Five New Christian Cliches to Avoid

I was pretty amazed by the popularity of the first lists of Christian clichés I created (linked at the bottom of this article). I think it was because so many Christians saw themselves somewhere in the list and others (maybe even some Christians!) have been on the receiving end of these clichés and resonated with my frustration in hearing them pretty much my entire life.

Since that initial series ran, I’ve been thinking about other things Christians often say that tend to do more harm than good. So here are a few more to add to the list.

Bless his/her heart: This usually follows one of two less-than-Christian kinds of statements. Either it’s said after some kind of thinly veiled insult or after a juicy bit of gossip about the person whose heart you want to be “blessed.” Examples include, “Did you hear Nancy’s husband got caught sleeping with his secretary? Bless her heart,” or, “He’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, bless his heart.”

If you’re from the south, you definitely know what I’m talking about.

He/she is a good, strong Christian: I actually heard this when buying our house. The sellers were glad to be selling their home to “strong Christians.” I’m not sure what they based this on since they knew almost nothing about us, but I expect it had to do with the fact that we both work in ministry. But the whole thing leans on so many assumptions and personal biases, while also casting a plenary judgment on those so-called “bad” or “weak” Christians that it should be avoided all together. It contributes to the “country club” mentality of Christianity that there are some who are doing it right and many who are doing it wrong. And, of course, the one making the judgment pretty much is always on the “right” side.

Are you Catholic or Christian?: I heard this most often in southern Colorado, which was home to more Catholics than any other religion or denomination. But this suggests, first of all, that Catholics aren’t Christian. Second, it draws firm lines between Catholics and Protestants that (thankfully) have become increasingly blurry in recent years with things like Taize-style worship and other “ancient-future” practices.

Yes, I do value much about the protestant reformation, placing power of scriptural interpretation in the hands of the faithful rather than the priesthood. But we also lost much that was valuable in our faith, like an emphasis on the Divine Feminine. Also, just to clarify, the word “Catholic” means “Universal Church.” So technically all Christians are still Catholic, if you ask me.

I’m praying for you: I had a guy say this to me last week who was not a fan of my work. And although sometimes people mean well when they say this, often times it’s basically the religious equivalent of the middle finger (I don’t like you and wish you would change, so I’m going to pray you become more like me). Now, there are those times when people say it with truly benevolent intent, but it’s still a very personal thing. Instead, consider asking someone if they would like for you to pray for them, and ask what they would like you to pray for instead of making too many assumptions.

That’s another jewel in your crown: This may not make a lot of sense to some non-Christians, but I’ve heard it my entire life. Basically, it suggests that doing good deeds now builds up the rewards you will receive in heaven. This, I believe, is a gross distortion of what Jesus taught. He didn’t teach us just to delay our selfish motives until after we die; he taught us to get over ourselves entirely. And if we look at stories like the vineyard laborers and the Prodigal Son for examples, I think we may be surprised how we’re all treated in the sweet by-and-by anyway. In short, stop doing things for some expected reward, whether in this life or the next. Do it because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the “way, truth and life” to which Jesus calls us.

Read article one in the series here: Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use

Read article two in the series here: Ten More Cliches Christians Should Avoid

Read article three in the series here: Nine (Final) Christian Cliches to Avoid

Read article four in the series here: Ten Antidotes to Christian Cliches

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://www.redemptionpictures.com/ Micah J. Murray

    Regarding the fifth one, how would you interpret 1 Corinthians 3:11-15?

    “If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.”

    • Christian Piatt

      I’m not arguing whether or not we are rewarded in one way or another; my point is that this is not what is supposed to drive us. Jesus calls us to put love first, and if we do that, this expectation of reward doesn’t really matter.

    • Winston

      Or it could be referring to Matthew 6:20 “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:”

  • Dustin Brown

    We used to as we were earning KP–Kingdom Points–and joke about “leveling up” in the kingdom. Pretty ridiculous, but maybe a good satire on the ridiculousness of these “heavenly rewards”.

