A phrase often used in church circles is that of finding one’s “Identity in Christ.” The substance behind it is that one is defined by Christ’s love for each one of us, expressed in his death on the cross. Atonement theology aside, there are major problems if the implications of such a statement go without scrutiny.
From experience, the spaces in which one hears this phrase used and exhorted are mostly White, and exclusively led by White men. However unintentionally, the leaders mold these spaces into their image. If this shaping is unintentional or passive, it is because of a flawed presupposition of neutrality.
Even good intentions, unable to be quarantined, fall prey to these behavioral and societal patterns and structures. Perceptions to the contrary come from an unawareness of the structural power dynamics at play and the assertion of exclusive invisible norms.
In the American church context, the invisible norms are Eurocentric, patriarchal, and heteronormative. These prohibit the full presence and participation of most of the world’s population in the Beloved Community.
Theologically, this is a Christological issue. Claiming or asserting an identity in Christ while being unaware of or passively (actively?) accepting structural norms is a dehumanization of Jesus. Rather than grappling with the complexities and subsequent implications of Jesus’ humanity in his historical and sociopolitical context, it is an active claim that Jesus is identified with the Powers of our day. I contend that this is at best, Christological carelessness, and at worst, heresy.
Such Christological carelessness leaves us with the defaults of our social context. It leaves only unfruitful societal values of anxiety-fueled dominance that demands to be alleviated through accumulation. It leaves us colorblind, gender blind, status blind, sexuality blind. We undercut and dehumanize people by ignoring who they are. Such carelessness leaves us finding our identity in systems of violence and oppression and calling them “Good News.” We are left with nothing but an American Jesus, one that says “woe to you who are poor,” and “bomb those who curse you.”
What would it mean for Christians to find their identity in Christ with an understanding of Christ’s lowliness?
Rather than a Christology that paints Jesus as on a faux-incarnational mission trip, we would have to grapple with the implications of God’s incarnation in an unskilled peasant from an occupied people. We would beg the oppressed to show us the way to Freedom.
If we are to embody Good News, we cannot find a foundational identity in a conjured figure who excludes most of humanity from their likeness. It means little to say that Jesus loves us if through our actions and the spaces we curate, we actually mean that God validates our social hierarchies. We must allow folks to join us in the complex fullness of their identities.
To the Powers, that is a most disturbing heresy.
Jordan Leahy (Lay-Hee) lives in Charlottesville, VA with his spouse, Lindsey and daughter, Ruby Day. He’s into Jesus, coffee & beer, books & music, and being outside exploring with his family. Despite his better judgment, he maintains a deep love of hockey and the Philadelphia Flyers.