Engaging Culture

Why Identity Politics is Killing Our Culture

The world is convulsing with the debate about “identity politics” – so much so that it’s tearing the very fabric of our nation. It’s a complex issue so I’ll stick to a single aspect that impacts the greater culture: The desire to gravitate only to people identical to us. On many college campuses, people gather around their sexual or political identities.

The micro-aggression crowd hangs with each other. The gender identity people all congregate around the same group. In fact the whole “safe space” movement is about students demanding that colleges protect them from actually encountering people who think differently from them.

I know people in Hollywood who never talk to conservatives. In the same way I know conservatives who lived their entire lives never engaging with someone on the Left. Worst of all, some Christians rarely have a conversation with a non-believer.

Today, far too many people live in their own echo chamber.

But when it comes to living with differences, one thing I’m incredibly grateful for is growing up in the American South.  For all the criticism we receive, when it comes to accepting other people, my childhood was like a Flannery O’Connor short story. For instance, we had two old ladies in our church who chewed tobacco and had spittoons in every room of the house. (And they were incredibly accurate spitters I might add.) As a young kid I had a standing appointment every week to play chess with another boy who had severe cerebral palsy – and we had fantastic conversations. Economically, we ranged from successful airline pilots to people who still had outdoor plumbing. Our church was populated with people who loved guns, and others who hated them, but we loved them all.


We had a particularly eccentric old man in our city who woke up every morning, got dressed, and walked to one of the busiest intersections in town and directed traffic. In spite of the traffic lights, we learned to follow his directions, and you know what? The police let him do it, and we understood. And when he died, they erected a bronze statue in his honor.

Today he would have been arrested and medicated.

In those days, most people had a “crazy uncle Roy” somewhere in the family, and it was perfectly normal. I had to grow up before I realized the rest of the world was different. I’ve often said that when it comes to crazy people, the North institutionalizes them, the West is afraid of them, and the South celebrates them.

Spending our lives with people who think just like we do doesn’t make us smarter, stronger, or wiser. And it certainly doesn’t “protect” us. It only impoverishes us. Challenges make us better, whether that challenge is getting fired, losing a loved one, or living next door to a wacky neighbor.

This week, get out of the bubble. Talk to someone who thinks differently than you, and make a real effort to understand him or her. It just may change the way you look at people.

And one of these days I’ll tell you about the neighbor who was abducted by a UFO…..

Photos: https://unsplash.com and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library

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  1. Great post! My husband grew up in Natchez, MS. My mother-in-law chews tobacco and I remember she had to have a 6 pack of Coors in the fridge everyday. They lived out in the country and had a stack of guns in the back bedroom. She thought I was from another planet when I asked her about the guns. I grew up in California and Hawaii in family that celebrated diversity and being different. My Cali niece is a Bernie Sanders fan. My niece in Atlanta is campaigning for Hilary. I voted for Obama and my husband voted for his opponent. I love God but I give people space to be human. I think we need to be intentional about being around people who are different from us. We also have a daughter with special needs and you are so right about people in the South – she is celebrated by her southern family and not tolerated.

    There is so much division in the church because of ‘identity politics.’ I believe the church should be a ‘uniter’ a safe place to explore your belief in God, ask questions, walk the journey of believing. Instead, we’ve made it a haven for proponents of identity politics. That is a whole nother rant. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Phil! This is so spot on. This theme has been central to some ongoing conversations regarding unity in the Body and being the salt/light,etc…a whole other topic. Thank you for this! Also, when can we hear the crazy UFO story?

  3. My older brother and I have a running debate over whether we had two three village idiots who were loved, encouraged, befriended, and fed. Coming to the revival meeting drunk and a bit disorderly was not accepted but understood. When kids were arrested they had a choice between jail or the military. Every opportunity was offered each person. It was great.

  4. Luke 12:35 “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; 36 and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. 38 And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 40 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” 41 Then Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. 45 But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. 49 “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! 51 Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. 52 For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. 53 Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” 54 Then He also said to the multitudes, “Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is. 55 And when you see the south wind blow, you say, ‘There will be hot weather’; and there is. 56 Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time? 57 “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right? 58 When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him, lest he drag you to the judge, the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you shall not depart from there till you have paid the very last mite.”

  5. My home town was like yours. In fact, we were blessed because villages are normally allocated only one village eccentric. (I won’t use idiot.) We had three of them. One used his badge from a Cracker Jack box to make citizens arrest and direct traffic. One lady could whistel in 7 languages. We were blessed. Going off to college with weird people was no stretch at all.

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