Call it “identity politics” or “multiculturalism” or whatever else you like, but America’s public discourse today is often all but dominated by analyses based on speakers’ respective racial, ethnic and cultural identities.
Democrats are deep into identity politics, while Republicans often find it repellant. There are Christians among both, but does the God of the Bible have anything of value to say to Democrats or Republicans on the issue of identity politics?
You bet it does, especially if you happen to work on Capitol Hill where the issues raised by identity politics are especially intense and urgent. So where do we start?
According to Dr. Sean McDowell, professor of Christian apologetics at Biola University, we begin with the first problem for philosophy – the problem of the one and the many. There is both unity and diversity in the world. Every team is made up of individuals but together they do things they otherwise could not do.
Congressmen could just be islands to themselves on the floor of the House of Representatives, doing all of their own research, talking to journalists, making their own daily logistical arrangements and so forth. In fact, that’s pretty much how it was in Congress for the first few decades under the Constitution.
But congressmen can accomplish so much more when they have individuals to help them, people like chiefs of staff, legislative assistants, schedulers, case workers and press secretaries.
Rep. Joe Blow is, by himself, a one, but he’s also a many, the sum total of all of his own efforts and those on his team. Things get screwed up if he goes off on his own without letting his team know what he’s up to. Same if the people on his team do their thing without coordinating with him and other teammates.
“Christians find the solution to the problem of the one and the many in the character of God Himself. There is one God (unity) and three persons (diversity).”
McDowell points to the Christian Trinity as evidence that there are one and many for a reason:
“Christians find the solution to the problem of the one and the many in the character of God Himself. There is one God (unity) and three persons (diversity). The word ‘trinity’ is meant to capture the biblical teaching that there is one God who eternally exists as three persons. Unity and diversity in the world are a reflection of our Creator.
“The motto of the U.S. is e pluribus unum, which means ‘Out of many, one.’ The United States is one country (unity) that is made up of many states (diversity). It is one country with many citizens. Both unity and diversity are at the heart of the American experiment. If we lose sight of either our national unity or diversity, our country will fracture. This is what identity politics threatens to do.”
That is not to say there is no value in identity politics for the Christian working in either party on Capitol Hill.
“Essentially, identity politics classifies people according to various groups to which they belong such as race, age, generation, gender, sexual orientation, and so on,” McDowell writes.
“The positive aspect of identity politics is that it recognizes that the various groups to which we belong shape how we see the world. Millennials. Hispanics. Women. Elderly. Southerners. And so on. Group identity does shape how we experience reality.,” he writes.
The problem, according to McDowell, is when individuals cannot see beyond themselves and their identity as a member of a particular group:
“It subtly (yet powerfully) questions the unity that binds individuals together. If you belong to a different group than someone else, you simply cannot understand the other person’s experience. People exist on individual islands, so to speak, based upon their group identities, and have no deeper connection to members of other groups.”
The American Civil War is the classic illustration of the root problem sparked by identity politics if it’s not balanced by an appreciation for the common interests.
“In other words, identity politics is nothing new; it was at the root of the causes of the Civil War and very nearly destroyed America.”
In the decades prior to the conflict, Northerners and Southerners steadily lost sight of what united them and saw the country solely through the lens of their particular cultures. Secession, four years of bloody battles and 22 years of military occupation of the Southern states followed.
The South still has bitter memories and painful economic and social consequences from the Reconstruction era. In other words, identity politics is nothing new; it was at the root of the causes of the Civil War and very nearly destroyed America.
The lesson for Christians working for senators and representatives from both major parties in Congress is that we should always look for what unifies us, what are common goals, and be willing to compromise in consideration of the other guy. If we retreat into hyper-partisanship, we all lose.
McDowell has much more to say on this issue and I encourage you to check it out here.
Mark Tapscott is HillFaith’s editor, IT jockey, spiritual guide, chief bottle washer and overall Jack-of-All-Trades. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org