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

Questions of Identity

Written by: on October 9, 2023

I am surprised at how cathartic the topics of the last two weeks have been for me. As we read Bebbington and Clark’s thoughts on Evangelicalism and its impacts on society as well as Fukuyama’s analysis of our move towards a more identity-obsessed culture, I am finding myself better able to articulate what had been up to this point just vague feelings. In this post, you will see that I am still working my thoughts out so you get to read some of my out-processing. You are welcome. I have tried to group ideas into some areas of consideration, but I am afraid my thoughts are still a bit jumbled.

How we think about our relationship with Christ

The connection of the modern concept of identity springing out of the Reformation with Luther’s assertion that each person had an individualized inner life that needed renewal. (p25) As I overlap this thought with what we discussed last week regarding Bebbington’s assertion that an essential tenant of Evangelicalism was around a personal conversion. This leaves me with a question: before Evangelicalism and before the Reformation, how did one view redemption?

Not only is society changing and morphing, so is Fukuyama

While researching for my assessment of this weeks’ reading, I did a little background check on Francis Fukuyama (thank you, ChatGPT). Fukuyama is seen as a key voice in the development of neoconservatism. Prior to this week, I would not have been able to tell you what neoconservatism was. In case you are also in the dark I will include some references here.[1][2]

It surprised me to learn that Fukuyama had such an ideological background, especially as it pertains to American Exceptionalism. His writing in Identity seems to be prodding us to better understand that sustainability comes when we are not only considering our own interests. And, as I dug deeper into his background, I learned that he ultimately walked back some of these more linear views. While reviewing three of his other books, Anatol Liven says this:

“For Fukuyama is one of the most interesting public intellectuals in America today and has produced very valuable work on an extraordinary range of subjects. He has the ability to toss the cherished shibboleths of the Washington political classes up in the air and juggle playfully with them-should he be willing to break some windows in the process.” [3]

I am finding that I am most intrigued by Fukuyama’s ability to abandon a philosophy he helped to develop and that brought him some level of fame. He changed his mind, and he shifted his identity. I wonder if this process gave him insight into the writing of this work.

How I see Fukuyama’s work in Identity playing out today: In Francis Fukuyama’s Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment[4]we read an accounting of how we got to this place of putting individual values on the center stage. And the story of how “societies divide themselves into smaller and smaller groups by virtue of their particular ‘lived experience’ of victimization” rings eerily true.[5] Below are several examples of the implications of this current phenomena:

  • A new friend bemoaning the reality in her community group that members are expecting the group to cater to her personal and demanding needs to support her issues around anxiety.
  • Today in the New York Times I read a poignant article[6] about a girl who struggled to find where she fit in her community. As a child growing up in Sweden with a mixed-race heritage, she found that her hair created barriers for her gaining a sense of belonging.
  • Another piece in New York Times, followed two American families who, in search of communities that better reflect their personal values, uprooted their lives and moved to opposite parts of the country. Both families stat that they were looking for homes where they could find security, one moved from a red state to a blue state and the other moved from blue to red.[7]
  • Simon Walker’s reflection on how society is shifting to reinforcing tribal behavior and those in power more than ever are making decisions to secure their membership in a group rather than what is best for the collective.[8]

Can I shift my Frames of Reference?

As I read through Fukuyama’s work, it made me think about the concept of Frames of Reference. Frames of Reference are how we see the world. And there are a gazillion of them. For example: What race do you belong to? What region were you born in? What sub region? Do you still live there, or have you migrated to a new place? How much money do you make/ did you parent’s make? To what faith do you belong? What language did you grow up speaking/do you speak today? How many kids do you have? What are their genders? How old are they? Are they healthy? Are you healthy? Are you educated? How educated are you? Where did you get your education? What are your dietary issues? Are you able to eat with others who don’t share your dietary restrictions, or does doing that create an unhealthy trigger for you? You can see that when we play this game out to the end, we can eventually identify ourselves down into a depressive and anxious state of self-isolation.

I am struck by my desire to find a right answer to the imbalance that our culture is facing in our current fixation over identity. A friend recently suggested that I need to find ways to live within the tension. It is not realistic to expect people to abandon their frames of reference in deference to the collective experience. Neither is it right to try to accommodate all the segmentate identities that we are currently being asked to accommodate. I am left with a thought that it may be more productive to think about an appropriate hierarchy of identities. Perhaps the reinforcement of our identity in Christ first, rather than my belonging to a particular group. That does not provide a relevant framework for policy making but it is a place to start. I guess my biggest question is: If I deconstruct my Frames of Reference down to a Christ-centered orientation, will I be able to walk away from others in my old groups as Fukuyama did?


