Language Matters: “Name and Claim” Your Spot in the Christian Elite

Are you “born again”?  Have you been “saved” or know someone who is eagerly awaiting “The Rapture”?  These phrases, and others that have begun to appear in our language as Christian political-speak, may not mean what you think they mean.

Do you speak Christian? (CNN.com, July 31, 2011)

There is a particular vocabulary to Christianity, key phrases to clue in those in the know that you’re one of them.  When someone mentions “second blessings” or praying to “name and claim” something, they are speaking a kind of jargon that not only includes them in a specific religious group, but also excludes those who don’t understand their special meaning.

The problem, according to some theologians, is that many of these Christian-speakers have it all wrong.

For example, many Christians use the word “salvation” to mean being released from sin or going to heaven.  But salvation in the Bible actually refers to turning from injustice to justice, as when the Israelites escaped from slavery in Egypt.

What about the “Rapture”?  Many think that the Rapture is an event predicted in the Bible in which those who are righteous will bodily ascend to heaven just before the end of the world.  However, there are no mentions of an event like this in the Bible, and the phrase itself did not appear until the 19th century.

These phrases have even slipped into the world of politics, providing a powerful means for politicians to show their inclusion in clannish Christian groups and ingratiate themselves into those powerful voting blocs.

When George W. Bush mentioned the “wonder-working power” of the American people, he was deliberately using a phrase that is especially meaningful to evangelical Christians.  Adopting the language of an insular religious group is an effective way of reaching out to that group and implying that you understand them.

While some phrases can be lost from lack of use, they can also fall into meaninglessness through overuse.  Some evangelicals are even rejecting the term “Christian,” claiming that it is overly broad and connected to politics, preferring the term “Christ follower,” instead.

Shared language, including unique terminology and phrasing, is one of the most powerful cohesive factors in social groups.  When this shared vocabulary doesn’t mean what speakers think it does, or when the meanings change over time, the social groups and what they believe also change.

Changing the language of Christianity is changing Christianity itself.

What do you think?  Have these religious words lost their meanings because of their constant use (or misuse) in political circles?  Or are they more powerful than ever?  Let us know in the comments!

One thought on “Language Matters: “Name and Claim” Your Spot in the Christian Elite

  1. This is an important and timely post that should be picked up and riffed on by the major news publishers/broadcasters. The coded, covert language used by (too) many of today’s politicians goes over the heads of non-fundamentalists but speaks so clearly about the speaker’s belief biases and the logic they can be counted on to use when “the 3AM call” comes. Language *does* matter. Armageddon anyone? Caveat emptor!

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