Jesus coffee mugs, WWJD bracelets and necklaces, “Smile, Jesus loves you” bumper stickers, “This house belongs to the Lord” plaques, various pious bric-a-brac and witness wear. What’s the collective term for all this stuff you find at Christian bookstores? Believe it or not, an industry term for this Christian merchandise is “Jesus junk.” It’s true!
The term Jesus junk obviously has a somewhat depreciating ring to it, but I swear it’s an actual term that Christian merchants and manufacturers use to refer to all the mass-produced knickknacks and home decor you find in Christian bookstores. It’s all the stuff for sale in the bookstore that isn’t books—those random assortments of trinkets and gifts whose reason for existence is to prominently display a cross or a dove or a Bible verse. For example, there are the ever-popular Testamints, pictured here, which are individually wrapped mints that have a Bible verse printed on each wrapper. Now you can have fresh breath and grow in your faith!
A slightly more neutral term for this sort of cheesy Christian merchandise is holy hardware (also referred to as God hardware). Don’t think of the word “hardware” as in a hardware store. The meaning of holy hardware here has more to do with the fact that a lot of the kitschy stuff for sale in a Christian bookstore is made of metal, ceramic, and plastic. It’s “hard,” see? And since it has a cross or Bible verse imprinted on it, it’s also “holy.” Sigh.
Holy hardware also has the additional meaning (see sense 1 in the definition) of the equipment in a church that gets used during the church service—items such as bowls and candlesticks and cups and little glass pitchers for wine and oil. All that glassware and metal has to be carefully cleaned and regularly maintained between services, and starting in the 1960s we find some churches referring to this equipment as “holy hardware.” Interestingly, items such as linens, tablecloths, napkins, robes, and so forth that are also used during the church services were referred to as “holy software” even back in 1962, long before anybody had ever heard of computer software!
See the definitions below for a plethora of quotations that show how these various terms have been in use for the past 30 or 40 years.
holy hardware n. See various senses.
1. Objects and accessories used in a church that are made of metal or glass and therefore require special maintenance and care, especially those objects and vessels that are used in the liturgy or church service such as chalices, patens, ciboriums, and cruets.
The term holy software in the 1962 citation refers to altar cloths, linen squares, robes, and other “soft” objects that are used in the church service.
• 1962 “Anglican Newspaper Attacks Parochial Spending” The News and Eastern Townships Advocate (25 Jan.) 10 : The Canadian Churchman says there is a need for “a healthy NO” in response to some proposals for parish improvements: “Padded kneelers, curtains, and parking lots, not to mention kitchens, parlors, landscaping, outside lighting…. Let’s not throw good money after bad. We already have more holy hardware and software than we know what to do with.” 1977 Baker Made for the Mountains 42 : We are now introduced to throw-away communion cups—an innovative new kind of convenience. One cannot help wondering what will be offered next in the area of holy hardware. It should not be too surprising to hear of one-a-day plastic prayer pills, comfort by cassette, bottled baptism, certificates of character, credit card compassion, and scars by mail. 1986 Canadian Museum of Civiliation Material History Bulletin vols. 24–27 78 : A collection of vestments and of holy hardware such as chalices, discoses and holy oil containers were acquired. 1993 Taylor The Complete Training Course for Altar Guilds ch. 5 3,7 : The venerable vessels that are used in services of the church differ in style and materials from parish to parish…. The simplicity or elegance of the “holy hardware” is usually consistent with the parish architecture and style. Whatever the style of these utensils, their function is basically the same…. Other appointments that do not specifically fall into the category of “holy hardware” include: alms basins, sanctus bell, thurible, incense boat, processional cross, monstrance. 2004 Lockwood A History of the Parish of Kitley 255 : Altar Guild: A group, traditionally women, who take specific responsibility for making, purchasing, cleaning, maintaining, repairing and laying out of linens, frontals, “holy hardware” and other objects associated with the altar. 2007 Minter A Western Jesus: The Wayward Americanization of Christ and the Church 45 : I don’t experience apoplexy when I see a pastor in jeans standing behind a Plexiglas pulpit. I’m not interested in all the holy hardware. A formal choir and well-tuned orchestra can be just as much a performance as a worship band.
2. Also *God hardware; *Jesus junk; *Christian junk. Knickknacks and decorations (such as bumper stickers, posters, plaques, keychains, jewelry, clocks, coffee mugs, T-shirts, plush animals) that feature Christian symbols (such as the cross, praying hands, a dove, the *icthus fish), slogans (such as “*What would Jesus do?,” “One way,” and “Jesus loves you”), or Bible verses.
