Today I would like to comment a bit on the process of the formation of group identity through common response to conflict, as a way of describing how I became aware of my political identity within my own particular faith, to give a bit of explanation as to one of the reasons why I chose the title for this blog that I did. In giving this explanation I wish not to attack or criticize any person in particular, but rather to explain a generally applicable process by which group identities are formed and by which people realize what “side” they are on by the presence of lines drawn in the sand by others.
Though as a child and teenager growing up I was aware of being unusual and different, of being able (and willing) to stand vocally against the crowd when that crowd was wrong, even when it meant that the hostility of those wicked mob-influenced individuals was directed personally at me, I was unaware of being on any side. I grew up with the sincere (if mistaken) belief that I was a complete outcast, a person alone in a hostile and cruel world, who had a few friends but no loyalty to a particular side because I did not belong anywhere I happened to be. Of course, growing up as an intelligent person in an area of anti-intellectual philistines probably didn’t help matters, nor did growing up as a self-aware and proud Northerner in an area of Southron neo-Confederates. I was not cowed into silence by the hostility, but I was of the mistaken belief that I was alone against the crowd, not realizing that there were plenty of others who stood on the same side of the line as I did, in other places.
It was not until I was a college student in Los Angeles, and going to church with a group of young people and adults (around the age of my parents) who enjoyed intellectual discourse and were not prone to being rigidly dogmatic in the wrong and hostile to the truths of history and scripture that conflicted with their mistaken traditions that I realized that far from being alone, I was actually around other people of my kind. It was a very healing experience for me, to realize that I was not alone or an outcast, but merely a person who had the misfortune of being out of place, of living my life on enemy soil. But even then I was unaware that by being myself and enjoying and relishing the company of others like myself that I had chosen a particular side. I was too busy enjoying and participating in friendly and intelligent discourse to realize that such an act was itself political.
Other people were far more quick to recognize that I was on a side than I was. In fact, by treating me as if I was on a particular side and attacking me personally accordingly–threatening me with bogus libel lawsuits, seeking to thwart my ability to develop my own God-given talents, or accusing me (falsely) of being a rebel with no ability to accept authority whatsoever–such people as were on the other side of the line they had drawn themselves forced me to find and support those who were on the same side of the line I was, with a realization that came about somewhat recently (only within the past year) that I was on a side at all.
Let us understand how that “side” developed, at least within my own personal experience, as I must confess that as an individualistic person who is not inclined to consider myself an insider of any groups I am not quick at all to act in political concert with other people. For me to realize a group identity requires a great deal of outside pressure and assault, rather than a personal instinct to join together with other people as part of a private, tightly knit elite. In doing so we will understand that it was others who drew the line and the opponents of where I stand that created the identity of belonging to a common group, rather than me or the people I support consciously doing so ourselves.
Let us examine the decisive line in the sand, from which the rest followed. In 2007, the former president of the United Church of God sought to move the Home Office of our church organization from Cincinnati, Ohio to Denton, Texas. This was done in a secretive manner, news of which was not released to elders or members at large until the plans had been drawn up and an option on the property had already been made. A relatively even division of elders stood on either side of the line either supporting the move, for various reasons, or opposing it for various reasons. In May of 2007 a narrow vote was made to support the move, leading those who opposed it to seek for a slowing down or reconsideration of the decision and for those who supported it to consider the narrow vote as a mandate to plow ahead without any attempt to conciliate those who strongly disagreed.
A year later this mistaken decision was reversed by another vote, that same president made every effort to conciliate those who had supported his plan, and immediately a witch hunt was begun about the supposed ethics of the reversal of the error. This witch hunt continued until those who were attacked without just cause were finally driven to remove that president from office, at which point his replacements and the government of the church came immediately and constantly (for the last 8 months to this point) under false accusations and defamatory abuse, which has brought people together in a group identity that they would not otherwise be aware of. It is ironic that those who have sought to maintain their power have created their own enemy through their libels and assaults, but such an irony is not unheard of in the melancholy annals of history.