Bona Fides

One of the striking aspects I noticed of our services today in St. Lucia was that all of the speakers either stated about themselves or had it stated about them what nation they were from.  As it happened, we had speakers from St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Suriname, St. Lucia, and Trinidad, all of whom delivered excellent messages.  Some of them even mentioned specifically aspects of their own nationality.  For example, the speaker from St. Vincent commented on the fact that he and his family were all alone on that island as far as the United Church of God was concerned because so many others had gone their own way.  The speaker from Suriname commented that he was a naturalized American citizen and helped out with the Church in his native country as well as Guyana, the Bahamas, and Jamaica.  It seemed, in general, that the speakers used their identity or spoke about their identity, or had it spoken of them, as a way of gaining some sort of credibility with an audience of mostly Caribbean islanders.  One would think, for example, that it would be a negative for a native-born American citizen to speak in a public seminar as these ones were to a local Caribbean audience, because the United States is a hegemonic power and not one which tends to be viewed as particularly empathetic to the concerns of those who live on the islands of the Caribbean.

In general, I am not fond of identity politics, as I comment from time to time [1].  I feel it necessary to note that I am in general not fond of identity politics, either that of the right or that of the left.  There is, in general, an asymmetry about identity politics and how they are viewed, as the identity politics of the left that focuses on reputedly marginalized and excluded groups is viewed with favor and those of men or white people are viewed with extreme negativity.  I consider identity politics as a whole to be at best problematic and at worst, and it is frequently at its worst, entirely illegitimate and unacceptable regardless of who it is practiced by.  This does not mean that identity is necessarily problematic, although it often is, but the use of identity as a means of acquiring power and seeking to marginalize others strictly is a dubious and frequently immoral one.

Among the more fascinating passages that I think about often [2] when the issue of identity politics comes up is Psalm 87.  In its entirety, Psalm 87 reads:  “His foundation is in the holy mountains.  The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.  Glorious things are spoken of you, o city of God! Selah.  “I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to those who know Me; behold, O Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia: ‘This one was born there.’”  And of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her; and the Most High Himself shall establish her.”  The Lord will record, when He registers the peoples: “This one was born there.” Selah.  Both the singers and the players on instruments say, “All my springs are in you.”  Psalm 87 explores the question of identity in a fascinating way, by pointing out how believers from all kinds of areas, many of them somewhat hostile to Israel, will be counted as native born citizens of Jerusalem.  The identity of faith trumps the identity of birth, something we would do well to remember in these days of great concern about identity politics.  Let us also note, though, that claiming an identity as a citizen of Jerusalem through one’s faith means that all our springs are to be found there.  There is no going back to claim one’s original identity against one’s new identity.  Claiming an identity as a citizen of Jerusalem means leaving behind the ways of the heathen and the political identity of one’s past.

There are many people who find the book of Ruth, for example, to be problematic on precisely these grounds.  While there are many who view Ruth (incorrectly) as being written in response to the anti-heathen polemics of the times of Ezra and Nehemiah where godly religious and civil leaders sought to free the returned exiles from entanglements with heathen religion and culture, there are many who are a part of such heathen cultures who view the book of Ruth as troublesome precisely because she is praised for having clung to the people and to the God of Israel while rejecting her own inheritance.  Those that are afraid of leaving behind the old ways to follow God know exactly what they are afraid of–this is a book that calls upon others to make a decision to obey God and to leave behind the past.  We have to ask ourselves if we are capable of doing that.  Can we leave behind our identities that we acquire through the accidents of birth and the sort of longings that we have and seek after the identity that comes from being a redeemed child of God?  There are no dual citizens in the Kingdom of God.  To receive the citizenship in the New Jerusalem as believers have done in generations before, we have to abandon the nations of our birth whose ways are contrary to God’s ways.  We must understand the seriousness of what is being asked.  At least those who point out how problematic questions of exclusive identity are are at least aware of what is at stake.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2010/12/02/names-i-call-myself-a-musing-on-the-politics-of-self-identity/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/02/23/on-the-formation-of-class-identity/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/08/09/the-google-diversity-memo-a-question-of-framing/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/07/23/book-review-republic-of-outsiders/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/05/21/whiteface/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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