Pastor’s Blog: The Only Identity That Lasts
“3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4, ESV).
“Thus you see plainly that Baptism is not a work which we do but is a treasure which God gives us and faith grasps, just as the Lord Christ upon the cross is not a work but a treasure comprehended and offered to us in the Word and received by faith” (Martin Luther, Large Catechism, Tappert 441:37).
Are you male or female? Black, brown, or some shade of white? Are you married or single? Are you straight, gay, or something else? Are you rich or poor? Democrat or Republican? Liberal or conservative? “And so on, and so on, and scooby dooby doo be. Different strokes for different folks,” as a song from my 14th year put it. That’s the world we live in. We are awash in identity politics, and it’s tearing this land apart.
According to the Christian faith, there are sinners and there are those who have died. If you are being fed a load of dozens of genders, woke and un-woke, intersectionality, white privilege and all the other ideologies masquerading as science, you can choose how much you want to swallow and how much you want to regurgitate. But that stuff is about a worldview that is hostile to and incompatible with the Christian faith. The fact that some of that is being preached and taught from pulpits and in religion classes will fit with those not faithful to the Scriptures, not consistent with the Creeds, and utterly at odd with Lutheran Christian theology. Lutheran Christians are scriptural, creedal, sacramental, liturgical, and confessional Christians. We read the Word of God through the lens of Law and Gospel (No and Yes), the plain sense of the text is received, and the clearest passages always interpret the murky.
According to identity politics, you are virtuous if you are female but androgynously so, not masculine, not white, not conservative, not Christian, not American, not capitalist, not married but sexually active, and utterly disgusted by and intolerant of those who do not share your virtuous identities. You cannot listen to, consider, or even allow in any space where you are those who are not like you or for you or do not share your disgust with those who do not share your virtuous identities. Indeed, you have every right to scream at, malign, punch, kick, destroy, label, and silence those who do not share your virtue. In short, those who traffic in such radicalism are as fascist as Nazi thugs, as hate-filled as Bolshevik mobs, and as irrational and psychopathic as French crowds during the Reign of Terror. Those who teach, indoctrinate, and propagate such ideology will answer some day to the God whom they despise. In short, whoever steals, kills, and destroys and passes that along to the young belongs to the father of lies.
In the Christian Church, you are always welcome no matter where you come from and no matter which identities you claim. You are welcome, because the Church is for sinners. You will be told you are a sinner by someone who is a sinner. You will hear the Word of God addressing you where you are, and before the Truth sets you free, it will make you angry, uncomfortable, and bitterly complaining, because you want to be told how good you are, how loving you can be without dying to yourself and abandoning yourself to God’s grace and mercy. You are dead in your trespasses. In a Lutheran Christian church, you will be afflicted where you are comfortable and comforted where you are afflicted. In a Lutheran Christian church, you will always be called to the only identity that survives physical death – namely, baptized child of God – and united with Christ in Baptism, you will receive Him in His Supper for the forgiveness of sins, the promise of eternal life, and the assurance of salvation when you die!
The particulars of your birth are where God has placed you – male or female, ethnicity or native tongue, skin color, type of family of origin, level of family income, and national citizenship. Because of sin your age-old rebellion, you will, by nature, be self-absorbed, willful, desirous of immediate gratification, undisciplined, and open to manipulation by those who fawn over you when you parrot back what they teach you. Because of sin your age-old rebellion, you will, by nature, avoid those things that are difficult, unpleasant, hard to hear, and will grow angry when some are utterly unwilling to accept whatever nonsense you spout just because it sounds good to you and you feel it strongly.
It should be noted that even people who disagree on creed but are yet self-disciplined, rooted, and moral persons, even regardless of religion or philosophy, have more in common with each other than they do with those who are driven to and fro by every wind of doctrine, as Paul once wrote to the Church in Ephesus (Ephesians 4:14). That is why you will see those who practice a major world religion and those who are ethical atheists consciously able to join in doing good particularly in regards to human need and human tragedy. A conservative Lutheran friend said, “My Muslim neighbor and I both agree we don’t want our daughters dressing immodestly and running with those with loose morals. We don’t want our neighborhood overrun with drug dealers, porn shops, and gang bangers.” Despite very different theologies or philosophies, people can live beside each other peacefully if they focus on what they have in common and what kind of community they want to live, work, and raise families in. We Lutheran Christians call this “civil righteousness,” an orderly world in which good is rewarded and evil is punished. According to natural law, those created in God’s image can reason what is good and right. It is civil righteousness that is on display when people are good neighbors with those most unlike them.
Lutheran Christians feed the hungry, because God wants the neighbor to be fed. We join with others in providing housing, food, and transportation for homeless families in the Family Promise program, because God wants the neighbors to have an opportunity to get back on their feet. We participate in the Kairos prison ministry and hospital ministries, because God wants the prisoners and the sick to be visited. We provide a welcome to those who are new, because God wants the stranger to be welcomed. All of these things are of the essence of the Christian life, but they are not exclusively so. Our motivation is related to our Baptism into Christ, but our non-Christian or atheist neighbor may join in much of the same work for completely different reasons. One can serve the neighbor in need despite incompatible doctrines, because one recognizes what is good, reasonable, and the best of ethical living.
So, let us be clear. One does not have to share faith or beliefs to cooperate or do good for others. A Christian will recognize that the image of God, however fractured because of sin, is nevertheless there in the neighbor who is on the side of the good, the true, and the beautiful. Likewise, one does not have to share faith or beliefs to recognize what is intrinsically evil. People of any or no faith can agree that a baby is a human being and ought never to be destroyed by someone unwilling to recognize the child’s humanity. This is not liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, American, or Christian. Whatever steals, kills, and destroys is intrinsically evil, and those who call evil “good” ought not hide behind labels.
At the end of life in this world, sooner or later, all the identities people claim will be reduced to one – dead human. From my days as a chaplain resident in a level one trauma center, I learned it doesn’t matter what your skin color or country of origin, rich or poor, Timex or Rolex, discount or designer, Mazda or Mercedes, et cetera, you end up naked and dead on a refrigerator shelf with better or lesser dental work and nails. All that nonsense useful idiots are spouting about identity will be so much feces.
We Lutheran Christians cling to one identity, baptized child of God, and our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. No merit of our own we claim, but solely lean on Jesus’ name.