Wrestling with the 'Identity Politics' of Church life


'Identity politics' is the reduction of an individual, an embodiment of their entire identity as a whole, around maybe one thing they are associated with.

I was reminded of this on my last recent trip to the USA. Where democrats and republicans refer to each in short hand derisory terms, on the basis of their political associations.

People are de-humanized, and have their being reduced in totality, so that they can be dismissed as 'a democrat', or a 'republican'. In the UK, we might see a conservative MP, and dismiss anything he has to say, because he is 'privilege public school Tory'.

And the church does this all the time, or rather the Christians in church do this, as people have always done.

One of the helpful things the emerging church has done, is to expose some of these lazy, ill informed, and incorrect reductionisms. Some of the most common identity reductions have been 'they're just a liberal', and as many turn their attention to the emerging church we hear 'those emerging church people', as short hand for a variety of pejoratives.

And it is the exclusion of 'identity politics' that a large part of the emerging church has sought to respond to.

Yet is the emerging church, just as guilty of 'identity politics', reducing people to 'they are just an evangelical', with lazy stereotypes and straw men, as it seeks to criticize the church. Is the emerging church ultimately just as exclusive with it's own 'identity politics'.

There is all to often the desire to believe we are 'in', that we get what something really is, by proscribing people who 'aren't' and 'don't'. Yet it's a small step from necessary short hand in conversations about people and groups to being as arrogant, lazy, emotional insecure, as all previous identity reductions.

I've been on the receiving end of many 'identity politic' reductions, as I'm sure you have been. And as I write this I wonder how many such statements I have made myself, in my head, with others, and even on this blog.

Most are water of a ducks back, when you speak, write, blog you expect people to reduce you to incorrect sound bites. But some really do hurt.

Friends within my denominational tribe who who feel the need to reduce me to 'one of those emerging church types', for some reason causes a sadness. I wish conversations around concerns could take place.

Then on an ongoing basis, people I thought I was friends with, who shared a common mission in emerging church dialogue, seem to feel the need to reduce me in print and public to, 'yeah he's a pastor of an american denomination church', 'he's one of those sunday service guys'.

The journey of my life, the complexity of my relationship with my denomination, who have struggled greatly with the things I am involved with, the community I am in, that has new Christians, baptisms, ministry to the poor, deep community involvement, our emerging church journey, and all that emergent in the UK and Europe has been about in extended relationships, events, resourcing and impact (boy I need to stop this sentence soon), gets reduced to these pejorative sound bites.

I wish it was otherwise, but was it ever thus so. I can only hope that I can avoid the same, and take the time to know at least those I work in ministry and mission with, let alone those I don't.

*Jesus says, ” Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets” (Luke 6:26, NIV).

I think I’m realising that it’s the direct speaking ill of that is easier to see and embrace. It’s when ‘friends’ speak ill of you subtly and with linguistically guile and sophistication, that I need to learn more wisdom, and find the cross more.

With the most recent 'identity politic' I encountered, I realized how that even though it caused me pain in it’s misplacement of my identity and ‘body’, it was a gift, something to find the cross in, and be assured of my real identity, in Jesus. Something I saw as I reflected on the body of Jesus in our Good Friday service.

(* This end section added in light of comments below)