Evangelicals, especially the Word of Faith segment of the Religious Right, speak a different language. If you have ever seen and chuckled over Tom Cruise’s acronym, Xenu-speak peppered video about Scientology, you have unwittingly seen and chuckled over many Evangelical’s thoughts and feelings about their faith. But, where Cruise expresses himself through puffs and pows, Evangelical ministers huff and haw. There is much expectoration involved in Evangelical preaching. Sincerity seems to manifest in spit flying everywhere.
I am something of an expert on Evangelical-Speak. I have ten years of lay ministry propped up against my Bible College diploma, and plenty of time spent on ministerial staff. As an employee of a billion dollar, international, Evangelical televangelist’s ministry, among other things I wrote the Style Manual used to instruct employees on the etiquette specific to the ministry standard. From how to address the Big Man’s wife, to a list of words employees were forbidden to use, I was the gatekeeper of that Orwellian structure.
Employees were cautioned against using words like “fantastic”, “magical”, or “lucky” for their roots in the secular or the supernatural. They were asked not to use the word “fear” at all, since the Bible instructs us to “Fear not.” They were instructed against phrases like, “That scared me to death,” or “I died laughing,” or “that blew me away,” on the concern that those words might confuse the angels who had been sent to guard them. Maybe the funniest instruction we offered was that employees should not call in “sick”, rather, if an employee was overcoming a health challenge, he should call in as “receiving a healing from the Lord.” There is a reason people think Evangelicals are nuts.
However, inside the compound (and it was a compound, lovely and lakeside though it were) and drinking the Kool-Aid, the reasoning behind the rules seemed sound. There were scriptures to back up every protocol.
We did not use foul or harsh language because of Luke 6:45. We did not want anyone to think we had hearts full of fuckery.
We did not say that we were sick because of Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24. We did not want anyone to think that we did not believe in the physical sacrifice of Jesus.
We absolutely believed in the doctrine of Fake It Until You Make It, adhering to Matthew 21:22, that once we had prayed for something, we needed to believe it because having prayed it meant that we received it. Oh sure, we might not have been able to see the manifestation of the receipt just yet, but it was coming! And we had to keep our words right because we were the prophets of our own lives, speaking into being our own abundances, and creating out worlds with our words! If I’d said that to you in person, you’d be wiping your forehead off about now.
Evangelical-Speak is all about mouthing the message you want to live. For example, a typical exchange between employees meeting one another as they walked through the door in the morning might go like this:
Sister White: Good morning, Sister Black, how are you?
Sister Black: I am blessed and highly favored of the Lord! I am above and not beneath, the head and not the tail, nations rise and call me blessed! And how are you, Sister White?
Sister White: Oh, I’m fine.
Sister Black: Just fine? Well, friend, you can have what you say. Is that what you want? If so, I will set my faith in agreement with you that you are just “fine”, for wherever two or more are gathered in agreement, there the Lord is also.
Sister White: Uh…I mean…I am blessed and highly favored of the Lord.
Sister Black: I thought so.
That “you can have what you say…is that what you want?” phrase was as scathing as any rebuke. It suggested a lack of faith, and a lack of righteousness, a carelessness with words, something to fear (ironic, considering how frequently Evangelicals are told it is a sin against faith to fear) since every good Evangelical knows that, according to Matthew 12:36, he will be called into account for every idle word he has ever spoken. Sincere Evangelicals spend a lot of time thinking about words.
There is something to watching what you say and how you say it. My time on the religious right taught me impeccable spin control, and I can take any situation and give you the positive angle. Quite helpful if you are in marketing. Right speech, as the Word of Faith call it, can improve your mood, help you cultivate a more positive attitude and outlook on life, and make you more pleasant company than that old whiny cow in the next cubicle. But, like anything else, taken to the extreme it becomes a problem. And whenever a religious organization starts to control speech and enforce speech patterns, they are on their way to becoming a cult.
When I talked with members of the Senate Finance Committee, during Senator Grassley’s investigation into certain televangelists’ ministries, I tried to explain how it happens that well-educated, seemingly intelligent people end up yelping in unison, “Money cometh to me now!”or, how intelligent, kind-hearted people end up huddling together against civil rights, women’s rights, and social change. I never had the time needed to accomplish it. As part of an ongoing column here, I will attempt to explain that to you.
This column will follow a specific format. First, I will outline an Evangelical belief. Next, I will explain the foundation behind the belief. Finally, I will expose the underlying issue with that belief and explain why a blithely going-along Evangelical cannot see that for himself. And maybe in that way, I will have done something to atone for the time I spent offering to align myself with someone’s claim that he didn’t feel too well that day.
Somehow, I think that’s going to take a lot of writing.