    • Dustin brown

      *say, not as (stupid iPhone :)

  • http://twitter.com/ElizaAnderson1 Elizabeth Anderson

    THANK YOU for including the Catholic/Christian cliche. I’m Catholic, and it bugs me that some people don’t consider me to be Christian (when all “Christian” means is “follower of Christ,” which Catholics are). I also frequently get people who still try to evangelize me AFTER I tell them I’m a practicing Catholic, thank you, because apparently Catholic is the wrong kind of Christian…usually they then try to tell me that it’s wrong to worship saints, which also bugs me because that’s not how the saints work. If these people are going to insult me, they could at least do their homework first. Seriously. It’s weird, though, because in high school I was friends with Baptists, Lutherans, and other Catholics, and we were all able to discuss God/Christianity without getting offensive or even considering our differences of opinion to be important, but in college I’ve discovered that there’s a lot of ill-feeling toward Catholics. Not as much as there is toward Muslims (or maybe it’s just as wide-spread but not as strong), but still.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dianasmortuary13 Diana Miquiztli Reyna

      I agree with the “if you’re going to insult me, at least do it right” part. i live in the south, and i grew up a progressive roman catholic, and i used to hear protestant christians tell me to my face that because i’m catholic i’m going to hell. “you’re making for yourself a false idol every time you pray to a saint or the virgin” they’d say. they’d call mass a “witch’s sabbat”. since doing my own homework, i’ve learned many things. first:catholics are christians, christ is central to our worship. second: no one prays to saints or the virgin, we ask for intercessions; that is, we ask that they put in a good word to God on our behalf. i agree that its a bit counterproductive when we can speak to God ourself but its something others practice and i’m not going to knock it.thirdly: while catholics are not the only christians, it is the first ever denomination, founded by Christ himself. in the south, protestants are pretty hostile to catholics and catholicism is completely misunderstood here. its a cliche i wish would burn out.

      • Mary

        I am not a Catholic so I was raised with a lot of prejudice. However it dawned on me one day that if Catholics were not Christians then that is akin to saying that Christianity never existed until the Reformation! So apparently over a thousand years worth of souls were condemned to hell simply because they were fooled by the “evil” Catholic church? That is a pretty big assumption there.

        Most of the time people come up with this nonsense without ever thinking it through.

      • JeannieC

        The Holy Bible clearly states that there is ONE (1) intermediary between God and us, and that would be Christ Himself. NOT someone canonized for money or whatever reason, as many were, which is documented. MANY “saints” were de-canonized several years ago – so what do the people do who counted on THEM to “intercede” for them? No hostility meant – I just would truly like to know – and to know why Catholics kneel before a statue of a saint when we’re specifically told NOT to. And also NOwhere in the Bible is Mary EVER raised above any and all other mortal beings. That is Catholic Church tradition – NOT Scripture. She was blessed, yes, she was, but she was not, is not, and never will be, God or Jesus or equal in any way to Them.

        • stephen_G

          Jeannie, the bible also states that we should not wear clothes of more than one cloth, eat shellfish, or allow a woman to speak over a man where one is present, but I suspect we all agree that these edicts are not relevant today. Who decides what’s out of date and what’s not? Statues are not false gods – they are lumps of plaster used as aids to concentration.
          As for intercession of the saints, there is scriptural precedent in 2 Macchabees, however the protestant reformers removed this book from their bible in the 15th century along with six others, presumably because they were uncomfortable with their contents. Ultimately who has authority to decide what’s in and what’s out? That discussion has been going on since the Council of Nicea in 325AD. One of the oldest scriptural texts (Codex Sinaiticus), thought to date from that period, DOES contain the relevant book.
          With regard to Church Tradition, Catholics believe that the infinite wisdom of God cannot be contained in a finite book, no matter how inspired it might be, and that divine revelation continues in other ways. That may be one area where people simply have to agree to differ.
          There is NOTHING anywhere in Catholic teaching which suggests that Mary is equal to Christ, however, Christians believe that she was chosen by God to be mother of his son – if that isn’t being raised above others I don’t know what is, and Catholic teaching recognises that honour and affords her special status. If God can send Moses and Elijah to Jesus, who are we to say he can’t send Mary to mankind?
          In any event, “you will know they are Christians by their love” not by what church they go to or what dogmas they promote. Any church or book is just an aid – a means to an end. When it becomes an end in itself, is that not the ultimate idolatry?

