It is no secret that American politics has been overtaken by identity politics—one of the popular layers in the social justice agenda. There is a political agenda involved in using one’s identity group to gain power. The conversation has become so intense, that political groups are using every strategy possible in order to virtue signal voters and to gain support.
Elizabeth Warren, a white woman from Oklahoma, understands the power of identity politics as she has recently been trying to identify as an American Indian. The “white” category has been polluted by identity politics leaving people like Elizabeth Warren no other option other than self-identity tactics. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “It’s important that we don’t ignore the power of identity because it is very powerful, especially for women, especially for the rage of women right now.”
Intersectionality was originally coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a political activist and radical feminist, in order to help identify and aid individual classes of discrimination or victim groups. Through intersectionality, the more victim groups a person identifies with—the more power they can obtain. What Kimberlé Crenshaw was able to do in the leftist world of the LGBTQA+ movement through intersectionality is now being used to leverage a social justice movement within evangelicalism. How is identity politics infiltrating and changing the church?
Hinderance to Discernment
There are many scandals and schisms facing the church today. With the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the #MeToo movement, an intense focus upon identity politics within the evangelical church has impacted the politics of denominations and the conversations within local churches around the nation. It should be pointed out that the grievance industry is a very lucrative industry and it has now entered evangelical circles. Has this intense focus on victim categories and identity politics hindered the church’s ability to discern?
Take the issue of human sexuality and gender identity for instance. The United Methodist Church has already made historic decisions about their embrace of egalitarianism, but now the debate is centered on human sexuality. Although the outcome is uncertain, most people believe the entire denomination is gearing up for a massive split.
Within the Southern Baptist Convention, a new conversation arose in the weeks leading up to the 2018 annual meeting in June that was centered upon the denomination’s historic position on complementarianism. While many offered up their opinions, we must not forget that just prior to the Convention, Beth Moore wrote a very important article that garnered much support and sympathy. The article was titled, “A Letter to My Brothers” and in her letter she discussed details of marginalization and discrimination based on her gender. In the weeks leading up to the SBC meeting in Dallas, Texas—pastors from all over the nation were debating the issue of a woman serving as the president of the largest evangelical denomination in America. That debate is in motion to this very day and will likely continue over the next few years.
However, that raises the question about discernment. Has the church lost its ability to discern due to the cloud of identity politics? A large number of Southern Baptist pastors would not embrace Beth Moore’s theology, but due to identity politics and the perceived need to empower women within evangelical denominations—she receives a pass on her deficient theological positions. Does one’s identity or victim category take priority over truth?
In a similar struggle, both the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) have been marked by the Revoice Conference controversy of 2018 that has promoted many troubling ideas and positions regarding same-sex attraction and LGBTQA+ Christianity. Although not officially connected to the Revoice Conference, it was held in a PCA church in St. Louis in 2018 and founder, Nate Collins, identifies himself as a Southern Baptist. The Revoice Conference mission states that they exist for the following purpose:
Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.
The point is clear—homosexuals will use the same social justice playbook to gain recognition and acceptance as other groups who have gone before them within evangelicalism. Now, another ministry has arisen within evangelical circles with a similar purpose under the name, Living Out. One of the first questions they tackle on their website is the question of whether or not a person can be gay and Christian? The hyphenated Christian is becoming more and more acceptable within evangelical circles.
Many black Christians are instructing white Christians to be quiet and listen on matters of social justice. Women who fit into a victim category are elevated to a platform and given a greater voice within the evangelical church. Likewise those who claim to be gay and Christian are suggesting that they must have a place at the table to talk too. Has sola Scriptura been replaced by sola identitatem? Has identity politics hindered our ability to exercise good biblical discernment?
Pragmatism is the historic thorn in the church’s side. The wave of the pragmatic movements such as the church growth movement have left the evangelical church weak and superficial in many ways. When churches, seminaries, and denominations make decisions based upon the desired benefit rather than the truth of God’s Word—it weakens the church. The desire to be culturally relevant has caused many churches and denominations to crumble.
