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Christian Bling and Jesus Junk

jesus loves me 2015

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

Several years ago, I spotted this t-shirt at my grandson’s tee ball game.  Most residents of rural northwest Ohio are Evangelicals or conservative Protestants and Catholics. Jesus is on display everywhere one looks. There’s at least one church for every three hundred Defiance County residents. Republicans hold every major office. Atheists and agnostics are endangered species. Declaring your godlessness is a sure way to be socially ostracized and marginalized. If there is place where Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, this is it. Why then are local Christians obsessed with wearing Christian bling and displaying Jesus junk?

Take the woman wearing the Jesus Loves Me t-shirt. Does she wear it to remind herself that Jesus loves her? Or perhaps she wears it to let her fellow Christians know that she is on their team. I wonder if she has thought about who made the shirt, how old they were, how much they were paid? Like American flags made in China, most Christian bling and Jesus junk is made by impoverished people who are paid poor wages.

My wife works for a manufacturing concern where Christian bling and Jesus junk is on display everywhere one looks. Christian slogans and Republican one-liners are prominently displayed on office walls and desks. I’ve often wondered what the response would be if someone put on their desk a sign that stated There is no God or that There is no God but Allah. This will never happen, of course, because doing so would be career suicide. But, knowing how Evangelicals love to whine over having their feelings hurt, I wonder how Christians in the office might respond. Would they demand the offensive signs be taken down?

Any cursory reading of the Bible reveals that Jesus preached a lifestyle of moderation and simplicity. I wonder if Evangelicals bother to consider what Jesus thinks about their bling and junk? Would the apostles have worn Jesus Loves Me t-shirts or adorned their wrists with WWJD bands? The apostle Paul went from community to community preaching the gospel and establishing new churches. I wonder what he would think of twenty-first-century entertainment Christianity? If Matthew 5-7 — the Sermon on the Mount — is the essence of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, where can one find such followers? Rare are Evangelicals who verbalize their faith in the hope of leading a person to Christ. Even in IFB churches — a sect that puts a premium on soulwinning — most church members never verbally share their faith even one time. If Jesus is the greatest story ever told, why is it most Christians never share it?

Christian bling and Jesus junk are meant to identify one as part of the club. The purpose isn’t to evangelize, it’s to let everyone who gazes on their bling or junk know that they are part of Club Jesus®. When Christians put on their Jesus shirts and go to the mall, grocery, or restaurant, everyone will know what club they belong to. Granted, atheists can do the same, but most atheists I know are content to quietly live their lives. And Muslims? When’s the last time you’ve seen a Muslim wearing a shirt that says Allah Loves Me or Allah, the One True God?

It is primarily Evangelicals who are obsessed with public displays of affection for Jesus. It is Evangelicals who co-opt culture and turn it into shirt-worn slogans such as This Bloods for You or Jesus died for MY SPACE in Heaven. Corporate slogans and logos are turned into cute clichés and plastered on t-shirts and bumper stickers. Why? Are Christian bling-wearing Evangelicals over-compensating for something they lack? What are they hiding behind the bling and junk?

Remember the manufacturing concern I mentioned above? Why is that some of the most hateful, argumentative, and critical people are those who have the most Jesus junk on their desks? Why does the car of the asshole who cuts you off in traffic often sport a Christian bumper sticker? I love to stand back and observe the behavior of God’s chosen ones. While certainly there are many thoughtful, polite, helpful, and humble Christians, why are so many of them arrogant, rude, and unkind? Ponder for a moment the comments left on this blog by warriors for God, soldiers who likely have Bible verse screen savers on their computers and tablets. For every Evangelical who has left a thoughtful, respectful comment, there have been a hundred Evangelicals who’ve left hateful, argumentative, judgmental ones. Why is this?

While I was still a Christian, I concluded that hundreds of millions of Americans might be Christian, but most of them have no interest in following after Christ. They are more interested in avoiding hell and gaining political and social power than they are walking in the steps of Jesus. According to orthodox Christian doctrine, the Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Simply put, this means Christians have God living inside of them as their teacher and guide. If this is so, then please explain to me why few Christians behave in a way that evidences this? Galatians 5:22,23 says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Bruce, the fruit of the Spirit is the goal. God sanctifies the Christians and they grow and mature, evidencing the fruit of the Spirit later in life. Why is it then that so many people who have been Christian for decades behave as if they have never heard of the fruit of the Spirit? Besides, Galatians 5:22,23 says the fruit (singular) of the Spirit is (present tense). Not a future hope or desire, but a present reality. Can one be a Christian and not show any evidence that God lives inside of them? The same could be said of the Biblical qualifications for being a pastor. I Timothy 3:2-7 states:

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

A bishop then MUST BE. Not hope or aspire to be, but must be. I will soon be sixty-three years old, and I have yet to meet a pastor who meets the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3. Why is this?

