For some, "Christian" (adj.) no longer includes Lutherans

Joanne M. Despres jdespres at MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM
Fri Oct 14 14:41:02 UTC 2005

It wouldn't surprise me if some mainstream Christians avoided
applying the word to themselves because of a popular identification
of "Christian" with "fundamentalist Christian" and a certain
pejoration of the word that comes with that, at least in the minds of
some.   But my guess is that the vast majority of mainstreamers
do not feel any constraint in applying the term to themselves
because it hasn't acquired a narrow, much less a negative,
connotation for them, and they couldn't conceive of it as having
one.  They might be inclined to specify which sub-group of
Christian they belong to (Catholic, Lutheran, Epsicopalian, etc.) if
they discuss their religion/faith with somebody outside their
community, but they would not hesitate to identify themselves as
"Christian."  The fact that they aren't as vociferous on the subject
as some fundamentalists might be should not, of course, be
construed as a shift in their perception of the word's meaning.

It seems to me that any effort (conscious or unconscious) to
narrow the meaning of "Christian" would have a heck of a lot of
linguistic precedent working against it.  To take one simple
example, the use of "Christian" in the lyrics of church hymns
that are sung by millions of non-fundamentalists every week would
surely perpetuate the traditional meaning of the word in the minds
of those people.

Of course, only time will tell.  But in the meantime, it seems to me
that lexicographers would be very hesitant to change the definition
of "Christian" unless it were VERY well justified by usage across a
widely-representative group of speakers.


On 13 Oct 2005, at 19:17, Jesse Sheidlower wrote:

> On Thu, Oct 13, 2005 at 06:04:17PM -0400, Joanne M. Despres wrote:
> > But as long as the shift in meaning has only occurred "for some,"  I
> > don't think we have to worry much that mainstream dictionaries
> > would change their definitions of "Christian" or, for that matter, that
> > non-fundamentalist Christians would stop using using the term of
> > themselves just because somebody else is trying to appropriate it.
> I _have_ heard of non-fundamentalist Christians deliberately avoiding
> the term because they didn't want to be associated with the fringe.
> I don't have any cites, of course.
> _Copy Editor_ had an article about this shift in _Christian_ a few
> years back--I don't know if it addressed this particular issue (sc.
> avoidance by mainstream Christians), though. My stash isn't handy
> at the moment.
> Jesse Sheidlower

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