The industry-standard term for such merchandise is gifts (see 1989 citation; also see *Jesus junk, 2008 citation).
• 1973 Esquire LXXX. 4–6 210 : They sell mostly religious books of all sorts…. They also do a big business in what’s called “holy hardware”—jewelry, buttons, pins, crosses, bumper stickers, wall plaques, statues, posters, and the like. 1978 MacArthur Giving, God’s Way 9 : Christian bookstores offer us millions of dollars’ worth of records, “holy hardware,” and other “sanctified stuff.” 1985 Newsweek CVI. 95 : Actually, books comprise less than half their sales (in 1984 Bibles accounted for 16 percent of their revenue and other books another 28 percent), so it’s clear that the average Christian bookstore sells lots of “holy hardware” (to use the slang)…. An amazing amount of space at the convention was accordingly devoted to such items as greeting cards, scriptural plaques and assorted devotional bric-a-brac. Are you in the market for a “praying hands” clock? 1989 Balmer Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America 168 : A number of people I spoke with expressed uneasiness about all the kitsch everywhere in evidence in the exhibition hall [of the Christian Booksellers Association] and the material implicit in its popularity…. “So much of the business transacted here is in gifts or what some people call ‘holy hardware’; comparatively little has to do with books.” 1990 Charisma and Christian Life 15/6–11 98 : Bookstore owners, seeing a way to stock low-ticket inventory that moved rapidly, began filling their shelves with Holy Hardware, known in the trade as Jesus Junk: luminous light switches that glowed in the dark with the message “Jesus is the Light of the World” [etc.] 1991 McClung Holiness and the Spirit of the Age 93 : We are inundated with what some call “holy hardware” or “Jesus junk,” a seemingly endless stream of plaques, bumper stickers, T-shirts, jewelry, buttons, bookmarks, etc. 1994 Solomon Consumer Behavior I. 491 : Many Christian bookstores have expanded their product mix. In addition to the traditional assortment of inspirational books and records, most carry what one official termed “holy hardware.” These stores stock items ranging from “I Am Blessed” jogging suits to watches with pictures of the twelve apostles. 1998 McDannell Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America 222 : Jesus junk. Holy hardware. Christian kitsch. Perhaps only televangelists have been maligned as much as the material culture of contemporary Protestants. 2004 Howard, Streck Apostles of Rock 217 : Colleen McDannell argues that identifying oneself as a Christian through the purchasing of so-called “Jesus junk” or “holy hardware” (for example, “Jesus Loves You” coffee mugs) is granted much more importance among conservative American Christians than thinking critically about their religion. 2008 Nichols Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to “The Passion of the Christ” 191 : In the 1970s … companies like World Wide Publications made stickers and buttons, replete with Jesus movement sayings and symbols…. Shirts and jewelry, “holy hardware,” came next. 2009 McFarland I Don’t See It That Way 30 : The WWJD [=What Would Jesus Do] “movement” … continues even today, with Internet sites offering WWJD mugs, rings, bumper stickers, bookmarks, key rings, and other “holy hardware” items. 2011 Morgan, Peterson The Deity of Christ 30 : Religious kitsch or “holy hardware” has another name: Jesus junk. 2012 Huthcinson, Wolffe A Short History of Global Evangelicalism 260 : Christian music, films, books, and the “holy hardware” (from bumper stickers to key rings) which populated the symbolic worlds of evangelicals and linked home to church.
God hardware n. Syn *holy hardware 2.
• 1989 The Northwestern Lutheran vols. 76–77 374 : Operators of Christian bookstores acknowledge that “Jesus junk” and “God hardware” sometimes may be gaudy, but they said their customers almost never complain about it. Those terms are used by Christian booksellers to categorize products such as T-shirts, rhinestone pins, woodcarvings, and trinkets marked with phrases such as “Don’t get caught dead without Jesus” … [and] an eraser with the words “God erases our sins.”
Jesus junk n. Syn *holy hardware 2.
