Identity Politics Shouldn’t Dictate Your Virtue

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When I heard that a group of white supremacists had assembled in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, my first instinct was skepticism. “A large, visible gathering of actual racists? The media is obviously exaggerating again. I’m sure it’s just a bunch of mislabeled conservatives who are sick of political correctne—Oh. Wait. They are white supremacists. They are professing Nazis. They are KKK members.”

I admit, I didn’t want to believe it. The media is so dramatic and lopsided these days, and with more and more conservatives being unfairly labeled “fascists” and “neo-Nazis,” acknowledging the reality of the situation in Charlottesville would feel like a concession to the left. I could not have that. Peter has whined about a “wolf” for so long that I couldn’t stand the thought that there might actually be one. But after reading multiple sources, listening to various news reports, and watching actual videos from the protest, I had to not only admit the truth of the present situation but also repent for allowing identity politics to cloud my judgment of right and wrong.

What is identity politics? It’s when people of a certain race, religion or social background form an unswerving political alliance based on their common interests. It’s when every event or story must be filtered through that group’s particular agenda rather than absolute truth or morality. It’s self-seeking subjectivism on a tribal level. The right and the left have been devolving into identity politics for quite some time, and the tragedy in Charlottesville has exposed both sides more than ever. For Christians, this can be confusing. If we speak out against white racism, we fear sounding like liberals. If we fail to agree with all leftist logic, we fear sounding like defenders of racism. Which side do we choose?

The problem is found precisely in that false dilemma—that we must choose a “side.” As Erick Erickson points out, “The country seems headed down a path between right wing authoritarianism and leftwing totalitarianism. Those of us who want nothing to do with either should be willing to call out both sides.”

THE SIN OF RACISM.

Like myself, many conservatives may try to tone down the story or shift the blame. I was reading the headlines of a popular “alt-right” news site yesterday, and I got the gist that they were angrier about liberal reactions to Charlottesville than they were saddened by what actually happened there. Such excuses are probably not the results of conviction or deep thought, but attempts to keep the liberals from “winning.”

The press might be wrong about a lot of things, but our anger at them must not prevent us from calling out evil for what it is. Christians, in particular, must be first to affirm the dignity of all people made in the image of God, and the worldwide gospel call to every tribe, tongue and color. Racism is an affront to the image of God, the finished work of Christ, and a hindrance to the church’s commission (cf. Mt. 28:19).

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, Albert Mohler and Timothy Keller both posted fantastic pieces that I recommend every Christian read. Mohler, writing from Germany in the shadow of the Third Reich’s memory, says: “Seen from Berlin, the news from Charlottesville is alarming. Seen as a Christian, the images are heartbreaking. The ideology of racial superiority is an evil anti-gospel that leads to eternal death.” Keller, meanwhile, warned against identity politics: “Christians should look at the energized and emboldened white nationalism movement, and at its fascist slogans, and condemn it—full stop. No, ‘But on the other hand.’ The main way most people are responding across the political spectrum is by saying, ‘See? This is what I have been saying all along! This just proves my point.’ The conservatives are using the events to prove that liberal identity politics is wrong, and liberals are using it to prove that conservatism is inherently racist. We should not do that.”

We cannot refrain from speaking out against injustice for fear that it will make our own platform look weak. The truth of God’s Word is the strongest platform you can stand on.

SIN IS SIN, NO MATTER WHO DOES IT.

On the other side of the political coin, the left’s reaction to Charlottesville has been nothing short of a collective hernia. When President Trump denounced “hatred, bigotry, and violence—on many sides,” he was accused of refusing to call out white supremacists by name. Even when he issued a follow-up statement clarifying, “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups,” it was too little, too late. Swarms of protestors met him outside Trump Tower on Monday night, waving signs and chanting “New York hates you!” A CNN commentator even went so far as to say he’s unfit to be human. Regardless of what the President actually said, the left is more concerned with feeding the theory that Donald Trump is the hellish light who’s summoned all fascist cockroaches to the surface. Trump could personally shoot James Fields in the head, and that still would not be enough to get him off the hook. Why? Because it doesn’t fit the left’s story, that Trump and his White House (pun intended) staff of neo-Nazis are out to breed hatred and prejudice. Acknowledging that he legitimately denounced racism would be like getting water in their gun powder. If Donald Trump is not an evil, minority-hating, slave-driving racist, then the entire liberal story about him and the Republican Party falls apart.

