christianese cannot defeat these iron chariots
Reading Time: 10 minutes A street scene in Tokyo. (Clay Banks.)
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Sometimes, it’s fun to reveal the real meaning of all the Christianese that evangelicals use. Because oh, they use a lot of it. And the more Christianese you see in use, the less the Christians involved have to say that’s real and true. So when I say that evangelism might just be the most Christianese-heavy part of evangelicalism, you know I’m playing SHOTS FIRED, right? Today, we’ll translate the Christianese of the most dishonest members of an already-dishonest tribe: evangelists.

christianese cannot defeat these iron chariots
A street scene in Tokyo. (Clay Banks.)

(I often speak of evangelism as a sales process. Evangelists are usually inept salespeople and often bristle at being compared to salespeople at all, but the truth remains. The product is not belief in Jesus, though. It is active membership in the evangelist’s own religious group.)

Christianese: A Quick Refresher.

When we talk about Christianese, we mean the huge lexicon of jargon, Bible references, and catchphrases employed by mostly-evangelical Christians. For the most part, such Christians use Christianese to describe things that aren’t objectively true or concretely real.

Example: Grieved, which means sadness, but coated with extra Jesus flavoring. Something that grieves an evangelical would also make Jesus sad. Usually describes off-limits behavior from people the Christianese speaker considers inferior to themselves. Requires an immediate response from listeners.

Example: Put on the full armor of god, a reference to a passage in Ephesians 6. It’s an imaginary suit of armor made up of imaginary traits like “the belt of truth” and “the sword of the Spirit.” Used to exhort and encourage Christians in an inferior social position to the speaker.

Those two bits of Christianese would be largely either unintelligible to outsiders, or barely understood. (Thus, Christianese makes a great dogwhistle for Republican politicians.)

Some Christians think the tribe should use considerably less Christianese. After all, Christianese tends to completely confuse outsiders to the tribe. Others drill down and stoutly insist that it’s perfectly fine and good to use it everywhere. If it confuses outsiders, then good! If they really want to know what it means, then they just need to join up!

Missionaries: Making Failure Sound Like #WINNING.

Evangelicals, more than any other kind of Christian today, need to feel like they’re on the winning team. Their rhetoric and ideology over the past 30 years has drilled into them unceasingly that their side WINS. That’s what their side does. They can’t lose, because they have Jesus on their side. No weapon forged against them can possibly prosper, blah blah blah!

(They’ve forgotten all about those iron chariots, I suppose.)

But missions work throws a real gear into the works.

Missionaries have rarely been hugely successful. In recent years, they’ve been even less successful. Sure, they like to claim big huge wins in places like China and Africa. Heck, they’ve been making these claims since I was evangelical myself (the 1980s and 90s). Meanwhile, though their numbers just keep dropping.

In response to missionaries’ decreasing effectiveness, Christian groups fling increasing numbers of missionaries around to keep their conversions looking good. Missionaries and sales-minded Christians do their best to make up the difference with stirring anecdotes and moved goalposts. You can see lots of both strategies in play in this Quora post.

But missionaries get all of their support from other Christians. And evangelicals, in particular, do not support causes they perceive as lost. As a result, missionaries have had to perfect a form of Christianese that makes what they do sound important, momentous, and most of all effective.

(Even Christian missionaries themselves lament that they must play this reindeer game.)

The Christianese of Missionaries.

That’s part of the reason why I make so much fun of Beach Reach. Every year, the SBC (the Southern Baptist Convention) writes some stirring blahblah in their Annual Report about how amaaaaazing this short-term mission trip (STM) is. And yet, they never, ever provide hard numbers that would conclusively prove that this trip is anything but a hardcore indoctrination session for its own volunteers.

To Southern Baptists reading their Annual Reports, they will read a paragraph like this in the 2019 Annual Report and come out thinking Beach Reach is a valuable missionary trip:

For two weeks in March 2018, over 850 college students and leaders gathered in Panama City Beach, FL, for one of the most intense and challenging experiences provided by LifeWay. Through daily pancake breakfasts (in partnership with the Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief Team), free van rides, and street/beach ministry, college students reached out to fellow college students on Spring Break in PCB. Some 36 decisions of salvation were made among college Spring Breakers during the two weeks among hundreds of gospel conversations. [p. 195]

Traditionally, a decision of salvation means a conversion leading to a butt planted in a pew somewhere (BIPs, a measurement of evangelicals’ cultural domination). A gospel conversation means an intense sales pitch got made; the phrase conveys a sense of serious interest. But amid the decline of evangelicalism, the goalposts have moved considerably on both scores.

