There’s a reason a bunch of progressives Christians and even some Evangelicals no longer want to use the word Christian.
It’s the same reason Americans sometimes sew Canadian flags on their backpacks when overseas.
The word has a lot of baggage. Still, I’m fine with it. It’s a good word. And baggage is important, isn’t it? We need to come to terms with (and not repeat!) what Christianity has done in the past. Kicking “Christian” to the curb and saying “Christ-follower” instead is nice if you don’t want to have to deal with crusades and witch hunts and colonialism and whatever.
But we do have to deal with that stuff. You don’t get adopted into a family and simultaneously wash your hands of the family skeletons.
There are other issues with the term, though. And not just stuff that’s been done in the past, but stuff that’s being done in the present. I’d guess that most of the folks who react viscerally to the term Christian aren’t reacting to our history, but to our present. (Recency bias is a thing; the past seems less horrific since we’re not living through it.)
In the present, in particular, the rise of Christian Nationalism is particular concerning. They don’t use the word Christian the way most Christians use the word. And they’re very, very loud about it.
The Christian Nationalist uses Christian to mean basically the opposite of what you might call the Christian ethic. They use it as a dogwhistle. Instead of “follower of Jesus”, they mean “a certain colour, a certain nationality, a certain class, a certain politics”.
Muddying the waters around the term Christian makes it very, very hard to tell what folks mean when they talk about their identity (and just to be clear, this is a particularly vile type of identity politics).
In an age with nationalism on the rise and Christian Nationalism on the rise with it, it becomes incredibly important to be extremely clear about what we mean when we say “Christian”.
Not just Western.
Not just white.
Not just conservative.
If you look at the landscape of Christianity around the world, this kind of “Christian” is vanishingly rare. They don’t represent Christianity, not even close.
As always, Jesus has something to say about this:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.Matthew
This evokes, at least for me, a lot of what Christian Nationalism is. False prophets who offer a counterfeit faith, a sort of fusion of faith and country, where to perform Christianity to to perform a particular kind of Americanism.
But this thing is brittle. It it not part of the kingdom. It can’t survive in the face of the real ethic of the kingdom, which seeks not to dominate but to love and serve.
It’s crucial now more than ever to keep these false teachings out of our hearts and mouths.
And, as always, maranatha.