Today, identity politics has entered the evangelical church. Some leaders are instructing pastors on how to diversify the color of their church staff in order to reach across ethnic lines within their communities. In some cases, they are being encouraged to choose lesser qualified black leaders over more qualified white leaders in order to reach the goal of diversity among church leadership. Once again, such a pragmatic decision is harmful upon the leaders chosen and the church as a whole—and the desired benefit will not outweigh such capitulation. While many conservative evangelicals embrace the sovereignty of God and the sufficiency of Scripture—they give greater priority to pragmatism in how they make decisions.
Identity is not only based on ethnic identity, but also gender identity. Why did the United Methodist Church vote to allow women to serve as pastors on May 4th, 1956 in their General Conference? It certainly wasn’t a theological decision, because the text of Scripture is abundantly clear regarding the office of elder (see 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1). It was a pragmatic decision in order to appeal to the masses and a desire to offset the declining numbers within their denomination. That move didn’t work, so now, they’re discussing the issue of homosexual leaders within their denomination. Once more, it’s a pragmatic move. When the church bows to pragmatism—the boundaries of Scripture are ignored in order to accomplish goals.
Will the Southern Baptist Convention go down the same pragmatic road? In many ways, the denomination has been traveling the road of pragmatism for years. However, will the denomination that stood courageously upon the inerrancy of Scripture and returned to a commitment to God’s Word repeat disastrous patterns of the past? Will the identity politics of American culture cause the massive ship of the Southern Baptist Convention to drift so far off course that it will be lost in the sea of social justice identity politics? What decisions will the SBC make on women in leadership? Will the SBC continue to embrace intersectionality and a form of evangelical affirmative action in order to move certain non-white ethnic groups through seminary programs with the goal of diversity among SBC missionaries and pastors serving on the field?
The outcome has yet to be determined, but what we must recognize is that without a firm anchor in God’s Word and without a firm commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture—the SBC and other evangelical denominations will drift far off course and will likely never be recovered. Pragmatic decisions regarding ethnic diversity, new definitions and boundaries for complementarian positions, and an embrace of the false category of LGBTQA+ Christianity will prove to be a tragic mistake for the church of Jesus Christ.
What is our Identity?
In the fall of 1620, 102 colonists sailed for the New World on a well known sea vessel known as the Mayflower. These Separatist Christians renounced the religious practices of the Church of England and believed that the Church of England was beyond redemption. In 1630, another group would join the Separatists in the New World. This group is known as the Puritans. During the “Great Migration” of the 1630s, some 21,000 English settlers came to New England. When these farmers, fishermen, merchants, lawyers, and entire families walked off of the boats—they had one common book among them—the Geneva Bible.
As they formed communities—the Christians planted churches. The churches found their identity in Jesus Christ. The church in America today is being driven off course by identity politics. The identity of the church today is being attached to the color of skin and the priority of gender empowerment rather than Jesus Christ.
The church has been through an identity crisis before. After the church was established by Christ—followers of Jesus were called Christians which was originally a term of derision. What the anti-Jesus movement was attempting to do was to identify the followers of Jesus with his name—specifically the office of the Christ of God. Today, the church boldly identifies with Jesus by embracing the title—Christian.
When Paul wrote to the church in Galatia—he pointed to the union that both Jews and Gentiles have in Christ. The bond is Jesus and the church’s identity cannot be focused on ethnicity or gender. Paul wrote, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:27-29). Paul said almost the same thing in Colossians 3:11. We don’t find our identity as the “woke church” or the “black church” or the “white church” or the “hipster church.” Instead, we find our identity in Jesus. We are Christians.
In days of confusion and mission drift, the church must find encouragement in the promise of Jesus in Matthew 16:18. During these days of confusing identity politics, we must courageously reject the need to identify the church of Jesus with the woke movement of the social justice agenda. We must boldly stand in opposition to the intersectionality politics in light of the fact that we have a sufficient Word that is capable of guiding us along the broken roads of our culture (Ps. 119:11). For me and countless thousands of Christians across America—the Word of God is enough.
