Identity Politics Is Incompatible with the Church

people-in-the-church-song

by John Ellis

Conservative evangelicalism’s penchant for a consumerist approach to church makes for an easy target.[1] And progressive Christians love to point out and shout down the sins of their parents and those not enlightened enough to escape their parents’ “consumerism.” Although, I doubt that progressive Christians would use the word “sin.” Except, progressive Christianity has glaring deficiencies of its own when it comes to ecclesiology. The list of those deficiencies is rather long, too long for one article. In this post, I’m going to focus on how identity politics is incompatible with a Biblically informed anthropology and ecclesiology.

As a pet issue for many progressive Christians, identity politics fragments the Body of Christ into multiple units that are mostly isolated from each other. Claiming that one subculture cannot empathize with or even understand the experiences and perspective of other subcultures means that identity politics pits subcultures against subcultures. One of the objectives of the Incarnation was to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham to bless all the peoples of the world through him. Jesus came to build a community of faith made up of people from all tribes and tongues who are repenting of their sins and placing their faith in Jesus. Any ideology that denies the unity of the Body of Christ and fractures the Church of Jesus Christ into mutually exclusive identity groups is an ideology that needs to be pushed back on.

Ideologically, identity politics is the tense marriage between Marxism and post-modernism.

Looking at the relationship between identity politics and Marxism reveals that the similarities between the two ideologies lie mainly in the way power is viewed. Historically, Marxism views the world in two groups – the bourgeoisie (those with power) and the proletariat (those without power).[2] Now, and please bear with and forgive me, I’m going to use some technical language while oversimplifying; Marxism constrains history (and the present) by what’s called Dialectical Materialism. Simultaneously adopting and rejecting Hegel’s thesis/antithesis/synthesis, Marx drug the German philosopher’s system into the dusty, coarse, and stifling ditch of materialism.[3]

Rejecting the belief that ideas (the immaterial) exists, much less matters, Marx believed that ideas only exist in reference to the material, and for Marx “material” and “history” were basically synonymous. Ideas do not create consequences, ideas are consequences created by the material/history.[4] In short, that means that history is conflict and what emerges from conflict is the current reality, and eventually everything will be hunky-dory after the power structure has been toppled and an equalizing synthesis is left.[5]

Whew. Half of the boring stuff is over. One more short-ish section defining Identity Politics and its relationship with postmodernism.

As opposed to Marxism, Identity Politics spreads the “not having power” around to an ever-growing list of identity groups. There is also a hierarchy of power and oppression. For example, white, cis-gender, straight males hold the vast majority of the power, hence, they are enemy numero uno.[6] Which identity group is currently the winner, so to speak, in the “most oppressed” sweepstakes is unknown to me; that’s an internal fight that will never be won because according to their own theory, those with more power can never empathize with (enter in to) the oppressed identity group’s perspective.[7] Not to mention, since the ideology is welded to post-modernism, your truth isn’t my truth, anyway. I have very little reason to accept what anyone outside of my group has to say. This is why power is so important within identity politics; since no one can identify/empathize with anyone outside of their very specific identity group, the only way for change to happen is by force. It’s an inverted social Darwinism.

According to Identity Politics, as informed by postmodernism, one of the reasons why we are unable to empathize much less identify with anyone outside of our tightly defined subculture is because words have no transcendent meaning. Language is inadequate to communicate experience to anyone outside of our identity set. Since words are not/cannot be directed at anything external, words only have meaning in relation to imminent and fleeting reference points. And, of course, postmodernism believes that reference points are only intelligible for those directly connected to the reference point.[8]

Of course, as a follower of King Jesus, I reject almost all of that. And the bits that I do accept, I have to recalibrate based on what the Bible teaches. For example, I recognize that humans oppress other humans. The Bible teaches that the root cause of that is sin. But oppression does not mean that we do not have deep and meaningful points of contact. As humans, we are able to empathize and understand, to a point, the struggles, fears, and experiences of those who do not look like us or who come from different societal contexts.

At its most fundamental level, the point of contact available between all humans exists because all humans are made in the Image of God. To claim otherwise is a gross denial of what the Bible plainly teaches when it claims, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27).”

Any anthropology that denies that humans are made in the Image of God can be dismissed offhand by Christians. In fact, the fundamental belief that all humans are made in the Image of God is so static across so many sectors of Christendom that it feels almost silly to bring it up.[9]

While identity politics doesn’t necessarily exclude the belief that all humans are made in the Image of God, one of the secular ideology’s core tenants is unresolvable under the Biblical rubric that all humans, regardless of ethnicity or sex, are, in fact, made in the Image of God. According to identity politics, privilege conceals itself from those who have it.[10] In other words, being white (privileged) means that I am innately incapable of empathetically entering into the experiences of non-whites (those without privilege). The God-given point of contact between me and fellow humans who don’t share my socially constructed identity markers is denied by identity politics.

