protection." Referring to "praying a hedge of protection around X's husband in the military" or, more figuratively, around Joe who struggles with Pornography. Implying that God will put a spiritual block between the person and the danger (physical or mental/spiritual), but used in common speech.
posted by celtalitha at 9:47 AM on January 17, 2013

My mother was Pentecostal (Church of God) and some of the older people at her church would frequently preface near-future plans with "If the Lord don't come, we should _____" (have lunch, go shopping, something like). Sort of like "Lord willin' and the creek don't rise," but churchier. Also, "traveling mercies."
posted by timetoevolve at 9:50 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Interesting question that I've thought about before, myself! You might want to check out this (I believe the author of it is currently still researching and compiling a fuller account of it). I don't know if this is available without subscription (I already have it downloaded), but this article is also interesting: 'The Language of “Born-Again” Christianity', by Linda Coleman, Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society (1980), pp. 133-142).
posted by UniversityNomad at 9:51 AM on January 17, 2013

Spirit - used to refer to a person's personal characteristics:

A teachable spirit
a "spirit of submission"
Gentleness of spirit
Poor in spirit
A humble spirit
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:54 AM on January 17, 2013

Best answer: To purpose to, as in "We purposed to reach out to the community around us." Very KJV.
posted by Catseye at 9:55 AM on January 17, 2013

Season. It's an indescribable period of time that transcends our usual "spring/summer/fall" time periods.

Example: "I'm going through a season of hardship right now, but my soon will come a season of prosperity!"
posted by kimberussell at 9:58 AM on January 17, 2013

I'm reading When God Talks Back. It's specifically about Vineyard Christians, but she deals some with the language they use. And as a bonus, it'll help you understand just what these people are thinking. They're Crowleyists and they don't even know it!
posted by cmoj at 10:25 AM on January 17, 2013

I've noticed that if you want to pray like you're a fundie/megachurch type, you have to put the word "just" in a lot, i.e. "Lord, I just wanna ask ask you to bless this meal and just let us enjoy time with our family, and Lord I just wanna say thank you so much, we're just so happy and so thankful and it just warms our heart and spirits to know that you're looking out for us Lord" etc.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:40 AM on January 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It looks like the online Dictionary of Christianese may provide some more examples for you:
“Christianese” is the casual, informal language that everyday Christians use when they are talking with one another about their faith. You can think of it as Christian slang....Now as a point of clarification, Christianese words are not “theological terms” you may be familiar with....By comparison, most Christianese words and phrases are not defined anywhere, and up until now the only way to learn them has been through osmosis by a member of a church community.

One other note about theological terms: they’re very formal and serious (rather than informal and casual like Christianese), and they’re used by scholars and theologians—not really by everyday Christians. This Dictionary is all about the informal and casual words that Christians use. I was as surprised as anyone to learn that there are many more of these Christianese slang words than theological terms. It’s about time there was a Dictionary to explain what they mean!
Link to full list of words/phrases.

I found this one to be especially interesting: mother-in-love (substitute for mother-in-law). The author, Tim Stewart, notes that this usage (emphasizing the relationship as a bond of love, rather than one of law) has also been used in the gay community for the same reason, citing an example from Goss and Strongheart's Our Families, Our Values: Snapshots of Queer Kinship.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:46 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you seen the movie "The Apostle" with Robert Duvall? Every single person in the movie talks in the way you're asking about, and Duvall used real churchgoers, instead of actors, for many of the parts. (They're Pentecostal/Holiness, I believe.)

Examples: The lord told me to have fellowship with you. Be encouraged (good luck). Satan has driven a big wedge between me and my family. It's a mansion on a hill (referring to someone offering to let him sleep in a small pup tent). Let me hear someone say Amen.
posted by Melismata at 10:48 AM on January 17, 2013

Season. It's an indescribable period of time that transcends our usual "spring/summer/fall" time periods.

Example: "I'm going through a season of hardship right now, but my soon will come a season of prosperity!"

Right out of Ecclesiastes 3:1. The Byrds made it famous, so there is a wider cultural resonance.
posted by Doohickie at 11:03 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

And I might add: I am a Christian and I find this form of speech very disingenuous. It's kind of like you can say anything awful about someone, as long as you follow it up with "bless his (or her) heart."

He's got a terrible sense of fashion, bless his heart.

They are trying to soften the harshness of a judgment they just made about a person because they know they shouldn't say it, but say it anyway. A lot of the phrases above strike me the same way- the layers of Biblical meaning somehow are supposed to elevate the everyday to the spiritual. Face it, it's everyday stuff and not everything needs to be, or should be, elevated to a religious experience.
posted by Doohickie at 11:08 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

My brother and his family are evangelicals, but the kind of evangelicals who ride motorcycles and perform heavy metal Jesus-loving music and do a kind of theater at church (called Parables!).

There's a LOT of: "My heart is happy!" "Jesus makes my heart happy!" "I have a happy heart today because...." in their facebook feeds. Inevitably, their happy hearts have everything to do with their "personal relationship with Jesus" and how "Jesus intervened today."

And lots of "God is good!"
posted by cooker girl at 11:12 AM on January 17, 2013

Testify/testament = to recount all the horrible stuff you did before you found salvation. Also, living life correctly after such salvation. "Sister testified last night about her troubles. It moved me so much hearing about how she used to be so dirty and is so clean now."

Led = "We were led to the Church." "We were led to this home." Implies that the Lord is providing you with direct guidance in every single aspect. I have heard this applied to everything from jobs to cars to even restaurant choices.

Church home = Church or denomination that you are affiliated with, particularly a Southern variation. "I've been going to United Methodist while at college, because they're preacher is really connected to the spirit, but my First Baptist is my church home."