By all means, exercise your first amendment right to wear Jesus bling and display Jesus junk. But, if you want to convince me that I should be a Christian, you better start living according to the teachings of the Bible you say you believe. Until then, you have nothing to offer the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. As long as Evangelicals continue to publicly state that their religion is the one true faith and the Bible is THE moral standard by which Christian and non-believer alike must live, I plan to point out to Evangelicals how hypocritical they are. I’m just practicing what the Bible says . . . judging Evangelicals by their fruit (Matthew 7:16-20). So far, all I see are barren trees.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    One of the most heinous, vile wicked SOBs at the church I worked at had his bible always open at his desk, a statue of Jesus as well and was always listening to sermons, yet he treated people like shit. The finance officer was even worse…bible open on his desk but treated people rudely and with contempt and openly admitted to me he hates people. Go figure….
    I wonder if Jesus ever wore a wristband that read WWID????

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    I have never been one to wear any print T-shirt, apply bumper stickers to my car, etc. I do not advertise, promote or endorse anything on my body. It is just not my style. However, I can tell you why I wore Jesus Junk.

    Back in the late 1980’s, Preaching T-Shirts (as I called them) were becoming very popular. I hated them. I was a born again Christian and on fire for Jesus, but I just thought they were tacky. But that doubt comes whispering in my ear. “Are you *really* sold out for Jesus? Are you ashamed of the Gospel? Can you prove to Jesus that you really love Him?” My Christian anxiety would kick in, and I would have to prove to God (myself) that I was really sold out to Him. That I was not ashamed of Him. If I had to wear a stupid ‘Know Jesus Know Peace, No Jesus No Peace’ pin on my hat every where I went to prove that I was not ashamed of the Gospel, then so be it, I would wear the stupid pin. For the same reason, I would carry my Bible onto the city bus, invite my heathen friends to church, hang out on the streets and share the Gospel with bums during homeless ministry, and stress over every missed opportunity to share the Gospel. Displaying the latest in Gospel Bling fashion was just an outward expression of the stress and guilt I felt trying to serve the Almighty.

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    John Arthur

    Hi Bruce,

    Yes, why is it that some of the most publicly vocal Evangelicals are so nasty? Why do they see no incongruence between their theology and the fruit that they bear in their lives?

    I suspect that the problem lies in the following:

    (1) Belief in inerrancy of the bible in the missing original manuscripts.

    (2) Adopting a historical grammatical interpretation of the bible.

    (3) Making a direct identity between the words of the bible and the Word of God.

    (4) Adopting a top down model of God and his power and a top down model of authority in the church.

    Also, added to this is the extra problem of New Calvinism that has occurred in Fundamentalist churches over the last 20 years or so.

    The certainty with which many of these nasty commentators attack positions that are different from theirs leaves little room for them to display any fruit of the Spirit. Being right is more important to many of these nasties that the fruit of the Spirit means nothing to them. They have spoken THE TRUTH and , in their eyes, they have shown love: never mind how hateful it is. They cannot , and will not, see how blind they are. These are the kind of people that often seek power and influence in the church and seek to bring all members in bondage to THEIR Fundamentalist views.


    John Arthur

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      John, you are 100% spot on. The three horrible combination of sperm and eggs (I don’t even want to call them humans) at the church where I used to work at (The Richmond Outreach Center A.K.A The ROC) are, oddly enough, all in charge, and still are as of right now. Power and influence is what they seek. I saw no real love of the Christ they professed to love and follow. I saw meanness, hatred, anger and legalism, but no real passion. Sadly they are still inflicting their horrible existence on the people who are still hurting there.

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    But if a Christian would lament or simply wonder about this: why do Christians often behave unlike they should according to the Bible, it then becomes very easy to shut the argument down with the whole “let him who is without sin”… or “judge not”… killing the entire conversation with such a comment. Leaving the question open, the person who asked the question shamed, and nobody any the wiser.

