What is your first identity and filter for all things? By this, I mean what identity do you see yourself through? This is simply for you to ponder in what way you are currently functioning and what is currently defining your identity. Is it your gender, sexual identity, skin color, your presumed class, your relationship with Christ or something not mentioned? (Later we will talk about where I believe our identity comes from.)
In the conversation of modern culture, starting with “identity” is vital. According to culture, I am considered an able-bodied, cisgendered, female, white, heterosexual, middle class Christian. The implication is that the only positive identifier comes from me being female. That is the only means by which I am not considered an “oppressor”, as the goal is to make society equal through equity and change this paradigm.
This is only one chart, as it is from one of the more recent books I have been reading, “The Coddling of the American Mind”. When referring to Morgan, the authors draw from Kathryn Pauly Morgan. Similar to other contributors, these are the most common dimensions of power/privilege often referred to in Critical Theory, minus a few.
YOU ARE CREATED IN HIS IMAGE
Having stated who I am viewed to be in culture’s view above, let us resituate for a minute. I believe the Word of God says I am a creation of His, as are all humans. The beginning of my journey starts when the Creator of the Universe wanted to create ME! Now read that as if “me” refers to you; because it does!
Whether you choose to follow God or not, you are His beloved creation! From the perspective of a believer, one must start from the first book and chapter of the Bible, Genesis. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
God created ALL humans from His image; we see this stated at the very beginning of our story.
What does this mean for humans, as a whole? God values each of us. We see in Luke 12:27, “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” God even cares about the number of hairs on your head! In Romans 5:8, it is noted that we were loved so deeply that Christ died for us. Christ could not have made a greater sacrifice of love than giving His own life.
My value and your value come from being made in the image of the living God! This is the first and common identity of ALL humans! As humans, we should value all people and each other. We should treat each other with respect. We should consider each life immensely valued and treat it as such.
The founders of our democracy understood this and formed our nation on this moral concept of all life being valued. Have we as humans, a nation and Christians always done this well? No. But what better foundation to start from than all human life having value?!
Now society is operating on a value system determined by humans, one that is always changing. While the desire for equality is noble, starting a foundation by choosing to not see all life equally valued, rather determined by human definitions of value and justice, one where equity currently trumps equality; we are destined for failure.
BELIEVERS ARE NEW CREATIONS IN CHRIST
Speaking as a believer, my belief is that my ultimate identity comes from being a child of God, a sinner saved by God, and a human in need of a Savior. When I moved from being a “creation of God” to a “child of God”, I become filled with the Holy Spirit and I am named a “new creation”. For Christians, this refers to our 2nd birth. Though we are human, our life in Christ is just beginning!
In the “Great Commission”, Jesus calls His believers to 1) go and make disciples, baptizing them, and 2) teach them to obey all He commanded (Matthew 28). Why is this mention important? As believers of Jesus, we are to live out all the Christ taught and exemplified. Our lives should change and model the only perfect example, Jesus Christ.
If we replace the first biblical reference of all humans being made in the image of Christ, we have no moral obligation to see and treat all life as valued.
If we removed the second mention for believers, Christ is no longer your main identity. When we choose to follow Him, our identity in Him comes first; everything flows from that identity. Take a second to really process where you believe your main identity comes from, because that will determine all other areas of your life.
CULTURE’S IDENTITY FOR HUMANS
This conversation is much bigger than I can address here, but we will make a basis for this conversation and where culture is driving us to find our identity. The diagram above comes from the idea of “Intersectionality”. This derived from Kimberle Crenshaw, but I have not currently been able to access her work, as a new version comes out soon.
Intersectionality is a foundational framework to many of the subsets of Critical Theory. In this context, your identity comes from the overlapping intersection points of the groups where you identify. For most of my purposes, I will refer to “Critical Social Justice” as it includes a more broad conversation than just “Critical Race Theory”, both are subsets of Critical Theory that you have heard me mention.
There are many other words and definitions that could be explained here but for simplicity, in today’s conversations, Intersectionality draws off the idea of society revolving around our identities being oppressed vs. oppressor. Above, I mentioned that I am considered an oppressor in about all categories.
However, God created me a white female and He created you differently than me. What I can say is that God did not make a mistake in our creation and He does not want us to feel ashamed of the way He created us. After creating for seven days, at the beginning of Genesis, He looked at His work each day and “saw that it was good.”
If we live in a world of “oppressed vs. oppressor” and “Intersectionality” then we no longer start from the framework of all humans being equally valued by God. We will begin to carry shame or anger/bitterness for injustices, and rewrite our identity from that of being founded in Christ, grace and forgiveness. Again, this is a very concise beginning response to identity and culture.
One more thing to emphasize is that “Intersectionality”, has evolved to place each of us in groups. We carry our group identity, not our individual interpretation of that group. For example, all “blacks” are perceived to be and described the same, though black individuals come from a number of places and experiences. Your individual experience is only validated if it agrees with the narrative of that group. It should be noted that even Crenshaw says her creation of Intersectionality has evolved much more than she intended.
CONFLICT WITH CULTURE’S INTERPRETATION OF IDENTITY
The cultural conversation above conflicts with our identity as both humans and believers.
ALL HUMANS: Our group identity, as humans, comes from our creation by God and our value instilled by Him, not a faulty human chart that incorrectly divides us by skin color, sexuality, or gender.
CHRISTIANS: When we speak of being a new creation in Christ and living according to His commands, Intersectionality creates a new problem. Sexuality and Gender Identity. God created us male and female. He created a man to marry a woman, modeled by the bride of the church and its lover, Christ.
In the conversation of sexuality we further deviate from Christ’s teachings and identity. For example, I have heard that stating “gay Christian” is just semantics. But, if God created us in His image, and a gay identity is not what God desires for us, is claiming “gay christian” just semantics when it places a new identity on an individual (I am not claiming that one who struggles with this cannot be a Christian)? No, this becomes an identity and that identity is placed before and above God.
In a quick recap, all humans are made by God. When we do not operate as a society under this understanding, we loose the moral framework that values all life. As believers we have a new identity in Christ that should always be our first identity and this should actively compel us to live out our faith. Culture is replacing this foundation with one of Intersectionality, Critical Theory, taking away individuality and replacing identity only with group identity, where morality is determined by humans, and removing God. Note that Christianity is considered an “oppressor” from this viewpoint.
If we adopt this foundation, our identity will move from recognizing all humans as made in God’s image and valued, to being labeled by group and teaching one to function as either the oppressed or oppressor. Slowly our foundation begins to shift, since the two are incompatible.
This leads us to question what we have made our identity. Not only that, but what is our main identity grounded in, that which frames our view of life?
1) What is your first identity?
2) Do other identities you claim align with God’s teaching?
3) Does your skin color divide you from others who look different than you, or does your sexual identity conflict with who God made you to be?
4) Do you carry shame or guilt for your identity?
(If it aligns with God and his teachings, then that guilt is not of God! If your identity does not align with His teaching, then the unease is Christ calling you to Him. He does not want you to live in shame and hopelessness, but you will never fully embrace the beauty of who you are if you do not find your identity in Christ and a new life in Him.
And I am sorry if you have not felt you could talk to anyone at church about your struggles. As Christ forgives us and extends grace, so should we extend grace, as believers, when someone comes to us struggling.)