“Whether we will, through the ministry of the gospel, lead people to find their root identity in Christ alone or whether we will confirm their worldly identity as primarily political animals is the question.”
In a new case of the tail wagging the dog, recent research indicates that Americans, whose political views were previously driven by their religious and ethnic identities, are now seeing those religious and ethnic identities being driven by their politics. Reporting on a paper by Patrick Egan, the website 538 summarizes:
…people shift the non-political parts of their identity, including ethnicity and religion, to align better with being a Democrat or a Republican…Increasingly, the political party you belong to represents a big part of your identity and is not just a reflection of your political views. It may even be your most important identity.
This also seems to match the sea change in how many in the American church view the personal ethics of political leaders. In 2011, 30% of white evangelicals believed an “elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” In 2016, that number rose dramatically to 72%. Similar but less dramatic increases were reported among other religious groups.
What can we make of this? For those of us committed to Jesus and His bride, this mysterious change does not speak well of us.
The increasing tension and political divide in America represent significant opportunity and significant temptation to the church. I believe that, at the bottom, both the temptation and opportunity have to do with identity. Whether we will, through the ministry of the gospel, lead people to find their root identity in Christ alone or whether we will confirm their worldly identity as primarily political animals is the question.