The latest anti-Christian slur
The “Christian nationalist” label is now used to distort rather than inform
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In every generation, new terms emerge, often devised by scholars, to name certain features of modern life to make them more clear and coherent. The term “woke” has become shorthand for a constellation of beliefs that have come to dominate academic, corporate, and political environs on the left. As a descriptive term it captures something of the religious nature of this new ideology. If one is “woke,” then one’s opponents are in the dark with their eyes closed.
“Christian nationalism” is the favored term that some academics have devised to name the resurgence of conservative Christian politics in the United States. While not a new term, it has caught on with professors, politicians, and the media over the past couple of years, but mostly used in a pejorative fashion by conjoining “Christian” with “nationalism” in an attempt to paint conservative Christians as fascists in disguise. Critics have claimed that the resurgent politics on the religious right are grounded in dark and undemocratic impulses that arise from this very old and very dangerous strand within American history.
Unlike the term woke which describes a relatively new movement, Christian nationalism purports to describe the beliefs that conservative Protestants and evangelicals have held for hundreds of years. Such beliefs include claims about the Constitution, the founding of the American republic, and moral values that have been foundational to American society. According to their definition, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, and Martin Luther King would all qualify as Christian nationalists.
A prime example of the way the term has been weaponized is the current crop of think pieces on the newly elected speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, in outlets like MSNBC, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, and Politico. As though they are describing an exotic creature from a far-off continent rather than a common feature of American life since Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock, journalists warn of a secret, subversive, authoritarian, and undemocratic movement that seeks to erase the boundary between church and state, impose Christian morality by fiat, and roll back the political gains of key progressive social movements.
Sarah Posner of MSNBC hysterically writes that Johnson “is the most unabashedly Christian nationalist Speaker in history.” What are these purportedly dangerous views? Supporting the traditional definition of marriage between a man and women that was commonplace throughout American society up until 2013. Promotion of pro-life policies and laws that seek to protect the life of unborn children that have been a staple of modern conservative Christian politics for decades. Johnson has vigorously defended the right of religious freedom, working for Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal organization that has been at the forefront of defending religious liberty in the Supreme Court. The basic definition for Christian nationalism seems to be not fully aligning with progressive ideology.
There is nothing new about any of these beliefs. American conservative Christians, and Christians throughout history, have supported all of these issues. What has changed is a new generation has discovered what Christians believe and instead of engaging them honestly have decided to attack them as dangerous and at odds with American values.
Kristin Du Mez, an American historian at Calvin College, a confessionally Dutch Reformed Christian college, has become the go-to scholar to provide the “insider” take on this dangerous movement. Du Mez has the uncanny ability of taking uncontentious claims in Christian ethical and political thought, and making them appear sinister.
In what was otherwise a very eloquent and conciliatory first speech before Congress as speaker, Johnson stated,
I don’t believe there are any coincidences in a manner like this. I believe that scripture, the Bible, is very clear that God is the one that raises up those in authority. He raised up each of you, all of us, and I believe that God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific moment in this time. This is my belief. I believe that each one of us has a huge responsibility today to use the gifts that God has given us to serve the extraordinary people of this great country and they deserve it and to ensure that our republic remains standing as the great beacon of light and hope and freedom in a world that desperately needs it.
To this the whole chamber stood and applauded Johnson’s rather basic and bipartisan belief that all politicians, Democrat and Republican, are called by God to serve the American people. What Du Mez decided to highlight in a Politico interview was Johnson’s view that “all authority comes from God and that there are distinct realms of God-ordained authority, and that is the family, the church and the government.” At this most Christians would yawn, but Du Mez portrays this to liberals and progressives as the outgrowth of a subversive “biblical worldview” that holds “God’s law” as primary.
Du Mez is not alone. Critics of so-called Christian nationalism promote the most distorted and fantastical views of Christians, playing the role of Christian “insider,” interpreting the sinister and dangerous intentions of the covert movement to their audiences in blue environments that have little to no direct contact with actual evangelicals or conservative Christians. Whatever the merits of the current scholarly debate over Christian nationalism in intellectual and academic circles, the political use of the term is slipping into utter meaninglessness and should be seen for what it is—a desire by progressives and their media co-belligerents to scare the public about absolutely normal Christian moral and political convictions.
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