          • Mary

            Wow. I didn’t know that the Protestants took books out of the bible. I was raised with the idea of “nothing but the bible.” Period. I guess a good question would be “whose bible?”

            You are right though that it ultimately doesn’t matter because it all comes down to practicing the love that Jesus taught.

        • http://www.facebook.com/cececole Cindy Eimann Coleman

          I bet you ask friends and family for prayers if you are having rough time? Or if someone kindly asks “may I pray for you?” you would say yes? That is exactly the Catholic approach to the saints. They are part of our Christian family, we believe that they are in heaven because of the loving witness of their lives and we are asking them to add their prayers to ours. What is so wrong with that?

          As for Mary, God raised her above other humans. He sent an angel to her to say she was full of grace and “blessed are you among women.” By the very fact that she bore our Savior in her human body, it was sanctified. How could she not be above all humans to be chosen as the perfect vessel for God incarnate? From then on she was Jesus’ most faithful disciple, even to prompting his first miracle at Cana and to the Cross (when the Apostles failed). She sounds pretty special to me from what I read in the Bible.

        • WildRumpus67

          I totally agree with you… Catholics are not real Christians, because they worship the Pope and Saints… and Mormon’s aren’t Christians because they think God comes from planet Kolob, and United Church isn’t Christian because they’re too liberal, Anglicans are just a British Version of Catholics, the Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t real Christians, because they’re just crazy, Christian Scientists aren’t really Christians, The Greek Orthodox Church isn’t really Christian, The Ethiopian Church isn’t really Christian…

          Sorry, what brand of Christianity are you? I need to research and find out if you’re a real Christian or not.

  • Keith Watkins

    Several times one of my neighbors has told me that he prays for me and my wife every day. He’s not giving us a middle finger, nor is he expressing a veiled contempt for either of us. He knows the medical challenges our household has faced for several years. He’s aware of the fact that our two households have longtime histories of Christian faith and practice. Through his lifetime, he has believed that prayer is part of the mysterious interaction between God and creation. He is not asking for a miraculous healing. What he is communicating to us by his comment is that every day he includes us in the most intimate and sustaining communication that he knows, the communication between himself and God. If I understand your blog, he should stop telling us that he’s praying for us. Should he keep it a secret? Should he tell us in some other phrasing, using a pleasant euphemism that people won’t misunderstand? Or do you mean to suggest in an indirect way that people really should not pray for one another? That the language of praying for one another reveals a practice that is almost always misguided, fraudulent, or cynical?

    • Christian Piatt

      Actually, I think I address that kind of comment as well, in saying I believe people should ask if they can pray for you, and if you say yes, ask how you would like them to pray for you. It’s presumptuous to assume people will feel comfortable with this. Many do not, in my experience. And the other kind of “I’m praying for you” I’m referring to generally comes immediately after some kind of criticism, and is effectively a veiled judgment.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1482040128 Patricia O Sturm

        when somebody says they will pray for me, my answer is “thanks, prayers are like cash, I take all denominations.”

        • Winston

          It depends on whether I know the person to be a sincere Christian or a heathen…because it matters to me just what “god” they’re praying to.

          • Baby_Raptor

            I hope this was missing a snark tag. If not, wow. Way to be a jerk.

          • Sindigo

            I get it. It’s funny because it’s ridiculous.

