Christian theology and identity politics (Martin Davie, 16 January 2024, Christianity Today)

[F]rom the standpoint of Christian theology the whole idea of dividing the world into good people and bad people has to be seen as completely mistaken. The reason this is the case is that the Christian faith, based on the teaching of the Bible, holds that every human being, with the sole exception of Jesus Christ, is a bad person in the sense that they are a sinner against God and their neighbour.

This basic Christian conviction is well expressed in To be a Christian, the catechism published by the Anglican Church in North America in 2020. The section on ‘Salvation’ in this new catechism declares:

“1.What is the human condition? Though created good and made for fellowship with our Creator, humanity has been cut off from God by self-centred rebellion against him, leading to lawless living, guilt, shame, death, and the fear of judgement. This is the state of sin. (Genesis 3:1–13; Psalm 14:1–3; Matthew 15:10–20; Romans 1:18–23; 3:9–23).”

The key point to note is that all human beings are sinners. In the words of Paul in Romans 3:23 ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ This applies to rich and poor alike, men and women alike, white, black and brown people alike, and heterosexual people and sexual minorities alike.

The consequence of this fact is that although we can (and must) distinguish between the deeds that people perform and say that some are good and some are bad, we cannot divide the world into good and bad people.

We cannot say that we are good while others are bad. As Jesus made clear, all we can ever say is ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ (Luke 18:13). We also cannot say of other people that X is good, and Y is bad. Viewed against God’s standards, everyone is bad. Thus, the conflict in the Middle East is not between bad Israelis and good Palestinians (or conversely between bad Palestinians and good Israelis).

From what I have said thus far it might appear that Christianity takes a very pessimistic view of things since it says that we are all sinners and all we can look forward to is ‘darkness, misery and eternal condemnation.’ However, three further things need to be considered.

First, even if Christianity is pessimistic this does not mean that it is wrong. If we are honest about ourselves, we know that we do not live as we should and that therefore, to quote C S Lewis in his book Mere Christianity, if God exists and is absolutely good he ‘must hate most of what we do…. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves his enemies.’

Secondly, while insisting that we are all sinners, the Bible, and mainstream Christian theology following the Bible, has always insisted that because they have been created by God in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27) fallen women and men retain an awareness of the distinction between good and evil, and an ability, albeit limited, to perform morally good actions. It is because that is the case that it is realistic from a Christian point of view to seek to ask people to take action to at least mitigate the consequences of conflicts such as the current conflict in the Middle East. That is not asking for the impossible.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Christianity offers hope for everyone.