When I visit a church, I notice things. The number of blacks, Asians, and Latinos in relation to whites. Whether women are on the platform. How people are dressed. The quality of the cars in the parking lot. I notice whether the congregation is old or young, and assume that if it’s young, it’s vibrant. As an Anglican, I notice the order of worship and naturally look down my nose at all that is liturgically incorrect. I also notice how much paper is wasted in thick worship bulletins, how much empty air is being heated needlessly above the worshipers, and other signs of environmental friendliness.
I do this because I’ve been catechized to notice all these big and little differences. I’ve been catechized not by one group but by many different groups, each with its own identity and mission. It’s a phenomenon we might call identity churchmanship.
This is a Christian version of identity politics, which has come under severe criticism as of late. But before we join the chorus of critics, we are wise to remember the value of identity politics. Groups that feel oppressed or simply misunderstood find comfort and strength in banding together around their common identity. Many scholars consider the black identity politics of the 1960s as the beginning of this wave, and it was key to the success of the civil rights movement. Black identity politics gave African Americans the courage to work together for their rights. Since that time, we’ve seen identity politics play out in terms of gender, sexual orientation, generations, disability, and many other identities.
My late brother, Steven, for example, was blind from birth. Sometime in the ’90s he joined what was a blind identity politics group, with ...