Over the years, “intersectionality” has been expanded to include “studies that integrate the disadvantages caused by sexual orientation, class, age, body size, gender identification, ability, and more,” Corey noted. With a growing list like that, some have noted that this theory thus creates a kind of “oppression Olympics” and that even those who hold to the theory are actually less empathetic to people they purport to care about in light of the competition about who has been more victimized collectively.
A concept appearing more and more in American political discourse and on college campuses is “intersectionality,” a theory that is becoming a political movement that noted Christian thinkers consider contrary to the Gospel.
Broadly defined — though its precise meaning is disputed — “intersectionality” refers to the interconnected nature of social categories like race, gender, class and how these identity markers create overlapping and interdependent systems of disadvantage or discrimination.
For example, when applied to a distinctly American context, in light of history and the discrimination shown to women as well as the systematic racial prejudice shown to black people, intersectionality holds that a black woman is at a greater disadvantage than both a black man and a white woman and is even more disadvantaged than a white man. An additional layer of disadvantage would appear if the black woman was also a lesbian, this theory holds.
Prominent theologians and thinkers have written in recent weeks about how this way of viewing the world is at odds with the Christian faith even as it may highlight societal injustices.
Here are three things you should know about intersectionality.
- The theory is based on a long list of identity categories that often compete with each other regarding who is the most oppressed.
Novak Journalism Fellow Elizabeth Corey writes in the August edition of the journal First Things that the term “intersectionality” originated in a 1989 article by black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw about nondiscrimination law. Crenshaw fleshed out this idea by explaining a 1977 case where five black women who had been fired from General Motors sued the company, arguing that they had been wrongfully terminated because of compounded racial and gender discrimination. The women were unwilling to sue on the basis of just one factor alone, insisting that both physical traits together were used against them in their firing.
Over the years, “intersectionality” has been expanded to include “studies that integrate the disadvantages caused by sexual orientation, class, age, body size, gender identification, ability, and more,” Corey noted.
With a growing list like that, some have noted that this theory thus creates a kind of “oppression Olympics” and that even those who hold to the theory are actually less empathetic to people they purport to care about in light of the competition about who has been more victimized collectively.
In March of this year, the European Journal of Social Psychology published three studies showing “evidence that concerns over the societal recognition of collective victimhood can be associated with intergroup animosity.”
“In some societal contexts, in which formerly victimized groups that have no common history of intergroup conflict live in the same society and do not compete for other reasons, competition over collective victimhood recognition can be the main, or even the sole, source of intergroup tension.”
- The theory may highlight real phenomena found in the Bible, but is ultimately incompatible with Christianity.
To the extent intersectionality appears in Scripture, it could be argued that it is seen in the Gospels in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well who was known for her promiscuous sexual history in John 4. Both women and Samaritans had considerably lower social standing in the male-dominated, Jewish culture of the day. Sexual sin in particular was shamed significantly, making Jesus’ interactions with her that much more radical.