Francis Fukuyama’s Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment was a challenging assignment, given the situation the world is facing. I believe his premise has merit and is worth our attention but attention has been a scarce commodity. What a couple of weeks it has been. My fifteen year-old daughter realized and remarked that the COVID-19 crisis will go down in history books. Indeed.
Fukuyama offers the history of identity politics and its current and future implications. I found his association of individualism with the Reformation an intriguing reminder. Martin Luther assaulted the emphasis on works by the Catholic Church and made the case that salvation came only through an inner state of faith. “The Reformation thus identified true religiosity as an individual’s subjective state, dissociating inner identity from outer practice.” I can see Protestantism’s contribution to identity politics and yet am drawn to the hope that the Church can be a binding agent instead of a fracturing agent – both for Itself and the world. It provides the shelter of a “creedal identity” that is desperately needed today.
Fukuyama’s “creedal identity” is an identity not founded on any one gender, race or sexuality but on one unifying creed or ideology. Summarizing an interview held at Purdue University, Fukuyama explained his perspective on the current political climate, saying that “Americans must unite themselves and focus on fostering an uplifting community rather than try to recognize the increasingly demanding individual.”
Our country and our world need uplifting community, that truly experienced, also honors individuals. And so does the Bride of Christ. Why is it much easier to see difference instead of commonality? I long for a greater sense of togetherness; I want a deeper connection to the Body of Christ. What unites us is much greater than what divides us. And I want to live this truth in ordinary, hidden daily means and not pull this quote out only when a pandemic hits.
Have we considered “our gloriously common calling?” My mentor friend Alicia Chole offered this phrase to me years ago probably after she perceived the pressurized grappling around my unique, niche ministry leadership identity. The drive for significance and recognition is natural and good – but only if Christ is the center of our lives. Otherwise, I believe these deep needs or drives are too heavy to bear ourselves. Our gloriously common calling offers relief and sounds a great deal like Jesus’ invitation to “come and follow Me”. All Christians have answered that call and are living to that end. That is a powerful binder that we all share.
Bebbington’s quadrilateral and later, Rob Warner’s usage of it, is one tool for viewing the fracturing of the Protestant Church into a kaleidoscope of denominations. Whether the identity is tied to a stronger emphasis on hell, conversion, missions, biblicalism or the like, we keep searching for groups who sound and think more and more like me.
Of course we are going to hold a myriad of opinions and preferences as a unique individual and that is understandable. But we must guard against the temptation to elevate them to the level of creed or we will lack the glory that Jesus promises in John 17 that comes from our unity of being in Christ:
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.