So SBC-lings reading that quoted paragraph will think that over 850 volunteers scored “some 36” conversions and piqued the interest of hundreds more marks (who’ll probably join up soon).

To an evangelical, that doesn’t sound half bad.

But in reality, that same year baptisms in the SBC declined by about 8k, membership by almost 200k, and Sunday School enrollment by almost 100k. Their ratio of baptisms per existing members fell to 1:60. So whatever these missionaries were doing on the beach that year, it didn’t help at all with the SBC’s ongoing decline.

Now let us turn our attention to another set of missionaries trying to make their own efforts sound super-duper effective.

The Christianese to Use When Barely-Not-Failing Needs to Sound Like Stellar Success.

Japan isn’t really very religious. It’s most especially not very Christian-centric in its general worldview. When I was there in the 90s, it was very eye-opening for me to see Christianity as not only a religious minority in a country, but also for it to get no special deference at all. For the most part, the Japanese people I encountered saw Christianity as a set of fun new props for weddings and holidays, but not something they’d seriously practice in their everyday lives.

Even more than that, Japanese social customs are way, way different from those of Americans. I suffered a major case of culture shock while there, and Biff never got over his outrage that nobody he talked to would tell him the truth about how they felt about his nonstop sales pitches.

(The way I came to understand it, if a Japanese person did not respond “Yes, I am actually buying this thing right now this second,” then their answer was a resounding NO. The further they got from that response, the more NO they wanted to convey.)

So any missionaries heading to Japan really have their work cut out for them. This mission field isn’t like, say, a largely-Catholic country where people largely do believe all the right nonsense already, and just need to be poached across from one flavor of the religion to another.

But these missionaries still must make their failure sound like solid success to the evangelicals back home.

And that’s why this recent pair of stories from Baptist Press tickled my funny bone like almost nothing else could. It’s so perfectly evangelical. So much perfect Christianese.

Manga Messiah Hits Tokyo.

A few weeks ago, we had a good laugh about some SBC missionaries in Japan. They decided to hit the streets near the Olympics in Tokyo. To garner attention, they dressed up in cosplay costumes and handed out hilarious tract-like comic books like Manga Messiah to Japanese people.

And largely, their efforts were a complete, nonstop failure to make any sales. But here is the Christianese they pitched to Baptist Press, which is the propaganda news service of the SBC. I’ll provide the quote, then the translation.

The Bradfords and Prices are utilizing Christian manga materials as a means of building relationships.
[This is just friendship evangelism. Evangelicals pretend they want to bond over manga, but they’re just using it to open a sales pitch. They’ll find the Japanese really closed off to that tactic.]

He [a missionary] noticed that people were looking through the materials as they moved into or away from the Shibuya Crossing.
[Some people politely looked over the Christians’ stuff, but literally nobody ever stopped to talk to them.]

“Pray that God would soften the hearts of those who we will be trying to share with and outreach with utilizing manga materials,” Scott said.
[So far, the missionaries have made ZERO sales.]

“[K-san] is interested in meeting again and would like to learn more about the Bible. He said he has had some interest, so he was very glad to meet me,” Donn [Broeker] said. [. . .] “Pray that his heart would be open and that very soon we would be able to meet again and that I would have a chance to share more.”
[I think I’ve found K-San’s social media account. I don’t think he’s actually Japanese, but he lives there and has a podcast. It’s way more possible that this supposed mark sees the missionaries as material for his show. Also, so far this mark hasn’t bought the evangelists’ product. He hasn’t even set a firm date for meeting up again.]

Most notably, the missionaries had not had any luck at the time of writing in securing even one for-sure sale — or they’d never have shut up about it.

Christianese in the Followup Story.

Usually, these sorts of fluff stories just come and go, and we never really hear how their subjects do after their moment in the sun. But this time, we get a followup story! It’s from August 10, just a couple weeks after the first story. And it is hilariously loaded with Christianese to disguise how much fail it really contains. If anything, the missionaries involved feel even more pressure to disguise their failure to make sales. I’m guessing they experienced a serious surge in donations and would like to see another.

Here is the Christianese we got this time around:

A Buddhist priest learned about Jesus through Japanese comics. A worker from the Olympic village heard what is worth more than gold. A Christian woman struggling to find a church learned about ones she can attend. An athletic trainer ran to tell his friend how he could be rid of sin. A 93-year-old woman welcomed prayer from missionaries and Japanese Christians.
[And not one person actually signed up to park their butt in a church pew. Almost everything in this paragraph is the result of the missionaries cluelessly or willfully misinterpreting the responses they got to their sales pitches.]