    Sometimes my questions were shut down, sometimes I would shut down other people’s questions. For me, it was definitely out of fear. I would never dare to engage an atheist or read such books (I’ve read Randy Alcorn books where the main characters claim they are not afraid of atheist books and will easily read and refute them, or so they say…) out of sheer fear of being convinced…. knowing, or rather fearing, that my arguments would not add up, that ‘they’ would be better debaters even if they were obviously wrong… My brother once asked why I would be so afraid of engaging in debates: was I not secure in my faith? I’m not even sure what I replied anymore, something offhandish I expect, but the real answer would have been a very clear yes.

    And so slowly things began to tumble (and still are). For a Christmas episode of some debate program, a few politicians, both Christian and non believing were asked about their ideas about Christianity and Christmas. (I’m not in the US. There are a few Christian political parties in my country, two more radical “witness parties”, one a lot more mainstream in the centre: more pragmatic and therefore, of course, seen as a sell-out by the others…) What was most memorable for me was not what the Christians were saying, but this one leader of a liberal party, an atheist, (seen the most as enemy from a fundamentalist Christian viewpoint) saying that he wasn’t afraid of God. That hit me pretty hard. This guy was the enemy blah blah blah, but he wasn’t afraid. And I was petrified half of the time…. I was so jealous! Of course, immediately the whole “he will go to hell thing” began to play in my mind, but I didn’t forget about it either…. And so I told my father and brother (much later), and asked what they thought about that: me being afraid because of God/my faith and jealous of someone who doesn’t believe in God…. It didn’t sound good, they said. It was a bit of a test from my end: sort of seeing how they would respond to my questioning things. I’ve also wondered to them about hell: why would a good God make people if he knows he will throw them into hell? He could just not create them, right? That would be far more efficient and also morally better. Anyway, they don’t really know either, and don’t really appreciate me asking (at least, my dad doesn’t). I know my brother has a lot of questions himself, my father just digs in his heels. I don’t blame him. He converted after his parents died shortly after each other and he started to become really afraid of hell. So he probably also believes mostly out of fear.

    This has become a lot longer than I intended 🙂 I was just going to tell two anecdotes about Christian merchandise. One personal and one from a letter in a magazine (equivalent of the AAA).

    I felt very uncomfortable as a teen about wearing things that would identify me as a Christian, but then the guilt made me… I found this lovely necklace with an Ichthus fish and would wear that. It was a pretty necklace and I lived most of my life in a Christian bubble anyway, but if someone would ask, I would witness… That was my intention: so when months later two girls in my Bible club asked about it (they were not in our church, I don’t think they went to church at all, but they had been going to Sunday school and now also teen club) I should have been thrilled… I was not, because they asked if it signified the star sign Pisces (occult! though I knew I am a Leo ;)) which was clearly not the case. I mumbled something about being a Christian and it being a sign that I believed in Jesus, and I felt horrible at having to explain…. I was always such a bad Christian… and I knew it. As a little girl, I wanted to be a writer (still do) and my characters would most certainly not be Christians because then they wouldn’t be allowed anything!, much like myself, which caused a guilt trip too, because I would have to use my talent for the Lord even if I really, really didn’t want to!

    The second story was this letter in a magazine. Someone asked about the Ichthus fishes on cars, and said that he always assumed it was a logo of a sport fishing group, but there were so many of them that he wondered about it… So the magazine printed a reply and all the readers, including the letter writer, got to hear the good news about Jesus and the true meaning of those fishes on cars.

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    I’m with you, Bruce. If people want to wear obvious Jesus bling, the least they can do is act like a Christian. Of course, I define that as “love your neighbor as yourself.” Well, I’d take kindness.

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    Remember the phrase, shout it from the rooftop? I think this helped fuel the bling for Jesus crowd. If their Jesus could come back, I think he would open a can of whoop ass on these people. This Jesus club is in direct conflict (imagine that) with what he wanted from his followers.

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    My daughter is in her 2nd year of college in Nashville (well, not currently, school has been shut down for a month except for online learning). She gets a kick out of the Jesus-themed merchandise in boutiques. She isn’t as up to date on Christian mythigy having been raised nonreligious, so she texted me to confirm the meaning of a shirt saying, “spoiler alert: the tomb was empty”.

    It’s just virtue signaling so all the True Christians know you’re one of the elect.

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      My mother would have said it was showing off. We were not encouraged to discuss our religion or any one else’s. it was considered gauche and impolite. To me it just looks insecure – having to convince yourself and others of something through advertising. Very strange imo.

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