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Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Dr. Mohler is a theologian and ordained minister, and serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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The Power of the Gospel and the Meltdown of Identity Politics

Tags: Identity Politics, Image Of God, Intersectionality

American politics increasingly resembles a soap opera and, at least for now, Virginia has taken center stage. The drama in the state continues to unfold as the Commonwealth’s top three Democrats face pressure to resign. The Governor’s personal yearbook page from medical school contained a racially insensitive photo of a man in blackface shoulder-to-shoulder with a person dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia. Later, the Governor also admitted to performing in blackface at a party in the 1980s. The Attorney General admitted to wearing blackface at a college party as well. Add to that the now egregious accusations of sexual abuse and rape that swirl around the Lieutenant Governor. The headlines out of Virginia are a dismal drama exacerbated by a recent development in the Democratic Party and driving the cultural Left in America: identity politics.

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal pointed to the problem with a recent editorial, “The Democrats’ Identity Meltdown.” As the editors remarked, “the furies unleashed are consuming their own.” The editors argue that the Democrats have “unleashed race, gender, sexual orientation and class as the defining issues of American politics.” This emphasis on identity, though welcomed and promoted by leading Democrats, has turned on the party with a vengeance.

Virginia serves as a prime example of the self-destructive nature of identity politics—a political philosophy that expansively designates identity by race, social background, or gender at the expense of other identities. The Democratic Party has entrenched its political ideas in identity, adopting a zero-tolerance policy for certain beliefs and accusations. During the Senate hearings for the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Democrats labeled him unfit for office based on uncorroborated, unverified sexual misconduct. In the view of Senate Democrats, backed up by party outrage, the accusation disqualified Kavanaugh from service on the high court. Now, in Virginia, the tables have turned on the Democrats as one of their own encounters more incriminating accusations. Couple that with the foolish and racist conduct in the college years of the Governor and the Attorney General and it is easy to see that Democrats have backed themselves into a corner thanks to their promotion of identity politics. As the Wall Street Journal noted, “The problem for Democrats is that the ideology of race, gender and class is now so deeply ingrained on the political left that no one dares to challenge it.”

Not everyone, however, joined the editors of the Journal in sounding the alarm against identity politics. Matt Viser and Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post wrote an article headlined: “Different Democratic Controversies, Same Influence: Identity Politics.” The authors make the astonishing claim that “while Republicans believe democrats are going too far in their embrace of identity politics, many in the Democratic Party take pride in the fact that the current field of nearly a dozen presidential candidates includes only one heterosexual white male.”

Just try to imagine any moment in American history when leaders of a major political party would brag that among their leading presidential contenders, only one is a heterosexual white male. Evidently, all three of those words require some apology among Democrats.

There are far deeper issues at stake here. This ideology reduces human beings to a certain set of distinguishable identities that are more prized and valued than other identities—it establishes basic human identity in differences rather than a commonality shared amongst all humankind. Indeed, 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.”  Rage is the driving energy of this ideology, and rage is its ultimate conclusion as well.

The embrace of identity politics and intersectionality has devastating consequences on American public life. This political theory magnifies differences and places greater value on individuals who can combine the highest number of benighted and neglected identities. Virtue and the worth of your opinion hinges on what makes you different. Thus, Democrats push their party into identity idolatry—the candidates who can claim as part of their heritage the greatest number of oppressed identities bears more influence and is entitled to speak (or to run for president). Woe unto the lone Democratic presidential candidate with the sign draped around his neck at the first presidential debate among Democrats fighting for the nomination: “White heterosexual male.”

The biblical worldview is the only antidote to identity politics. Intersectionality erodes the bedrock of civil society and dismantles decorum precisely because it is predicated and upon differences. It will only tolerate and celebrate divergence and divisiveness. The Christian worldview, however, offers a powerful response to identity politics. The biblical reply does not deny the reality nor the importance of identities to the human story. It does, however, begin with what unites all humanity—the Imago Dei. The biblical worldview starts in sameness not differences. It grounds the value of an individual in something more transcendent than experience, background, race, or gender; it starts with the image of God that resides in every human being on the planet. Humanity stands united by virtue of our common descent from Adam and Eve. Christians, therefore, do not reject identity politics and intersectionality merely because of its failure as an ideology, but because it denies the common bond that beats in the heart of every human: we are all made in God’s image. That identity is precious, perennial, and most to be cherished.

By the way, this issue helps to underline why biblically committed Christians must point again and again to the common descent of all humanity from Adam and Eve. We all share the same first parents. Modern evolutionary theory denies the very possibility of common descent from a single couple. Ideas have consequences.

Christians must understand and hold fast to the image of God that unites humanity in a common identity. The most important identity for every human is not our own self-prescribed definition based upon their experiences and background, but the identity given to them by the God of the universe. That identity trumps everything else.

Additionally, the biblical argument is not drawn only from Genesis. It reaches not only into the truths of Genesis, but the glories of the New Covenant of redemption inaugurated by Christ.  Jesus Christ is creating a new humanity—a people not of this world but of heaven, a people for God’s pleasure. It is a people made up of every tribe, tongue, people, and language—a citizenry of every ethnicity and race, of every socio-economic background and culture. Its citizenship does not stand on its differences but on our common salvation in Christ. In Christ we find our true identity. Believers in Christ share an eternal and glorious unity in Jesus Christ the Lord—a unity we enter upon faith in Jesus’s perfect sacrifice and atonement for sin

Intersectionality and identity politics breed division. These ideologies atomize society and drive humanity away from its core and essential commonality. This is where Christians must counter with the gospel of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture. Only the gospel secures peace and establishes truth. Only the gospel will unite a fractured society. Only the gospel can stem the tide of modernity’s downward spiral into chaos and decay. Identity politics is bad enough in the culture. In the church, it denies the gospel altogether.

Of this, I am certain: At the marriage supper of the Lamb, no one will hold any kind of sign claiming their own identity.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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