• 1976 The Wittenburg Door (Oct.–Nov.) 32 : See the world’s largest collection of evangelical memorabilia, including: … the world’s largest collection of Jesus Junk; every known household item, with a Bible verse imprinted on it! 1978 The Wittenburg Door (Oct.–Nov.) 11 : There seems to be a great deal of non-book items at this convention [=Christian Booksellers Association]. Some people refer to it as Jesus Junk. How do you feel about the CBA Convention devoting so much space to trinkets? 1981 Horton, Leslie The Sociology of Social Problems 210 : Some radio and television preachers receive millions a year in donations, much of it in “offerings” in return for some “free” trinket, prayer towel, or other item of what is sometimes called “jesus junk.” 1981 World Vision vol. 25 120 : [Keith] Green’s disquiet covered a spectrum of areas, from the cost of records and tickets for gospel concerts, to the proliferation of various Christian products commonly referred to as Jesus Junk. (You can even buy ashtrays with Bible texts.) 1982 Christianity Today vol. 26 12–20 49 : [Keith] Green spoke out against churchianity, Catholicism, counterfeit conversion, sin in the church, adding to and subtracting from God’s Word, complacency and a lack of compassion, gospel preaching which says only that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” worship of tradition, and the selling of Jesus junk and commercialization of Christianity. 1982 Krass Evangelizing Neopagan North America 128 : We turn away with disdain from “Jesus junk.” Our cars don’t sport “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper stickers. 1983 Clecak America’s Quest for the Ideal Self 138 : A cursory tour of any evangelical gift shop turns up a wide array of “Jesus junk” and not much else: atrocious pastels of a soft-eyed Savior; cheap wooden carvings of street signs featuring such slogans as “One Way.” 1987 Sernau Please Don’t Squeeze the Christian into the World’s Mold 29 : It replaces active, loving proclamation with “I’d Rather Be with Jesus” bumper stickers, “Fly the Rapture” Frisbees and other “Jesus junk.” It produces people eager to wear the cross rather than bear the cross. 1989 M. Green, Hazard No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green 234 : It seemed that selling Christian products was very big business, not only in Christian bookstores, but at festivals as well. I was with Keith the day someone told us that at once Jesus festival they sold more than ninety-eight-thousand dollars worth of “Jesus junk” in just a few days. Keith nearly fell over from hearing those two words casually linked together. “Jesus and junk?” he said angrily…. Keith saw Christian ashtrays, doggie sweaters, and piggy banks. 1991 McClung Holiness and the Spirit of the Age 93 : We are inundated with what some call “holy hardware” or “Jesus junk,” a seemingly endless stream of plaques, bumper stickers, T-shirts, jewelry, buttons, bookmarks, etc. 1993 Jorstad Popular Religion in America: The Evangelical Voice 61 : Explicitly religious merchandise: toys, wearing apparel, furniture, mementos, wristwatches, stamped candy … almost anything on which phrases such as “Jesus Saves” or similar short familiar messages can be stamped. Much of the merchandize [is] known widely among its critics as “Jesus Junk.” 2002 Alfonso Billboard Guide to Contemporary Christian Music 34 : Slogans and images of pop culture are transformed into Christian paraphernalia (called “Jesus junk” by some critics). 2004 Howard, Streck Apostles of Rock: The Splintered World of Contemporary Christian Music 126 : There may be scorn from some quarters concerning so-called “Jesus junk” (“surrounding ourselves with tacky trinkets at the expense of the poor and oppressed is a slap in Jesus’ face,” writes John W. Styll). 2005 Mattingly Pop Goes Religion: Faith in Popular Culture 000 : The result was the familiar marathon of music, posters, clothing, pamphlets, software, videos and the unique collection of gifts and knickknacks that insiders call “Jesus junk.” 2005 Arizona Republic (23 May) : Whether a Christian-themed trinket is tacky or a treasure is in the eye of the beholder, says Pennington, who opened The Compass Christian Lifestyle Superstore in Waco in September 1997. “We don’t want it to look like a bunch of ‘Jesus junk,’ as it’s known in the trade,” he says. “But I realize that not everyone is going to see it with the same eyes.” 2008 Radosh Rapture Ready 11 : [At the Christian Booksellers Association convention] gifts is the official industry term for any items that aren’t books, music, or videos. The unofficial term, used widely, if discreetly, is Jesus junk. The phrase covers a range of products. The fussy knickknacks that have graces suburban homes for decades are as popular as ever—ceramic “Footprints in the Sand” wall plaques and nativity-scene snow globes.
Christian junk n. Syn *holy hardware 2.
• 1979 Siemon in Lowe “People in Progress: Suppliers Share Their Stories” Bookstore J. (Sep.) 107 : “‘Christian junk’ makes me sick…. I’m determined our jewelry will never be classified as cheap or gaudy.”