Here’s the thing, as opposed to many of my fellow conservatives, I actually believe that I am privileged because I’m white and a man.[11] For several years, I worked in an arts integration program for Title 1 schools. I saw firsthand the effects of poverty on children and education; I thank God that I wasn’t born into poverty. I cannot say with any level of confidence that if the obstacle of poverty had been placed in my life, I would’ve been able to succeed, on any level. But, because I share connection points with those who are oppressed by poverty, I can empathize and realistically enter their perspective. One of the tools that God gave His Image Bearers is the gift of imagination. Praise God for that, because that means that we can effectively bear each other’s burdens.

Bearing each other’s burdens, of course, is something that the people of God, the Church, are commanded to do. Considering that the Bride of Christ is made up of people from all tribes, tongues, and nations, identity politics has no place in the Church.

God promised Abraham that through his offspring, all the peoples of the world would be blessed. That promised was fulfilled in Jesus, and by his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has won salvation for his people, a people that is as ethnically diverse as the world is. Jesus’ Bride, the Church, is a community of believers of all tribes and tongues who are united by their faith in Christ. Pastor and author Jamie Dunl0p writes that “as an urban [white] American of the professional class, I have more in common with my working class, rural, Sudanese brother in Christ than with my own non-Christian blood brother.”[12]

Any ideology that erects barriers between brothers and sisters in Christ is an ideology that should be abhorred by disciples of Jesus. When Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35),” he automatically culled ideologies like identity politics out of the Church’s worldview and ethics.

Christians need to jealously and fervently guard our unity in Christ that we share with Believers the world over. Identity politics runs roughshod over that unity and, hence, should be discarded from our worldview. Identity politics divides; the gospel of Jesus Christ unites.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] Lord willing, next week, I’ll take aim at it myself.

[2] I write “historically,” because many contemporary Marxists view Marx as a racist who denied the experiences of oppressed minority groups by using the perceptual framework of the white, male working class as a colonizing mechanism.

[3] Hegel’s system is frequently referred to as Dialectical Idealism.

[4] It doesn’t take much contemplation in order to conclude that Marx created an insurmountable self-refutation. He wrote a book (ideas) in order to change history. Granted, he denied that and claimed that his book (ideas) were the consequence of the material/history. We could go round and round and round until we’re all dizzy and become Marxists just so the dialectical merry-go-round will stop spinning.

[5] Marxism has an ontology, epistemology, anthropology, and ethics that are utterly contra-Biblical. In other words, I am convinced that Christians who are mature in the faith must reject Marxism as necessarily incompatible with Christianity.

[6] By using “numero uno,” I, as a white, cis-gender, straight male, may be (probably) guilty of cultural appropriation, which is a form of oppression.

[7] This played out in a very ugly way during the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary. Hillary Clinton basically said that Barak Obama wasn’t as oppressed as her. Geraldine Ferraro because the main mouthpiece for the message and made statements that many on the left considered very racist. Hillary’s campaign pitted feminism against another oppressed group (blacks) and she paid for it because progressives deemed her to have the power and, hence, she became the oppressor.

[8] Creating a vicious cycle that causes isolation and the inability to communicate with each other.

[9] As I think about it, and putting this in a footnote so as not to derail the body of the article, I guess an argument could be made that if you reject the first three chapters of the Bible as literal, on a scale – in other words, at the least, God literally spoke by the power of His Word the entire universe into being; God literally made a literal Adam and Eve, the first parents of all humans; the literal fallen-angel Satan literally took on the form of a serpent and tempted Adam and Eve; Adam and Eve literally sinned and were kicked out of the Garden of Eden – if you reject those four points, hence, rejecting a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3, you really have no basis for claiming that humans are made in the Image of God. That, of course, would create a problem for you when you try and argue that racism is objectively sinful. On the other hand, since I believe that the first three chapters of Genesis are actual history (I affirm the four points), I can and do claim that racism is a sin against God because those first three chapters clearly teach that all humans are made in the Image of God. For a nuanced teaching on “literal,” read Vern Poythress’ Understanding Dispensationalists.

[10] A self-refuting statement that is so jaw-droppingly and obviously self-refuting as to leave me bewildered that anyone can actually say it with a straight face. Well, it would leave me bewildered, that is, except, as a Christian, I believe that all humans are born in sin and that sinful hearts are deceitful. The devil is the father of lies, after all. See how this works, progressive Christians?

[11] There is more to that, like the fact that I was raised by college educated parents, among other variables. The lack of nuance by Identity Politics is disturbing and counter-productive, especially in regards the hurting blue collar whites of this country. I’m not sure that they are beneficiaries of much “privilege” in their communities. See Hillbilly Elegy for further commentary.

[12] Jamie Dunlop and Mark Dever, The Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 30.

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5 thoughts on “Identity Politics Is Incompatible with the Church

  1. Is there a way to make the words in your posts link to the dictionary? So as folks are reading they could tap on the big ones and read what it means before continuing on?

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. I fully agree. My own attempts to sit down and discuss differences between my own experiences and those in fundamentalist and evangelical circles has been deafening silence. As a Christian who happens to be trans, I find very few Christians prepared to simply discuss how all Christians can be included in Church without judging backgrounds. It feels like Christ is no longer at the center of modern Christianity.

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