Sister/Brother = also a Southern quirk. Refers to all adult members of the church as Sister This and Brother That. "Sister June was just blessed with a voice that made God himself want to sing along." "Brother Johnny, would you pass the potatoes."
posted by teleri025 at 11:24 AM on January 17, 2013

I have a number of mega-Christian facebook friends (how so many people I went to high school with managed to go to college and find religion is beyond me, but I digress), both male and female, and one thing I notice popping up a lot is proper-nounification of words inside sentences.

Obviously things like Lord and God, but also He or His, Wisdom, Light, Peace, Good...etc. In a sentence that might on first reading seem to be about some bland day to day topic, you'll see a capped word and realize, oh, it's some sort of religious metaphor they're making.
posted by phunniemee at 11:25 AM on January 17, 2013

I have noticed that the conservative Christians I know tend to use the expression "in no way, shape, or form" more than other people do. This could be a coincidence or a false correlation, because I don't know of any theological basis for it.

Also, stoneweaver, 5 Love Languages isn't Christian all the way through, but it does become pretty strongly Christian by the end, something I wish MeFites would warn people about before recommending it in AskMe.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:42 PM on January 17, 2013

Not totally sure about this: am I guessing correctly that when people say "small group" as in "my small group is meeting tonight," they mean a group which gathers regularly for churchy purposes, like prayer or philanthropic work?
posted by clavicle at 12:48 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just as a sidenote, some of these phrases are going to differ depending on what grouping of conservative Christians are doing the talking. As a Christian myself, I can almost always peg what "variety" of believer someone is by the particular dialect of Christianese they are speaking.

word from the lord - I've seen this less often. Context is something like "I have a word from the lord for you," i.e., advice you should take seriously

Actually, in my church circles, that phrase is pretty literal. We believe the Lord can give us "a word" for someone. PM me if you want more background on THAT.

Ok, let me see if I can come up with some more for you...

"exhorting"- what it says on the tin, pretty much. Encouraging, with a, shall we say, harder edge.

"speaking into your life" -encouraging, and exhorting.

"share" -talking to someone. As in, " I shared with him my struggles regarding work."

"prayer warriors" -people who pray, and take prayer requests.

"intercessors"-see above.


"building up"-encouraging

"got a revelation"-realized
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:49 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

"cause me to stumble" - but that's mostly college-age boys.
posted by valeries at 12:51 PM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

The use of "gift" as a verb to replace "give." And, perhaps, to make the giving seem more meaningful.

James gifted me with the use of his hunting rifle.
posted by bluejayway at 12:52 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

No one ever "gets a job" -- they "find a calling."
posted by jabes at 1:37 PM on January 17, 2013

I'm fascinated with this thread because I'm a 30ish, female southern Christian and women I know ALL do this. It drives me up the wall because in most cases it serves to exclude people from their group, but I get that linguistically it serves to identify one's cohort...whatevs.

One I hear a lot is "speaking [something] over [a person or event]". For example, if someone mentions it may rain at a fundraiser, someone else might say "Don't speak that over my event! It is going to be beautiful weather." As I understand it, it's an amalgamation of the concepts of "faith can move mountains" and the more Oprah-ish idea of speaking stuff out into the universe.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 3:19 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

"to pray on it"
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 3:23 PM on January 17, 2013

Devotions, devotionals, or quiet time

This is your personal worship time, usually at home and consisting of prayer and bible reading. The usual implication is that it is alone. "During my quiet time last night I really felt led to pray for Brother Jones, and also had such a burden for the lost of India."

Oh, yeah, the lost: non-Christians.
posted by The Deej at 4:08 PM on January 17, 2013

"Don't speak that over my event! It is going to be beautiful weather." As I understand it, it's an amalgamation of the concepts of "faith can move mountains" and the more Oprah-ish idea of speaking stuff out into the universe.

Yes! This is related to the idea of "claiming" things by your words. A belief popularized by Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland that your words have the very power of creation in them. So if you speak or "claim" (another word you will hear in these circles) good things, God will give them to you, but if you claim or speak negative things, you will get those as well.

"Speak" is also often used to mean something inspired you. "That Pastor Bob's teaching really speaks to me." Or that God Himself revealed something to you. "God spoke to me about my drinking..."
posted by The Deej at 4:16 PM on January 17, 2013

Using "prayerful" and "prayerfully" the same way others would use "hopeful" and "hopefully" (e.g. "We are very prayerful that the bake sale will be a success" or "Prayerfully, we'll raise enough money to repair the chapel roof"). It sounds really cumbersome to my non-religious ears, but it seems like a fairly efficient way of voicing one's hopes while at the same time conveying the belief that the outcome is in God's hands.
posted by amyms at 5:52 PM on January 17, 2013

To "love on" someone -- to show them the love of Christ.
posted by la petite marie at 8:27 PM on January 17, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all, these are great! I'd had the vague sense that what celtalitha mentioned was the case, but I'll now be imagining footnotes to specific verses scattered all the way through this kind of speech. [[It doesn't look like this is being done systematically in the excellent Dictionary of Christianese, but it would be excellent to be able to trace each of these back to their specific biblical (or modern writer's?) sources]]

...and I remembered one more, related to "caused me to stumble", which I think might have been linked on the blue - www.therebelution.com's 'modesty survey', a collection of questions about highly, highly specific female wardrobe choices and whether or not they are 'stumbling blocks' (e.g.: It is a stumbling block when swimsuit ties stick out from under clothing (e.g. tied around the neck), agree/disagree).
posted by heyforfour at 3:28 PM on January 20, 2013

If you have specific questions on a specific bit of christianese, by all means pm me and I bet I can give you background on it. And if not I'll be as curious as you to track it down. ;-)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:38 PM on January 20, 2013

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