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

The Outside Edge of the Inside

Written by: on December 10, 2023

Identity politics is a charged phrase these days. For some, it elicits a prideful response, for others a snicker or sneer. Regardless of whether one is a fan of identity politics, we all must acknowledge that we want to be valued for who we are. It is this desire for recognition and respect that Francis Fukuyama places at the heart of his book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment.  Described by one reviewer as a “macro-historian,”[1] Fukuyama looks at qualitative patterns emerging across Western society and names identity politics as a force that must be addressed one way or another.

Identity Politics Defined and Dissected

Fukuyama traces the roots of modern-day identity politics back to the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther became one of the first Western thinkers to describe the importance of one’s “inner self” and prioritize it over the external being.[2] As power structures began to change and modernism took hold, more and more people began to identify with groups who had previously been marginalized and sought recognition and restitution for that marginalization. In one sense, this was a positive development as it resulted in important social advances such as the civil rights movement and equal rights for women. However, Fukuyama states “that desire for equal recognition can easily slide over into a demand for recognition of the group’s superiority.”[3]

For the remainder of this essay, I will further dissect the concept of identity politics with its negative and positive aspects through a reflection of my journey as a female leader in a Protestant denomination that is publicly, proudly, and staunchly complementarian.

Constantly Proving One’s Worth is Exhausting & Frustrating

It wasn’t until I was out of college in 1998 that I recall questioning why there were no female pastors in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). My entire life, I was told that I could be anything I wanted to be, and I believed it. It didn’t bother me much when I first started digging into the difference between egalitarianism and complementarianism because I had already declared that “I would never work for the church.”  It wasn’t that I thought there was anything wrong with it, but so many of my relatives (including my parents) were church workers and I was determined to do something completely different. Fast forward to 2003 and I found myself leaving the corporate world to work at a church—God has a sense of humor like that.  As I found my way around the church world, I quickly learned there would be limitations to what I could do and what roles I could hold.

I began feeling what Fukuyama described as “that desire for equal recognition”[4]  and sought out people and perspectives that aligned with my feeling of resentment. I had unknowling entered the world of identity politics, and it was exhausting.

Why Would You Stay?

That’s the very question I found myself asking author Heather Choate Davis 5 years ago as I sat across from her at a patio table. She is part of the same denomination and is a theologian unable to give a message at an LCMS church because of her gender. She told me something I’ll never forget. She said, “you always have the choice to leave, but if you leave the inside you’ll never have the same influence to evoke change. I’ve decided it’s better to be on the very outside edge of the inside and see what happens in my lifetime.”

That’s the crux of the tension in identity politics. Yes, it’s good to identify with others experiencing the same marginalization. Yes, it’s good to seek equality and reform. However, when that goal turns into us vs them or we seek the easy way out, we can cause more walls to be built and more division to separate. We see this happening with Christian nationalism and nationalism in general. To avoid the pitfalls and dangers of nationalism, “Fukuyama proposes that democratic nations adopt a national identity that is creedal and based on traditions and common national purpose.”[5] He proposes that coming together in commonality is better than further division.

My personal experience as a woman leader in a complementarian denomination is quite different from a democracy, but perhaps the same principles apply. For the time being, you’ll find me quietly (or not so quietly) sitting as far on the outside edge of the inside as possible. Hopefully using what I’ve learned to find common ground where possible until things change or God clearly calls me somewhere new.

[1] “Identity According to Francis Fukuyama: An Obstacle to the End of History,” Politics in Central Europe (Pilsen) 16, no. 1 (2020): 328, https://doi.org/10.2478/pce-2020-0015.

[2] Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, First Edition (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018), 26.

[3] Fukuyama, 22.

[4] Fukuyama, 22.

[5] Grace Rademacher, “Dignity and the Psychology of Nationalism: A Review of Francis Fukuyama’s Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment,” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs 20, no. 1 (2019): 160–62, https://doi.org/10.1353/gia.2019.0021.

About the Author


Laura Fleetwood

Laura Fleetwood is a Christian creative, certified Enneagram Coach, doctoral student at Portland Seminary and Creative Director at her home church, Messiah St. Charles. As a published author, national faith speaker, podcaster and self-described anxiety warrior, Laura uses storytelling to teach you how to seek the S T I L L in the midst of your chaotic life. Find Laura at www.seekingthestill.com

3 responses to “The Outside Edge of the Inside”

  1. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Laura – Thank you for your work within the LCMS. It is not an easy choice to work for reform within the system (not easy outside either) but you are doing holy and sacred work. My theology shifted in seminary when I was in relationship with women during ordination. I heard their stories and the challenges they faced within their denomination. So, my theological perspective shifted because of those I was in community with. I would not have had that experience if these women hadn’t pursued their call despite the resistance they faced. Thank you for your voice and influence.

  2. mm Daron George says:


    Thanks for your post. I enjoyed reading it. In light of Francis Fukuyama’s views on identity politics, how can religious organizations balance the need for individual recognition with the risk of fostering superiority complexes within their communities?

  3. Laura,
    I always love reading your perspectives. I really liked the part where you brought out the quote regarding recognition of identity in groups can slide into a demand for superiority. It seems as if this continued division of ourselves leads to the the struggles we face.

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