Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Imago Dei not Imago Identity

Written by: on January 11, 2024

This gives all of us a moral obligation to listen to each other with full attention and an open mind. But the point of this hard work is communication, not deference

-Yascha Mounk-


I will commence this article by emphasizing two significant aspects that, from my point of view, should not be casually disregarded. Firstly, regarding the birth of an individual. Empirical facts attest that no one can choose to be born with a certain identity, particularly in terms of race or ethnicity. One merely accepts this reality as it unfolds. From my perspective, this is a gift and a profound trust from God when He decides that we are born and have a certain racial or ethnic identity, whatever it is. Secondly, racial and ethnic diversity is a necessity and at the same time a beautiful blessing from God that needs to be cared for and preserved. The narrative of the tower of Babel incident in the book of Genesis 11 shows that diversity of identities aligns with God’s will. To reject this, or to become superior or inferior due to the reality of the diversity of human identities, does it not imply positioning ourselves in opposition to God?

However, in human history, many people ignore the two significant things above. As a result, humans elevate themselves and demean others with different identities. Such desires always seem to exist from time to time. In Francis Fukuyama’s terms, this desire, megalothymia, is a term to refer to the desire when a person or group of people is dominated by the desire to be superior.[1] This desire to be superior then gives rise to exclusion, oppression, exploitation, and even genocide.

Yascha Mounk in his book explains that humans tend to be ‘groupish.’ Mounk explains this tendency, “they are primed to form strong bonds with their own group, even when its criterion for membership is trivial; On behalf of members of their own groups, they often prove capable of staggering feats of ingenuity and awe-inspiring acts of altruism.”[2] Furthermore, in his scholarly investigation, Mounk unveiled a historical pattern indicating the latent propensity for humans to inflict cruelty upon individuals possessing divergent identities. He writes, “in dealing with people whom they think of as members of an outside group, they are capable of frightening cruelty and callousness. This tendency to favor the in-group over the out-group helps to explain much of what is noble and most of what is vile in human history.”[3]

Mounk proposed a term to describe an attitude regarding identity politics, which he called ‘identity synthesis.’ He explains, “The identity synthesis is concerned with many different kinds of groups, including (but not limited to) those based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and disability.”[4] He also emphasized the dangers of identity synthesis. He says, “The identity synthesis is a political trap, making it harder to sustain diverse societies whose citizens trust and respect each other. It is also a personal trap, one that makes misleading promises about how to gain the sense of belonging and social recognition that most humans naturally seek.”[5]

Mounk further explains why we need to avoid identity synthesis. According to Mounk, identity synthesis still leads to pessimistic thinking due to the notion of maintaining racial groups. He asserts, “The identity synthesis presents itself as a progressive ideology that tries to remake the world in a radical fashion. But this radical paint job fails to obscure its deep pessimism or the poverty of its ambitions. At the heart of its vision stands an acceptance of the enduring importance of dubious categories like race.”[6] The identity synthesis, according to Mounk, seeks to convince society of a vision of the future where the fate of individuals will always be determined by the identity group to which they belong. This situation will lead various communities to be trapped in unprofitable competition. At the same time, it will increasingly reinforce that the way we interact with each other will always depend on each other’s skin color and sexual orientation.[7]

From Mounk’s abundance of ideas about avoiding identity traps, I found a scintillating notion that I think is the most enlightening for us to move beyond identity synthesis. He proposes a bright constructive demeanor that we can implement in relationships to the other amidst diversity. Mounk calls it ‘true solidarity.’ True solidarity has two elements, listen to the other, and strive for genuine justice. Mounk insists, “Each of us would listen to members of other identity groups with an open mind, empathizing with the forms of oppression to which they may be subject.”[8] Simultaneously, Mounk further emphasizes, “Each of us would strive to remedy genuine injustices, not out of a misguided sense of deference, but because they violate our own aspirations for the kind of society in which we want to live.”[9]

Mounk’s framework of thinking serves as a guiding principle for us as Christian leaders navigating the challenges of a global and digital context, urging us to uphold the truths delineated in the Bible. Regardless of individual identities, the divine image is inherent within each person. Mounk encourages our awareness that, as individuals transformed through Christ, we now possess a new perspective and conduct congruent with the summons of Christ. This value stimulates us to regard, embrace, and interact with our fellow human beings, demonstrating profound regard for their inherent dignity as creations and images of God, as the Bible says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”[10]



[1] Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018), xiii.

[2] Yascha Mounk, The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time (New York: Penguin Press, 2023), 191.

[3] Mounk, The Identity Trap.

[4] Ibid, 9.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 264.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid 148.

[9] Ibid.

[10] 1 John 4:7, NRSV.

About the Author


Dinka Utomo

Dinka Nehemia Utomo is an ordained pastor of the Protestant Church in the Western part of Indonesia (Gereja Protestan di Indonesia bagian Barat or GPIB). He has served for more than 15 years. The first five years of his ministry were in the remote area of East Kalimantan, including people from the indigenous Dayak tribe in the small villages in the middle of the forest, frequently reached using small boats down the river. For more than 15 years, Dinka has served several GPIB congregations in several cities in Indonesia. He has always had a passion for equipping Christian families, teaching and guiding them to build equal relations between husband and wife, maintaining commitment, love, and loyalty, creating a healthy and constructive Christian family atmosphere, and rejecting all forms of violence and sexual violence. Dinka's beloved wife, Verra, is also a GPIB pastor. They have two blessed children. Dinka and his wife and children love to spend quality family time, such as lunch or dinner, and vacation to exotic places.