        • Piet Puk

          If you’l take prayers in stead of money, I’d like to buy some of your stuff.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Tabitha.OrmistonSmith Tabitha Ormiston-Smith

      That article is not talking about a person like your neighbour in his context. I have been told something like that by fellow members of my church, and that just means they are praying for you in your difficult time. The statement is then purely informational and is no more a cliche than “it’s hot today”.

      The article is talking about an entirely different context and you will know it when you see it because it is said by someone who doesn’t like you and is ALWAYS accompanied by a little smirk. And you can feel the hostility rolling off them.

      • Christian Piatt

        exactly.

    • Winston

      It appears to me that the writer of the article views commons “sayings” as slanted to be backhanded remarks rather than the intent of the heart by the person speaking them. Just as the early mockers of the followers of Christ (the Way) were called “Christians” and was not a good comment.

    • Saltporkdoc

      Please, reread just the first sentence and the first 6 wordsof the second sentence of the author’s comment on this. Therein he clearly states the person who said it “was not a fan” and “…sometimes…mean well”. It is that context which raises the cliche from the level of an insult to being a blessing.
      I, too have multiple health issues (9 spinal surgeries in the past 2 yrs) and a dear and long term friend who tells me I am prayed for constantly. By taking comments in context, any semblance of the cliched implications the author is remarking about is removed. I, therefore do feel cared for and about when my friends tell me this.

    • patsy1715

      I think if you are going to tell someone that you are praying for them, you should say why. Like I’ll pray you have a safe trip, that you will feel better soon and etc. Then do it.

    • Unegen

      Personally, I think he should stop telling you he’s praying for you. Even if it’s meant well, it comes off at worst as though your own prayers on your behalf aren’t good enough, but his will surely be heard. At best, it suggests that God only hears prayers if they come in quantity. That’s…not comforting.
      If you want to pray for someone, just do it and do it privately. That’s the most honest and humble way.

  • John Adams

    The FACT remains that roman catholics are NOT Christians. They do not meet the standard set in the Bible for being a true Christian.

    • Charles

      Glad you got that all figured out John.

      • John Adams

        It’s really not all that difficult. Anyone who reads God’s Holy Word, the Bible, can clearly see it.

        • Stephen_G

          Actually, many Catholics DO read the Bible, though may have a different interpretation from your own – who’s to say which interpretation is correct? But that’s beside the point. The institution of the Catholic Church is far from perfect, but given the lack of love and compassion in your statement, I wonder if there isn’t a plank in your own eye to be removed before the specks in others, or have you selectively forgotten “Judge not, lest you be judged.”? I would have thought that “Anyone who reads God’s Holy Word” could see that pretty clearly in black and white too.

          • JeannieC

            We ARE to judge the actions and fruits! NOT the person.

          • Stephen_G

            If you read the parent post it seems quite clear to me that it WAS the people who were being judged.

          • John Adams

            roman catholics MISINTERPRET the Bible.

          • Stephen_G

            In your opinion perhaps, but as I said in a previous post, “you will know they are Christians by their love” not by what church they go to or by what dogmas they promote, and as St Paul himself said, “If you speak without love, you are but a cymbal crashing”. On reviewing the posts here, I think I know where to find the love of Christ on this page, and where the cymbals are crashing.

          • John Adams

            Sadly, you have been greatly deceived.

          • Baby_Raptor

            So do lots of christians. See, for example, the ones who want to pass religiously motivated laws, even though this is illegal and the bible says for christians to respect the government god put over them.

          • John Adams

            Yes, there are many people who consider themselves “christians” who misinterpret the Bible.
            ALL laws are based upon some moral code.
            It is NOT illegal in the US to base the laws upon the Bible. Most of the US Constitution is based upon Bible principles.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1373070186 C Anthony Archer

          I don’t believe it’s ever a Christian act to evaluate the faith of another, regardless of religious denomination. Only God can do that, which is stated quite specifically in the Bible.