[1] “Neoconservatism,” in Wikipedia, October 6, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Neoconservatism&oldid=1178926169.

[2] “Neoconservatism,” Oxford Reference, accessed October 9, 2023, https://doi.org/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100228203.

[3] “Two Families Got Fed Up With Their States’ Politics. So They Moved Out. – The New York Times,” accessed October 7, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/07/us/politics/politics-states-moving.html?searchResultPosition=1.

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

[5] Fukuyama, 164.

[6] “Opinion | Meeting Charlotte Mensah Transformed My Natural Hair Journey – The New York Times,” accessed October 7, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/06/opinion/race-natural-hair-heritage.html?searchResultPosition=1.

[7] “Two Families Got Fed Up With Their States’ Politics. So They Moved Out. – The New York Times.”

[8] Simon Walker, lecture to DLPG students, Oxford, England, September 25, 2003.

About the Author

Jennifer Vernam

9 responses to “Questions of Identity”

  1. Jenny Dooley says:

    Jennifer, Thank you for a great post. I am loving all the questions everyone is asking! Your post had me thinking of a time when I was asked by a group of people to describe myself….very awkward! I replied, ” I’m just Jenny.” Even more embarrassing was the response I received, “Oh no! You are so much more.” And then they went on to pepper me with questions about other identity markers such as family, education, and work. All very kind, but I had to wonder what was wrong with being just Jenny? I don’t know if I am making any sense. Maybe I am growing weary and a bit convicted by feeling the need to validate myself. I recognized the importance of knowing myself, “Search me, God and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23) and looking beyond to my identity in Christ first as you mentioned. I do find less tension in that space.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      It is a hard tension to live in. When others want to take the time to get to know what makes you, you, that is something to celebrate! Especially when it you see individuals moving towards a ‘we’ But when it becomes a distraction to living in community, then it is not productive. I certainly don’t know the answers but I am struck again with our call to live in the tension.

  2. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    Oh for a world without labels. But I guess that would be science fiction, or at least fantasy.

    Labels/identities. Are they sides of the same coin?

    I have always been placed in a pigeon hole…Army guy or Chinese guy. Some aren’t so bad, husband, father, missionary. I guess labels/identities help others understand who I am. Not sure if they help me understand who I am in Christ – sinner?

    You wrote, “I am left with a thought that it may be more productive to think about an appropriate hierarchy of identities.”

    I enjoyed the thought. I would like to think that I am an adult growing in Christ. One day, when I move into His presence, I fully expect Him to say…okay not bad/forget the labels/identities, I give you an eternity to grow more like me. Get to work buddy.


    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      If you were an artist, creating a beautiful world on a canvas, would you want your subjects to reject the colors you used to make them? I know, the analogy isn’t great, but I think that God made us different for a reason, and He called it good. Is the challenge we face to see and celebrate those good differences in others, and not to fixate on our own? Thoughts?

      • mm Russell Chun says:

        Big Sigh, my perception of color is eroding with time. So to I guess at colors, and post covid, guess and smells and taste. I go from memory.

        I frequently say that God made all the human flavors.

        With that being said I am wrestling with Kim Sanford’s reminder that we are all made in God’s Image. Does anyone really believe that? How do we get to that point….perhaps at the same time we accept the color he has painted us? I like cobalt blue.


  3. mm John Fehlen says:

    Jennifer, I think if we are doing this degree correctly then each one of us should be experiencing processing that is jumbled, and shifts in our thinking.

    I know I am.

    What I appreciate is how we can do this in both the safety of our cohort and peer group, but also in the public nature of this blog.

  4. OOOohhh, Jennifer! Beautiful masterful post! I love it! Your question in the beginning about how one viewed redemption before Evangelicalism and the Reformation is a blessing because however they viewed it, it most likely was not how we view it now. This most likely means the being redeemed has changed over the centuries and will continue to change. And it’s okay not to know how it happened centuries ago but it is important to look into it. Thank you.

    Ah, living in the tension…so challenging, so difficult, so needed. Now I’m asking what tensions do I need to live in and what tensions am I living in. And most importantly, what tensions am I intentionally avoiding?
    Thank you for your brilliant post. I have so much respect for you!

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