I had a friend in high school who had a bumpersticker on her car that read, “Warning: in case of rapture car will be unmanned.” I wasn’t theologically settled against a pretribution rapture at the time, and yet I found that particular slogan irritating. My friends and I ridiculed her about that sticker until she removed it from her car. I don’t care for “Christian” kitsch—much of it seems like self adulation or at least spiritual projection and yet I know I was wrong in ridiculing my friend. We all wear Christian kitsch—if it’s not on our T-shirts or bracelets, it’s on our Facebook walls and our Christmas presents.
For most Christians, wearable kitsch starts as a genuine act of worship–we sincerely love Jesus and want him represented on various artifacts we utilize for self expression. We want him represented on our T-shirts, bumpers, and Facebook walls. Consequently, when “Reeces” is changed to “Jesus” we assume we have transformed the secular into the sacred. The problem is that we have actually done nothing of the sort and have potentially trivialized the sacred. When we realize that Jesus calls us to “beware of practicing your righteousness before men” our relationship with kitsch becomes more complex.
Many resort to a ritualistic stance on kitsch. As is often the case as Christians, our passions wane but we maintain rituals–so as we give ourselves over to kitsch, it becomes the way we decorate our cars, bodies, and living spaces. In moments of weakness or failure when we realize our lives don’t match the testimony of our garments and Facebook statuses we are faced with a dilemma. The Christian either attempts to cut ties with kitsch altogether or finds comfort in them–as we imagine them to be expressions of our values and priorities. The former position may seem ideal but is ultimately marred by self righteousness and is impossible to maintain. The latter is a precarious position akin to polishing the outside of the cup (Matthew 23:25-26).
“Christian” kitsch is going to be a part of our lives–it is utterly unavoidable. We can remove our bumper stickers, throw away our T-shirts, and refuse to project our spirituality through social media but kitsch will find us out. If we stop tweeting about spiritual things our friends will want to know what’s wrong with us. We will have friends, relatives, and neighbors who will give us kitschy gifts and we will accept them and don them because we love our friends. Further these same friends will wear cheesy “Christian” T-shirts and Jesus juke people on Facebook and we will continue to love them. We can’t know their hearts and Christian charity requires that we not dismiss them—many of them are genuinely worshipping. So we must honor those who proudly don it while warning them of its inherent dangers.
Kitsch can make us “think more highly of ourselves than we ought” (Romans 12:3). Thinking of ourselves with “sober judgment” means refusing to define ourselves by our outward projections. And whether we make any attempts to divorce ourselves from kitsch or not, we must be willing to divorce ourselves from it in spirit, and focus our attention on our testimony and our relationships. If our shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, and Facebook statuses were cleared away would our closest friends see Christ in us?
Drew Dixon is a husband, pastor, and writer. He serves as co-editor of Christ and Pop Culture. He has also written for Relevant Magazine, Paste Magazine, Think Christian, and Game Church. Drew has an M.A. in Speech Communication from West Texas A&M University and an MDIV in Christian Ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.