          • John Adams

            Your belief is totally wrong:

            1Jo 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

        • http://www.facebook.com/cececole Cindy Eimann Coleman
        • WildRumpus67

          Ummm… are you saying the 1.2 billion Catholics on earth who regularly read the Bible are just reading it wrong.?

          Well thankfully God put you on earth to go out there and help those 1.2 billion souls that are going to Hell for reading the Bible wrong.

    • Chad

      Bless your heart.

    • Mary

      Hey John!
      Read my post above. If you have an answer for that question let me know ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/cececole Cindy Eimann Coleman

      I’ll pray for you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Russell-King/729022005 Russell King

    Oh, but the “bless his heart” line keeps me from using so many curse words….

  • Winston

    Christians are “catholic” in that Christianity is universal, but Roman Catholicism is neither Biblically Christian or universal. Romanology of Christianity lies within their belief and teaching “Maryology” as Mary (the mother of Jesus) as being deity, while she was but a mere virgin girl selected by God for Jesus’ earthly birth.

    • Stephen_G

      The claim that Catholics view Mary as a deity is incorrect. She is afforded special status, that is true, but according to Catholic teaching she remains human. Please inform yourself of the facts before misleading others.

  • Naomi

    I went to a Catholic high school (I’m personally a Protestant) and I heard the “Catholic or Christian” question constantly. I had to bring up entire class discussions to dispel the naivete. It was funny (sad, really) because I had up til then only gone to public school, and most of my classmates had been in Catholic school since kindergarten.

  • http://www.facebook.com/toriamae Tori Whaley

    I’ve always thought it’s a bit presumptuous and very hateful to tell someone who loves Jesus that they are not Christian. Being raised in a Mormon household, I will say that all the evangelization made it MORE difficult for me to part ways with my parents’ faith because I wasn’t sure I could find a place in the body of Christ where I could continue to honor my mother and my father…where the good things I had been raised with would be respected.

    For the record, though, I find “bless your heart” more than a little bit funny! I grew up in New England and later lived in Houston and Nashville for a total of 7 years…that is one colloquialism that I don’t consider Christian as much as Southern.

    That said, one cliche I wish we could step away from is assuming that people who are not Christian are motivated by the search for material wealth, are hedonists, you name it. It kind of makes me crazy since, as someone who has been long involved in secular organizations for social justice, I don’t find that true at all.

  • @joseisdjrhema

    It was God’s will

    • Scotter

      That is not a cliche, that is a cop-out…..

  • @joseisdjrhema

    I’m trying to find God’s perfect will for my life

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1110368167 Dallas A Powell Jr

    All 34 of these are right on the mark, but I would add one: “I’m not religious, I have a relationship with God.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/cececole Cindy Eimann Coleman

      This forum really needs a like button so I could click it here :)

    • Whit Johnstone

      I have heard the head of the Pastor-Parish relations committee of a large United Methodist church say that he is “spiritual but not religious”. This triggered a double take from me, simply because serving as the head of the PPRC of a Methodist church is an inherently institutional position- it involves mediating conflict between the laity, the pastor, and the denomination.

  • fidesquaerens

    I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, particularly the “I’m praying for you” and “bless her heart” – as a Southern girl I’ve heard both nearly my entire life and they drive me a bit crazy.

    But I think it’s a bit disingenuous to say that all Christians are Catholic. I study at a Jesuit school, a large part of my extended family are RCC Catholics – I have a definite soft spot in my heart for that church. But I do think that when Catholic theologians (at least RCC Catholics) say they are the universal church they mean it the other way – that only those people recognized as Catholics are truly Christians, not that all Christians are Catholics.

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ northierthanthou

    “I’m praying for you” is always a good one. Can’t stand that two-faced crap!

  • http://profiles.google.com/mypantstheatre the bullet

    My personal favorite after moving from Catholic New Orleans to fundagelical St Tammany Parish was, “You worship a dead God. We worship the living God.”

  • amycas

    Your example in the “good/strong Christian” also implies that only Christians can be good people.


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