12 responses to “Imago Dei not Imago Identity”

  1. Scott Dickie says:

    Thanks Dinka,

    Your final paragraphs related to the Christian understanding of every person being made in the image of God was addressing the same ‘big idea’ as my own post. I do believe it allows the church to engage and interact with others in ways that is distinct from the current cultural propensity of exclusion and anger–even those who hold a different perspective of what is ‘essential’ as it relates to our core identity.

    • mm Dinka Utomo says:

      Hello Scott! It’s good to see you again.
      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it!
      Yes! I agree with you. If the ecclesiastical body, encompassing both its constituents and leadership, genuinely adheres to the doctrinal integrity delineated in the Bible, it will exemplify the teachings of the Lord Jesus regarding the affectionate treatment of fellow human beings. That is the ultimate characteristic of Christianity. Therefore, Christians and churches should bear the life of mutual love and respect for fellow human beings.

  2. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Dinka,
    I enjoyed your post. You discussed Mounk’s thoughts on true solidarity, “True solidarity has two elements, listen to the other, and strive for genuine justice” which implies our duty and calling as Christ-followers to remedy injustices. So much of this book it written from an American perspective I am curious as to what injustices related to race, gender, sexual orientation, or other differences you encounter in your context in Indonesia. Are these topics openly discussed?

    • mm Dinka Utomo says:

      Hi Jenny! Your inquiries exhibit a commendable quality.

      In discussing injustice practices in the current context, I perceive that they persist, albeit not at the levels witnessed in the past. Take, for instance, issues related to justice and gender equality. Presently, opportunities for women have expanded compared to two or three decades ago. Concurrently, instances of discrimination against minority religious groups persist but on a smaller scale than in previous years. Another concern that warrants attention, in my view, is social inequality. As widely acknowledged, the prevalence of corrupt practices remains notably high. Meanwhile, regarding sexual orientation, both the government and the majority of society continue to reject LGBT groups.

  3. Esther Edwards says:

    Thank you for your well-written post.
    You wrote, “this desire to be superior then gives rise to exclusion, oppression, exploitation, and even genocide.” I have thought about how often this has happened throughout history…one people group feeling superior to another and then, over some time, having it escalate to the outplay of much evil. One wonders how this happens and yet it does over and over again. Sadly, though not to that extent of great evil, even the church can have congregants who feel strongly against another culture or people group. As a pastor, how do you build a culture that wards against superiority in this way?

    • mm Dinka Utomo says:

      Hi Esther! It’s a very good question.

      In my perspective, eradicating the concept of superiority in humans, even within the church, proves to be a formidable challenge. Upon reflection, it appears that this challenge may stem from oversights in Christian teachings and education. In my view, addressing this issue necessitates the involvement of a broad spectrum of individuals and an extensive period. Taking our local context as an example, gender equality remains a point of contention for certain groups, although not to the extent witnessed in the past. Additionally, concerning sexual orientation, neither the government nor the majority of society in this region acknowledges the legitimacy of LGBT groups.

      As a pastor, I promote equality in relationships through my preaching and Bible teaching. Second, I treat all members of the congregation I serve (which consists of various ethnicities) equally without any differences.

  4. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    Dinka you noted: Mounk encourages our awareness that, as individuals transformed through Christ, we now possess a new perspective and conduct congruent with the summons of Christ. This value stimulates us to regard, embrace, and interact with our fellow human beings, demonstrating profound regard for their inherent dignity as creations and images of God, as the Bible says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” I love Imago Dei and fully believe this is what is imperative for us as Christians and what “we” as a collective group really need to work on. How would you shepherd those you lead towards Imago Dei in the world while you address areas of healing that need to occur for generational, institutional and individual injustices? I am not sure that is answerable, but it’s in this struggle of healing and moving towards Solidarity I’m wrestling with, how do we move forward without denying injustice?

    • mm Dinka Utomo says:

      Hello Jana! Thank you for your good responses and inquiries. I appreciate it! In my perspective, the endeavor to cultivate an awareness of the Imago Dei in all individuals, irrespective of their identities or statuses, demands a profound acknowledgment of existing injustices. It exists in this world and even around us. This recognition is significant for fostering sensitivity toward such disparities. Subsequently, an imperative task lies in consistently imparting the teachings of Imago Dei through diverse and creative methods. However, mere instruction is insufficient; our actions must embody these teachings. Within the context of our church community, encompassing diverse ethnicities and social statuses, I conscientiously extend equal treatment to each member without discrimination in my ministry.

  5. Cathy Glei says:

    Thank you Dinka!

    I appreciate and resonate with your sentiment of encouraging all to discover the divine image, Imago Dei, that is inherent within each person.

    In your church context, how do you disciple others in discovering Iagoe Dei in each person?

  6. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Cathy! Thank you for your comment and question.

    Our church comprises members of diverse ethnicities and social statuses. That reality presents a challenge for every pastor serving in such a context. Therefore, beyond conveying these principles through sermons and Bible studies, I emphasize the utmost importance of treating all individuals equally, with an attitude of profound respect and love.

  7. Dr. Dinka! Your first paragraph is brilliant! I love it so much, I will use it. No one chooses their identity because it comes from God and racial and ethnic diversity is a necessity based upon the Tower of Babel. This all aligns with God’s will. I’m definitely gonna dig deeper into this. Thank you sir! Absolutely brilliant!

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