We’ve all heard the term “mansplain.” Dictionary.com defines “mansplain” like this:
To explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner, typically to a woman already knowledgeable about the topic.
To be honest about myself, I mansplain things to people, men and women, all the time even though I am a woman. Most notoriously, I mansplained how anti-retrovirals works to someone who turned out to be an AIDS expert.
I was not so much arrogant as enthusiastic about the little knowledge I did have. But so be it, I mansplained ARVs. In general, I have many ideas and opinions and I want to share them with you and I want to hear myself share them with you. Without proper self-regulation, I am insufferable, y’all.
And I used to Christian-splain an awful lot. Mainly to prove to myself that I was a good Christian, even though inside I was terrified I was a hell-bound faker. What is Christian-splaining, you ask? Well, I’m glad you did ask, because now I get to mansplain Christian-splaining to you! How exciting.
So Christian-splaining is when you see another Christian, or former or “backslidden” Christian, say something you find theologically problematic or not devout enough or just a wee bit outside the lines of acceptable evangelical culture or indicative of the person having areas of their life that are not explicitly defined by faith at all times. But maybe you don’t want to do an all-out frontal assault on their faith or lack thereof. So you very subtly and sweetly “check” them. You can also Christian-splain to non-Christians, but it’s not as fun since they may not get the reference and/or are unmoved by your Christianity.
To be charitable–as I do try to be here, believe it or not–I think a lot of Christian-splainers have sincere faith that meets their needs and fits their experience at all times and places and gives them a deep sense of peace and fulfillment, and they just want to share that with you. However, just as I assumed I had more expertise on ARVs than the AIDS expert because I had recently read an article about them, these well-meaning folks assume they are an expert on others’ faith experience because their faith works for them. So they Christian-splain what your faith is supposed to look like.
And honestly, it is super duper blooper cooper (yes I just made that up) annoying, even when you in theory agree with their general beliefs.
Other than earnest enthusiasm and care for others, people like to Christian-plain because it 1) Proves to themselves that they indeed have all the answers to every issue in life, in case they have some lurking doubts in there 2) Fulfills their God-given obligation to police improper theology and remove obstructions from their neighbors’ eyes before tending to their own 3) Forces the relationship with the other person onto their own terms and their own turf instead of acknowledging and accepting the other person has a point of view that might be uncomfortable for them to hear.
Never mind that the person you are Christian-splaining has already heard all your answers, has thought deeply about them for probably decades, and has either rejected them completely or has dismissed the very simplistic, pat expression of them that you feel compelled to offer. If they aren’t expressing their struggles/experiences/emotions in those terms, there’s probably a good reason for that. Your gentle prodding will probably not send them running back into the arms of your version of The Lord.
Here’s some examples of Christian-splaining (ideally, you would pair these with actual scripture references but I can’t be bothered to look any up):
- Your friend’s spouse has died. She is a Christian, as was her spouse, but somehow she’s still angry and sad. You very helpfully remind her that As Christians, we have no reason for despair because Jesus rose from the dead! Your spouse is at home with Jesus, praise God!
- Your friend comes out as gay. He tells you he has known this about himself since he was 4 and has struggled with his identity for years. You lovingly tell him that you and God both adore him, really and truly, but he is deceived about his own experience and he is embarking on a sinful lifestyle that will lead to destruction and hell because the Bible says so. You remind him that Jesus successfully resisted temptation and suggest he go on a desert retreat to pray and fast.
- Your friend posts a Christmas message on Facebook wishing her diverse friend group Happy Holidays. You leave the comment, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!”
- Your friend’s ultrasound raised some concerns, so she’s going to get an amniocentesis. You tell her about the time your doctor urged you to get one but you said no because you had faith that God was going to take care of your child.
- Your friend is struggling in her marriage and wants a divorce. You remind her that God ordained marriage, and he wants her to be holy, not necessarily happy. As long as Jesus is at the center of her marriage, it will get better for sure!
- Your friend is depressed. You remind her that Jesus will meet all her needs, she only need to trust him.
- There’s a general category surrounding prayer. If someone asks you for prayer, great, tell them you’re praying (if you are). But if they don’t–guess what, you can pray for them WITHOUT TELLING THEM. Yes, you can, Jesus even said something about going in a closet to pray, and I don’t think he was talking about gay people either. Relatedly, public prayers for people who don’t ask for them=Christian-splaining + possible humiliation. I had an entire high school reunion pray for me after I got divorced without my request. Just no, please.
- Your friend is lonely and would like to be in a relationship. You tell her the church is the bride of Christ, and he’s already robed her in splendor. He wants to be the love of her life! We have all the love we need in Jesus!
- Your friend has experienced some disappointment of late, and life isn’t going the way she envisioned or hoped. You tell her God always has a plan! Not to worry!
- And the classic of all classic, the pinnacle of Christian-splaining–Something bad happens to your friend, and you assure them that Everything happens for a reason!!!! Kate Bowler wrote an entire awesome book about this, by the way.
I think I’ve actually done the equivalent of all of these, so don’t feel too bad if you have, too. I’m sure many of you can offer other examples. You get the idea.
For a long time, I couldn’t figure out why I was annoyed when generally well-meaning Christians inserted these expressions of faith when I tried to connect with them. Again, in theory, I don’t necessarily disagree with what they were saying, but it just feels…manipulative somehow. Like they are more interested in whatever they need, whatever their agenda is than actually trying to understand my experience or caring about me as a whole person.
Also, it feels like what they view as sacred is so narrowly defined that huge swaths of human experience are left out or barred at the door somehow. I believe Christmas has meaning not only because it celebrates a sacred event, but because it’s a time of appreciating those whom we love, even those who don’t believe the same. Saying Happy Holidays isn’t a denial of my faith, it’s a fulfillment of my faith. It builds a bridge of friendship and empathy. That’s why I’ve chosen those words. And it’s sacred when a friend comes alongside you in a dark time and just listens and serves without preaching a sermon. Emotions are are spiritual experience. Disappointment is a spiritual experience. Mourning and sadness are spiritual. Just all on their own, they don’t have to be properly channeled or contextualized.
And you can show people that God is love without constantly telling them that. In fact, it’s probably better to show them, no matter what they believe. It’s actually hard to believe God is love when his people aren’t actually that loving.
Look, if you are a chronic Christian-splainer, I don’t mean to be harsh. I really do believe you mean well, and you want to help. I really do believe your faith is so precious to you, you just want everyone to know.
But consider that less is more. Consider why you feel you must always, always insert explicit expressions of your faith. Consider how that’s many times counter-productive and serves as a wedge instead of a bridge. Consider why you might actually be OK with that. Maybe you want the wedge.
But maybe I’m kind of Christian-splaining to you. On second thought, do whatever you want. Just don’t expect me to respond accordingly.