If the church continues to feed the monster of identity politics—it will eventually bite the arm that feeds it. Consider the direct connection between identity politics and the freedom of speech restrictions and hate crime legislation that are quickly approaching the church in our day. These items are not isolated nor are they disconnected from the overarching social justice agenda. Today the church is becoming increasingly woke, but in reality it needs to be awakened to the truth of the gospel alone.
Identity. Cost. Both words sum up the place where both America and the Church find themselves now, but from diametrically opposed angles.
The Church’s calling now is to recognize its God-appointed identity, then to recognize and accept what the cost of BEING that is. There is a clear, singular identity and an increasingly clear cost involved in bearing that yoke.
For its part, the surrounding society is also going through (though with far more alacrity) its own identity-and-cost “moment of truth.” It’s of an entirely different brand and flavor, however, indeed the polar opposite of the Church’s. To the world the solidifying calculus on identity-and-cost goes: “Any identity you want at no cost.”
So if a hulking, broad-shouldered, slightly bearded 17-year-old boy decides today he identifies as a girl, tomorrow he can run on the girls’ track team. And to suggest that he shouldn’t run on their team is to deprive him of his (“her”) human rights. In other words, there must be NO COST to the boy’s choice of identity. He shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything. His emotional satisfaction in both choosing girlhood AND taking part in high school sports is sacrosanct, and by no means should one impinge on another.
There is no hierarchy of values, least of all in the boy himself. Any identity, no cost. Have your cake and eat it, too.
Now, one would THINK, wouldn’t one, that if switching from boy to girl were such a core, life-or-death value, it would be worth giving up high school sports over. I mean, there’s perfect common sense in the point that, listen, kid, you’ve spent your whole life as a boy, you’ve got the body of a boy, all the advantages of a boy, which completely contradicts the whole point of girls’ sports. We’re not going to tell you that you can’t consider yourself a girl if you want to, but we’re not going to let the girls–the BIOLOGICAL girls, who’ve BEEN that all their lives–unfairly suffer for the sake of your choice. If you believe enough in what you’re saying about your identity, it ought to be worth the cost of giving up track.
But no. The identity isn’t worth any cost. It’s ALL got to be gratuitous: “I’m a girl because I say so, I still get to run track because I say so. I have my cake and eat it, too, and anything less than that makes me a victim and you a Nazi.” That’s what the identity vs. cost calculation comes down to for the world now: gratuitous identity, no cost.
For the Church, though, the calculation comes down to: face up to the identity appointed to you and pay the cost. It is quite remarkable, really, how the same two words, identity and cost, characterize the places where the Church and the world find themselves in such radically opposed senses.
We are now fairly well along the path of attempting to couch our freedoms in American identity, and that path is petering out. American identity isn’t the magic pill. It may have been once but the expiration date on the pill bottle has long since passed.
We have been avoiding, steering clear of, perhaps terrified of, the lonely realm of overtly, singularly Christian identity. Yes, we mention that we’re Christians, saying that’s where we derive our MOTIVATION to assert our intrinsically AMERICAN (not “Christian”) rights. So, the reason I shouldn’t be forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding is “freedom of speech” and “freedom of religion.” It’s my Christianity that makes me not WANT to bake that cake but it’s my American citizenship and the Bill of Rights that back up my RIGHT not to. We argue, “You don’t have to like my Christian faith, but if you care about American freedoms you should be on my side.” It’s worked, after a fashion, for some time.
But that path is petering out.
Once you’ve completely lost that argument–not because you’re wrong but because nobody cares anymore if you’re right–and you can’t lean on “American freedoms” anymore and nobody is “on your side” as a matter of constitutional principle, what then? What’s your identity then? And what then is the cost of living out your faith?