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A response to identity politics

27th June 2020


David Patey responds to last week’s opinion column by James Knight entitled ‘Christians should rise above identity politics’ and shares his thoughts on our relationships with each other


James Knight finishes his essay with words with which I more or less agree:

Unless we treat each other as though our individuality, our feelings and our unique person-hood take primacy over any shared characteristics we have in common with others, we are not being fully appreciated for the whole essence of our distinct self, and we can't thrive as well as uniquely created people of God with a distinct purpose and an exceptional individuality
Reading that paragraph I was reminded of the sentiments of another declaration of hope and aspiration: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”

As a Christian, I have a faith that God has chosen to judge me not by the content of my character but by the grace of His. That is because it is absolutely central to my faith that this is not as good as it gets. There is a reason why we pray ‘Thy kingdom come’ – salvation is unfinished business. I know this is true of myself and looking around, I am pretty confident it is true of other people as well. It can be painful at times
And not just people, but the wider world as well. James Knight acknowledges the disadvantage which results from disablement – how could a good God allow this suffering? If you recognise that sin is not just the actions of individuals and their results but a condition affecting Creation, then it is less surprising that all manner of things are out of joint. Paul describes this wider experience of sin and redemption in Romans 8 where he talks of creation waiting in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed, groaning as in the pains of childbirth. Redemption is not complete: Thy kingdom come
As I have already said, James Knight acknowledges the disadvantage brought about by disability. He allows himself to do so, despite his reservations about lumping people together: despite his stern strictures in the first part of his article he has no methodological objection to recognising a group and the likely consequence of their condition
So, if evidence were available to show that, other variables being equal, people who are black have a harder time of it, I trust that he would recognise the data. Or, as a Humean, that he proportions his belief to the evidence
The argument then moves from what James asserts in his article, which is that identifying a group by their shared characteristics is not legitimate, to the question of what to do about it if a group is recognised to be systematically at a disadvantage?
I am persuaded that, as a non-black person, I am spared a range of disadvantages which black people experience. Black individuals are treated as black, not individuals. With James, I believe this means we cannot thrive. So, I believe it to be a situation needing correction. What is more I believe this to be urgent and necessary for redemption, because the way I read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 is not as a manifesto for individuality, but as a celebration of relationship. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body; if one part suffers, every part suffers with it”
Or, to go back to basics, I am my brother’s keeper

the image above is courtesy of


this article also appeared on Network Norfolk


David Patey is the owner of Heathfield Student Community Home and lives in Norwich. A long time ago he did a degree in Theology, and ever since he has been sitting the Practical paper!

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