As conservatives, focusing our identity on “love of country” and “patriotism” is every bit as shaky as Vanderbilt building its foundation on “inclusion” and “tolerance”.
The controversy regarding Vanderbilt University’s decision, in the name of inclusion and diversity, to exclude Christian student organizations as official student organizations revealed the “identity” by which the University defines itself. Now it’s time to look at political conservatives.
Last week we noted that all of us have an identity, something that gives our lives significance, dignity and meaning. And with respect to Vanderbilt, we showed how an identity based on “inclusiveness” and “tolerance” is an illusion, a sham. No group includes or tolerates everyone. Every group recognizes that without some unifying principle or value, diversity is just a nice word for chaos and confusion.
But political conservatives can fall into a similar trap, and we need to be honest about it, too. For political conservatives our identity can become things like our conservatism. It can be our “love of country” and “patriotism.” It can be the Republican Party.
Being conservative in one’s philosophy is not a bad thing in itself, nor is it a bad thing to love one’s country and to be patriotic. And notwithstanding what political liberals would say, being a Republican is not a bad thing in itself either. But one needs to be careful that it doesn’t become one’s identity.
As I said last week, “If we want to have a real identity, that is not an illusion, it must be found in God.” Because many Christians are philosophically conservative, love their country (not saying others don’t), and are patriotic, it becomes easy to confuse the two. And I think I have come to see a telltale sign of when we get our identity confused.
Ironically, I found the “sign” in my ruminations about the fierce anger generated by those engaged in homosexual conduct. When someone, like me, says that such conduct is morally wrong and contrary to God’s design for human sexuality, I’m labeled a “hatemonger.” But when I say that, I’m not saying such persons cannot and do not contribute to society or that they cannot be excellent friends and good neighbors.
Nevertheless, I’m still a “hatemonger.” However, I’ve come to believe that my objection to their sexual practices evokes such anger because, for many, I have attacked their very identity as a human being. For some, what they do sexually defines who they are. In fact, we and they use the term “sexual identity.” So I understand the anger. But as I reflected on that, I began to consider that the same might be said when we find an angry political conservative.
Oh, I recognize that there is such a thing as righteous indignation. It’s a term we use to describe what Jesus did when he cleansed the temple of mercenaries with a whip. But when we conservatives find ourselves angry or, worse yet, hating someone who disagrees with us or who is getting their way culturally or politically, then maybe we need to check ourselves. We may be rationalizing as righteous anger an anger that is really rooted in a perceived threat to our own identity as human beings.
What might a right approach look like that allows me to pursue my “politics” and my country’s welfare without having my identity tied to the success of my efforts? What about this: When I am pursuing my political activities out my love for God expressed in the form of a desire to faithfully steward the authority that He has entrusted to me under our form of government, then my responsibility is not to “save America” or “put Republicans in control,” and my identity will not be found in those things. If those things happen as a byproduct of my stewardship, that is great. If they don’t and I’m hated because of the way I’ve stewarded that authority, then so be it; my identity in God remains intact. Done right, my focus would have been on my relationship with God, not on those other things that may or may not happen.
An identity based on what happens in culture and to America is building a foundation on shifting sand every bit as much as Vanderbilt building its foundation on inclusion and tolerance.
But here’s the rub: If it doesn’t matter to me whether culture or law “goes my way” because the outcome doesn’t affect who I am, then why be involved at all? Great question. I’ll talk about that next week.