Missionaries interacted with 1,000 people, and nearly every person left with gospel material and trading pins designed to share the Gospel. One hundred fifty people had spiritual conversations, and another 100 people received an entire presentation of the Gospel.
[Do we ever find out exactly what “interacted” means? No, we do not. Remember “spiritual conversations” from above? It just means a sales pitch got made. I strongly suspect “an entire presentation of the Gospel” just means that out of those 150 sales pitches, the marks allowed the missionaries to complete 100 of them. Also, again, not one person actually signed up to join.]

Scott and Julie Bradford, Pierce and Yae Hite, Natalie Nation, Kacie Kubosumi, Hannah Miller and other missionaries plan to meet up with students they met through in-person and virtual outreaches.
[… if their marks actually let them. So far, we’ve had no solid indication that any of their marks actually requested more information about Christianity.]

“Are you going to have another event like this?” one of the students asked after an English outreach. “I study a lot alone, and I do not have very many interactions with other people, and I was so happy to be able to talk to people today. Thank you.”
[This student really liked getting a chance to practice English and rub shoulders with Americans. I ran into that constantly in Japan.]

Incidentally, we don’t hear a word about the previous totes-for-shur sales from the first story. K-San, for one, has dropped from the radar like he never existed.

But it gets worse.

The Christianese Used to Disguise Utter Failure.

One part of this second story is particularly noteworthy. It really grieved me, so to speak:

Pierce shared with an older Japanese woman during an outreach in front of a train station where he and other missionaries were handing out trading pins they designed for the Olympics. The woman had lived abroad and told Pierce she believed that all religions were good.

“I explained to her what the grace message is,” Pierce said, “that Jesus Christ came, He paid that penalty of sin and death, but then He resurrected, and it gave us a chance to be reconciled to God if we received that. I asked her, ‘Do you see that message of grace in any other religion that you have encountered?’”

She paused to think, and said, “No, that’s not in anything else.”

The woman left with much to think about, and Pierce prays that she will choose to follow Christ.

That woman would have been quite surprised to learn that she had “much to think about.” I doubt she saw it that way! If anything, she was politely conceding an obvious point: most other modern religions don’t look much like Christianity. (In Christianese, evangelicals call their extortion attempt the grace message; this phrase just means “comply with our demands, or else be tortured forever.”)

I’m laughing right now because she likely left thinking that no, not all religions are good, after all. Outsiders find the grace message horrifying, usually. But she’s too politely Japanese to say that out loud. If she didn’t flat-out say “wow, that’s great, I love it,” — then she did not find much about it that appealed to her.

This based old lady gave these missionaries the very least possible agreement she could, and they’ve decided that it’s a sign that she’s totes gonna think about buying their product. LOL no. But she’s got some funny stories to tell her friends now, at least.

And Not One Jesus Sale Has Yet Been Made.

Individual conversions, in and of themselves, are hardly a victory or loss for Christians or secular folks. People believe what they believe based on the evidence they have right then. They may learn better about what constitutes evidence for a claim, as I did, as many others did and do, and thus shift beliefs. But overall, I just can’t see any one conversion or deconversion as a win or loss for any side. Belief is too idiosyncratic, too individualistic.

That said, it’s funny to see that in so many weeks, our Japanese missionary team has made not one single sale. They haven’t even gotten close to a sale. The few marks they can get to stand still for a sales pitch don’t always even allow them to finish it, and certainly nobody’s asked to hear more about their product.

And what makes this failure funnier, to me at least, is that the missionaries are straining hard to find ways to make their utter failure sound like TOTAL VICTORY FOR TEAM JESUS. (Hooray Team Jesus!)

Finally, We Find The Real Reason for the Tokyo Fail Parade.

Toward the end of that update post, we finally see what’s got these missionaries so eager to rewrite failure into victory:

“A year ago, the Tokyo global city team had high hopes and big plans for the Olympics,” Bradford said. “COVID-19 and many changes led our team to constantly revisit and make adjustments along the way. As a result, we still made plans in faith that God had something in store for our team during the Olympics.” [Source.]

Ahh, okay. I see.

It was either figure something tf out, or get sent tf home and have to find a real job amid a pandemic surge. And they didn’t wanna go home. So they worked out a way to stay.

The post ends by telling us that the SBC’s International Mission Board (IMB) sponsored these guys through the Cooperative Program (CP, yes seriously). In fact, the missionaries said they hope that more people will sign up to work in Japan alongside them!

As a result of this desperate flailing-around, at least, we get some entertainment — and a good lesson in interpreting Christianese. I hope we get a third episode of the Tokyo Fail Parade. So far, the first two have been awesome.

NEXT UP: Speaking of dishonesty in Christianity, our 1st-century Friday will be about Thallus! See you soon!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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