I had an interesting experience at Sierra Lutheran High School this week. I had the privilege of giving a chapel message, but not just any message, one on identity politics.
Now that I’ve gotten your attention, which I was taught a good lead should do, let me explain before you send a posse after me, or fill up our editor’s inbox.
Our theme verse at the school this year is taken from 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” The essence of the verse speaks to the central issue of our identity in Christ.
Each week during our year-long chapel series, this piece of Scripture and who we are in Christ is tethered to a predetermined topic, which attempts to teach the application of our identity in Christ in the many ways it manifests itself in our daily lives.
This week, the application of the verse was to be applied to politics, which, I’ll admit made me a little nervous given the time we’re living in. But then I remembered Jesus’ words from John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
So, before even thinking about how to blend identity and politics, I needed to remember that our God is not one of fear, and being created in his image, we are called to be courageous, so I forged on.
When I first began to pray over and ponder things, I compartmentalized it. In other words, I began to think about the verse and its application in a vacuum. However, several days before I was to share during chapel, the Lord inspired me to remove the “and” between the two and speak to what God’s word says about identity politics.
Merriam-Webster defines it as, “people having a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interests or concerns of any larger political group.”
What we see so frequently in the media anymore are groups of every stripe that are laser focused on advancing their agendas above others, rather than in consideration with, or better, of others. Take for example how many politicians latch on to social and racial agendas to not only lend their support to divisive issues, while at the same time advancing their own candidacy, often at the sake of unity and the greater good.
However, what may divide us socially and politically is likely not our Lord’s greatest concern. In the preceding verses to 2 Corinthians 5:17, the Apostle Paul reminds the people of Corinth that their (our) focus is to be on Jesus, and our efforts are to point others to him, and to what is righteous and holy in his sight.
God’s word reminds us that our true identity is to be rooted in Christ, and him crucified. Paul beautifully captures the essence of the Gospel and sets the tone for our identity two verses ahead in v14, “For the love of Christ controls us because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
Paul’s teaching reminds us that Jesus is love, and as followers of his that must be our focus, too. He goes on in the following verse to state that Christians are not to approach the world from their own point of view, but from God’s. To do this, leads us to our identity in Christ.
In our theme verse (v.17) Paul writes, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Here he reminds us that to pick up our cross and follow Jesus, we are recreated as a person of faith in him – who desires to live in, and for, him alone.
Clearly, to do this in the world takes discernment and temerity. It requires the wisdom to understand what points people to Jesus and his teachings, and it takes the courage to withstand the scorn that will come from it.
Living in and not of this world (John 15:19) is a daily battle. The temptation to indulge in or espouse things that separate us from God is powerful. This includes the attraction to see our identity in matters of this world that divide rather than unite us, which is counter to the Gospel message.
To live an active and committed life to Christ is not to also deny us the chance to be engaged in thoughtful and courteous debate on the issues of the day. God gave us the tools to think and communicate. A key question to ask oneself is this: Whose identity is greater?
Brian Underwood is executive director at Sierra Lutheran.