This determination has perhaps blinded many to the reality that, yes, there was unnecessary violence coming from both sides in Charlottesville. Both sides were looking for a fight, and we should be saddened that they both got one. The counter-protestors did not kill anyone, while the supremacists did (which conservatives must admit, because remember, we shouldn’t be trying to defend the supremacists anyway), but the left must also admit that both sides raised havoc with force.

What the white supremacists did in Charlottesville is evil, and without excuse. But so were the Black Lives Matter riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, and London, where people were beaten, stores were looted, and cars and buildings were torched. James Fields is a murderer and a terrorist, and must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But so was Micah Xavier Johnson, a sniper who responded to the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by shooting and killing five police officers in July 2016. To deny, soften, or sidestep any of these, on either side, is to play identity politics, and it is a moral failure. We can, and should, affirm all instances of evil without worrying whether it makes “our side” look bad or not.

ABHOR WHAT IS EVIL, WEEP WITH THOSE WHO WEEP, OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD.

Am I just trying to insult everyone? Am I intentionally trying to have zero Facebook friends left by tomorrow morning? Not at all. I hope that the church can act and react beyond what’s expected of 21st century American conservatives or liberals, and be a truthful, biblical, convictional, compassionate voice. We need to practice the commands of Romans 12:9-21: “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep…Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly…If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

The two sides in this country, which are splitting further and further apart every day, have each written their own script that we’re supposed to recite and act out. But I encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to stay Kingdom-minded. The problem with claiming allegiance to a party or ideology, rather than moral principles, is that you must make every event and news story support your “side,” and you must make sure that the “other side” is never, ever right. When that happens, you just might end up defending people and actions that should never, ever be defended.

THE LORD’S SIDE.

In Joshua 5, as Joshua is overlooking Jericho and contemplating the battle to come, he saw “a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand” (vs. 13). This figure is identified as the commander of the army of the Lord, and commentators debate whether this is a pre-incarnate Christ or an angelic captain. Either way, he means business. So Joshua, still strategizing for war, immediately asks: “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” He wants to know what side this commander is on. Which side do you identify with, Israel or Jericho? Are you with us, or our enemies?

The commander’s short, grammatically humorous response must have been confusing and perhaps disappointing to Joshua: “No.” Whose side was he on? No. Whose campaign did he pick? No. “But,” the figure clarified, “I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” (vs. 14). In other words, his business was to do God’s business. His agenda was not any particular race or empire. He was there to carry out God’s goodness and God’s justice.

Christians must be the same way in our cultural involvement. It is not our business to promote any race or party above another, but to always seek the goodness and justice of God in every situation. Even if that means not conforming to a certain group’s identity. We cannot let the fog of platforms and agendas cloud our morality.

Racism and violence are never acceptable, regardless of the culprit’s skin color or political affiliation. If you denounced the Black Lives Matter riots, you should be the first to condemn what happened in Charlottesville. And if you’re angered about what happened in Charlottesville, you should carefully reconsider any Black Lives Matter or “antifa” movement that involves vandalism and violence. If we’re raging against one on social media but ignoring (or even justifying) the other, we’re guilty of identity politics, and hypocrisy, and we need to repent.

As citizens of this world, we must be ready to recognize wrongdoing regardless of whose “side” it seems to help or hinder. And as citizens of heaven, the church must be ready to preach that all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and may be justified by grace alone through faith alone in the gospel of Jesus Christ alone.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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