|A little more conspicuous than Kanye West|
The other day, I saw a CNN program where a black news reporter was holding up a Confederate flag with an on-screen graphic asking “are you offended?” I’m no fool—I know that the stunt was designed to polarize and spark a passionate yet vapid conversation about race, racial history, and the symbolism of hate. Those are all topics worthy of real conversation, yet I sensed that CNN did not care so much about the substance of the conversation as it did the polarized outrage of its viewers. Anger sells. But what are we as Christians supposed to make of this kitschy stunt? What was it trying to accomplish, and is it true?
I believe the message here was an appeal to racial loyalties in order to spark a debate about the merits of those loyalties. Or maybe it was upend those loyalties. Either way, it was an appeal to identity politics. In our culture, identity politics plays a major role in the national conversation, but it goes by many names: race-baiting, victim-blaming, fill-in-the-blank shaming, “mansplaining,” “check-your-privilege,” and many more odd terms. The point of identity politics is to appeal to part of a person’s identity—who they are—and convince the person that this certain part of their identity inherently guarantees the rightness of whatever idea it is they are promoting; then pit it against people whose corresponding identity is the opposite in order to undercut their position. In technical terms it’s called a genetic fallacy—that the origin of an idea determines its rightness instead of the merits of the idea itself. It is, by definition, unreasonable thinking.
But identity politics is a tricky temptation because everyone—myself included—wants to identify with something. And the options of identity that the culture presents are easy. So that is how we pit women against men, blacks against whites, and poor against rich in order to score political points.
At its core, identity politics is a lie—a false antithesis. Antithesis is a contrast or opposition between two things, like hate being the antithesis of love. Identity politics survives on the idea of the antithesis. If you believe that love requires you to support people’s lifestyles unconditionally, then those who oppose certain lifestyle choices are driven by hate. If you’re poor, then your enemy is rich people. If you are black, then your enemy is the privileged white class. If you’re a woman, then your enemy is the patriarchy, and so on. Your side is always right, and the other side is always wrong.
But what does the Bible say about the idea of antithesis and identity politics? In scripture, the true antithesis in this world is not blacks against whites. It’s not women against men. It’s not poor against rich. And it's not Republican against Democrat. The true antithesis is the seed of the woman against the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Everything else is a false narrative, a replica of the truth.
So when the media—or your friends, neighbors, and co-workers—try to pit two groups against one another as enemies, don’t take the bait. The only enemies we have are the seed of righteousness against the seed of unrighteousness. For “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.” (Gal. 3:28). The only answer to the problem of identity politics is the gospel, the great equalizer. For we are all one in Christ Jesus. And the one side we are on is the side of righteousness.
As we live as the visible church in the world, let’s not play identity politics. The Bible doesn’t pit men against women. It doesn’t cast whites as the enemy of blacks. And it doesn’t cast Democrats against Republicans. These are not “camps” to which belong the notions of right and wrong. The Bible, in the true antitheses, always pits righteousness against unrighteousness—the light of Christ against the darkness of Satan. So all of us who are in Christ are one, and we all share one enemy: unrighteousness. And by the work of the Holy Spirit, Christians are freed from false racial, gender, and socio-economic divisions that attempt to overshadow the true antithesis and diminish the building up of the body of Christ. A house divided against itself will not stand. But we are being built into one building—the dwelling place of God. In this place there is no room for identity politics; the truth will not abide it.