Christian T-shirts and the trivialization of God
Green is not my color, and I’m not a real fan of fedoras either so if someone wanted to get me the worst birthday present ever, it would be a green fedora. Of course, if I saw someone else wearing a green fedora, I wouldn’t go up and tell him what I thought of it, because I know my opinion is just my opinion. Some people hate green fedoras, and hey, maybe there’s someone out there who likes green fedoras. To each their own taste.
But fashion is about more than just taste. As Christian we know there are some things we just can’t wear, and some things we should, for the sake of decency, always wear. We can wear red shirts, yellow shirts, and even green shirts, but no Cardi B t-shirts or see-thru clothing for us! It might not be something we think about all that often, but we’ve should be wearing our clothes to God’s glory!
Lisa Klassen took the idea of wearing clothes to God’s glory to a new level. Some years ago, when she was an ardent 16-year old, she was suspended from school for wearing a sweatshirt which read, “ABORTION IS MEAN.” On the back the shirt read:
“You will not silence my message. You will not mock my God. You will stop killing my generation.”
At a school where fellow students walked around wearing shirts promoting sex, alcohol and nihilistic rock bands, only Klassen’s shirt was deemed offensive. Her actions, and subsequent suspension prompted almost 50 other students to wear similar shirts. Her bold, brazen fashion statement got the whole school in an uproar. What a gutsy gal!
This type of enthusiasm should be encouraged, admired and imitated. Lisa Klassen is not embarrassed of her God. She proudly proclaims Him and His message.
Many other young Christians are eager to emblazon Christian messages across their shirts as well. But while their enthusiasm should be praised and encouraged, their choice of shirts can benefit from a little outside input. Youthful enthusiasms must sometimes be tempered with the wisdom of the old (just as the wise old people must occasionally get their butts kicked with a dose of youthful enthusiasm – do not forget your first love of Christ!). Let’s proudly proclaim Christ, but let’s not forget that there are standards, so not all T-shirts, even Christian t-shirts, are created equal.
God is not cutesy
The flaw with many a Christian t-shirts is that they trivialize God. We sometimes imagine God as some sort of safe Entity. We focus on His love and forget about His wrath and the justice He demands. Instead of an awesome, holy, and yes, even frightening God (it is only through His Son that we can dare approach Him), we imagine a cute, harmless Deity. That is a serious error to make on a personal level, to have such a flawed idea of God in our minds. But it gets worse when we wear Christian T-shirts that proclaim this flawed idea of God to others.
Let me give you some examples. There is a whole series of T-shirts and bumper stickers that talk about hell, salvation and God in the context of popular brand names. For instance, one shirt mimicks Coca-Cola’s well-known font and red background with the words “Enjoy Jesus Christ – thou shalt never thirst.” Pepsi too is transformed. Their blue and red color scheme is used to proclaim “Jesus Christ – He is my Saviour and my refreshment.” The new words are true, but from a distance the shirts still look like Coca-Cola and Pepsi shirts. It is only when you get nearer that the differences can be noticed, and the altered text can be read. Now imagine for a moment, that a non-Christian reads one of these shirts. “Oh wait a second!” he might say, “These shirts aren’t advertising cola, they’re advertising salvation.” Is God’s grace, in this cola context, going to be considered seriously? There seems to be an endless variety of shirts with this brand name focus. Sneaker manufacturer Reebok’s “Life’s short, Play hard” slogan becomes “Reeborn – Life’s short, Pray hard.” The clothing chain GAP has their brand transformed into “God Answers Prayers.” Even CREST toothpaste is not spared. Their “Proven cavity protection” slogan was changed to “CHRIST – Proven Depravity Protection.”
While these shirts are cutesy, they publicly “out” the wearer as a Christian which not every Christian is willing to do. So yes, we want to fix the message – God is holy, not comic relief – but we don’t want to dampen that enthusiasm so let’s praise what we can praise and congratulate them for their courage.
But the best Christian t-shirts have a depth to them – they have a real weight to their message. They are often confrontational, and even offensive, just like the shirt Lisa Klassen wore. One good shirt I saw had a picture of 6 pallbearers carrying a casket. The caption below read, “Don’t wait for 6 strong men to take you to church.” There is humor here, but more too – it’s a shirt that could get a man thinking.
Other shirts ignore humor altogether and go for clarity. When I attended university several students wore shirts that said “Pro-life” in big and bold letters. They weren’t very thought provoking, but a lot of other students certainly found them offensive. In a hostile setting like university, standing out in the crowd is a powerful statement in itself. Another shirt read, “Stop Divorce – The basis of Marriage is Commitment, not just Romantic Love.” It didn’t rhyme, and there was nothing funny about it, but it contained some food for thought.
One of the most daring shirts I ever saw simply read, “Ask me about God.” I want that shirt, and might have to make my own – I haven’t found it online. But it would be an intimidating shirt to wear. What if people actually did ask me about God? Wouldn’t that be wonderful and terrifying? Maybe that’s the shirt we should all get after we do our profession of faith. Maybe that’s the shirt we should all have to wear, each and every day.
Some of the other good ones I’ve seen include:
- Chapter and verse please!
- Preach the Gospel at all times. Always use words.
- Former fetus
- Make Orwell fiction again.
- Life starts at conception, no perception
- Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter – Charles Spurgeon
- RPNT & BLV
- Luther nailed it
- Do you even exegete bro?
- The chief end of man it to glorify GOD and enjoy HIM forever
- God is Good
- Love God. Hate sin.
- Be killing sin or it will be killing you – John Owen
- Abortion is bad medicine
- Die daily
- I Bet the Pro-Choicers Are Glad their Parents Weren’t
- Abortion – The Leading Cause of Death in America
- He who dies with the most, still dies
- Evolution Says Nothing times Nobody Equals Everybody
- Know Jesus, Know Peace – No Jesus, No Peace
- Lotteries: A tax on people who are bad at math.
I hope I haven’t come off as being negative about Christian t-shirts; my hope is that Christians will take up the opportunity to profess their faith using the clothes that they wear. My point is that if we are going to do it, enthusiasm is not enough. We also have to put some thought into the thoughts we are going to emblazon across our T-shirts.
At the same time, older, more thoughtful Christians should hesitate before they criticize a younger brother or sister for wearing “cute” Christian T-shirts. Even as there is a need to uphold God as holy, it would be a shame if the younger brother or sister’s enthusiasm was stifled over something inconsequential. The last thing we need is another quiet Christian.
A version of this article first appeared in the February 2002 issue.