Evangelicals and Emotional Labor
Start writing a post
Lifestyle

Evangelicals and Emotional Labor

How church tires us out.

217
Evangelicals and Emotional Labor
Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Here is a phrase I learned recently: emotional labor. The term, first coined by a sociologist in 1983, is most well-known in explaining dynamics men and women.

You'll understand what it means if you've ever had a job. If you've woken up cranky with few hours of sleep, your manager will still want you to provide service with a smile. (Hopefully, you're getting paid for it!) Even if you're recovering from a lost loved one or a bad breakup, there's a level of performance expected.

But something I've recognized recently is the ways in which Christians, specifically evangelicals, demand emotional labor from their friends and congregations.

It may seem unfair that I target evangelicals with this, but contemporary worship lends itself particularly well to performance.

The light shows, raised hands, young leaders in colorful skinny jeans, and smoke machines contribute to the atmosphere. (A church in Oregon recently came under fire for specifying that fat people need not apply to their worship band, and we all know that the average Top 40 Christian band fits the typical Hollywood standards of attractiveness.)

No matter how genuine the hearts of the leaders, it can't be denied that the whole stage is set up like a performance. Leaders rattle off "improvisatory" prayers and vocal lines that they've practiced repeatedly to nail the right inflection, in an effort to play up on the emotions of the congregation.

Critics call this manipulation, while fans consider traditional liturgy to be rigid and emotionless.

But regardless of one's preferences, the music is just a symptom of what I view as an underlying problem: everything you feel in evangelical circles must be filtered through the right words and expressions.

For example, you can talk about your feelings, but can't show them. You can admit you've been going through "struggles," but can't break down and sob or have a panic attack or say, "life sucks."

Part of this stems from natural American culture, where we expect a person to answer "how are you?" with the traditional "good, how are you?" even outside of church.

But when Christianity conforms to the pattern of this world, your response is weighted by morality.

And this makes the evangelical church even more exhausting, dishonest, and judgmental.

A person who answers "How was your week?" with "it sucked" will be seen as a weaker Christian than the one who answers "it was hard, but God's getting me through this," and everyone knows that.

Social consequences for incorrect emotional expression means people can't genuinely express emotion. Evangelical icons like Francis Chan preach that worry and anxiety are sins.

Similarly, 35% of self-proclaimed evangelical Christians believe that serious mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be overcome through Bible study and prayer alone.

What this means on a practical level is that you must perform emotional labor, even lie, if your brain chemistry is literally unable to provide the "right" feelings.

After all, the most admired evangelicals radiate "God-given joy" so that non-Christians are attracted and ask how to have it too.

(In the link above, popular women's speaker Beth Moore acknowledges that clinical anxiety does exist, but promptly writes it off as "a lack of spiritual focus." Bestselling conference speaker John Piper prefers to call it a sin of unbelief.)

If you’re not feeling the right emotions, there's the threat of not only sinning, but pushing people away from Christianity - and, for conservative Christians, that means further toward Hell.

This is a hell of a lot of pressure.

Especially considering that 27% of congregants on any given Sunday have with depression or anxiety.

It's tiring to perform at a daily job, but worse not to be able to acknowledge your honest feelings among friends and family due to the threat that they may see you as a failing Christian, lacking spiritual focus, or even sinning.

If churches want to lose less Christians, they may want to ease off the pressure for nonstop joy, because Christianity Today reports that “The response of people in the church to individuals’ mental illness caused 18% to break ties with a church.”

Not everyone has a mental illness (apparently not Chan, Moore, and Piper), but it's still no less hard to perform the right emotions if you're just not the type of person who feels like raising their hands, jumping up and down at 9:00 in the morning, or wrapping up your testimony with a happy bow.

(You may be wondering whether mainline churches handle these issues any better. This article excellently illustrates how liturgical worship works very well for even the most devout Christians who are unable to "perform" happy emotions at church.)

If you related to anything or disagreed, feel free to comment below or share it around. I’d love to hear from you.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Featured

Plus Size Appreciation: How I Learned To Love My Body

Because it is okay to not be "skinny."

1198
www.hm.com

In America, we tend to stick up our noses at certain things that aren't the norm. For example, people who are overweight, or the politically correct term “obese." Men and women who are overweight get so much backlash because they are not skinny or "in shape," especially, African-American women, who are typically known for having wider hips and thicker thighs. Robert Darryl, an African-American filmmaker, explains the overall intention of the body mass index in his follow-up sequel, “America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments."

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

It's More Than Just A Month

Mental Awareness reminds you that it's always darkest before the dawn.

2463
Wordpress
Odyssey recognizes that mental well-being is a huge component of physical wellness. Our mission this month is to bring about awareness & normality to conversations around mental health from our community. Let's recognize the common symptoms and encourage the help needed without judgement or prejudice. Life's a tough journey, we are here for you and want to hear from you.

As the month of May begins, so does Mental Health Awareness Month. Anxiety, depression, bipolar mood disorder, eating disorders, and more affect millions of people in the United States alone every year. Out of those affected, only about one half seek some form of treatment.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

Pop Culture Needs More Plus Size Protagonists

When almost 70% of American women are a size 14 or bigger, movies like Dumplin' are ridiculously important, while movies like I Feel Pretty just feel ridiculous.

5041
Dumplin'

For as long as I can remember, I've been fat. The protagonists in the movies I've watched and the books I've read, however, have not been. . .

Keep Reading... Show less
How I Met My Best Friends In College

Quarantine inspired me to write about my freshman year to keep it positive and focus on all the good things I was able to experience this year! In this article, I will be talking about how I was able to make such amazing friends by simply putting myself out there and trying new things.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

29 Things To Do in Myrtle Beach, SC Regardless Of The Weather

Both indoors and outdoors things to do in beautiful Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

7454
29 Things To Do in Myrtle Beach, SC Regardless Of The Weather
Dahlia DeHaan

In 2017, I moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina - one of the most touristy places on the East Coast. And ever since then, I've befriended locals and done some exploring on my own to discover new, fun things to do in Myrtle Beach. Here are just a few of my favorites.

Keep Reading... Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments