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Some labels are just about chasing normal people out of the polite mainstream.
(The American Conservative) – As if you had not been told already, hardly a day goes by without a headline reminding us that, after something of an autumnal carnival, habemus—we have a speaker of the House. A theme has emerged in the media coverage. Mike Johnson is a “Christian nationalist,” we are told over and over again, in pieces from Time, from Politico, and from New York Magazine, from Salon, from the Washington Post, and from the New York Times (those are just the outlets you have heard of).
And if, as the Jesus and John Wayne author Kristen Du Mez said on MSNBC this weekend, they mean by that tag just what sociologists have labeled “Christian nationalism,” then they are right, so far as it goes. But throat-clearing clarifications that this is a non-pejorative academic label should feel like fig leaves, surrounded as they always are by the breathless language of danger, fear, and condemnation.
The assessments of Johnson highlight an ambiguity in the discourse about Christian nationalism and in the term itself, which American Christians in particular should bear in mind as the confusion is used to marginalize and manipulate them. The signifier “Christian nationalist” acts as both an allegedly dispassionate sociological descriptor and, usually with “white” attached at the front, a catch-all for the bad people who don’t want to replace the stars and stripes with the vexillologically dysphoric “progress” flag. Plus, of course, some people even call themselves…