I think that in the wider culture, we are getting to the point where identity sins (i.e., moral wrongs implicating an identity like race, sex, gender, religion, cultural background &c.) are considered the worst sins, and where social sins are considered more serious than individual sins. And I also think that liberal Christianity has more or less fully adopted this new moral paradigm.
As an orthodox Christian I am wary about this for a number of reasons.
While some people certainly look at this shift in morality and see it as praiseworthy social progress, I think that is uncritical and circular: we call it social progress when more people adopt the new social identity morality, because we have ourselves been socialized into the new social identity morality. We say it is ours because it is good, but we only call it good because it is ours. But coming into the Kingdom of God means becoming subject to God, acknowledging Jesus Christ as our king. And Jesus is the kind of king that reigns over us completely and thoroughly, which means that becoming subject to Jesus includes subjecting our habits, attitudes, ideas and even our cultural mores–like the augmented heinousness of identity sins–to his reign. When we become subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven, that allegiance trumps every other allegiance, including our invisible allegiances to culture and social identity.
Jesus didn’t say gender violence was worse than regular violence or that genocide was worse than mass murder (we only invented “genocide” as a concept relatively recently). He preached against all violence. He didn’t ask us to be particularly conscious of gender identity differences or people’s deeply-held religious sensibilities. He told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. The difference is that under the new social identity morality, social identity has become a special case, subject to a kind of strict moral scrutiny. Jesus didn’t teach that. Jesus didn’t teach special cases (except maybe sins against children!). And because Jesus was the full and complete revelation of God, I must absolutely reject any reading of Jesus that grades him on a curve for his time and place. Although he lived and ministered in a particular context, he is at the same time the eternal Word. We don’t grow into a more complete or more mature morality than Jesus.
The new social identity morality is easy to preach and easy to believe. It’s not brave to stand on the pulpit and tell people to not be racist. Everyone already thinks that. And it doesn’t really convict us of our sinfulness regardless of how much hand-wringing we do about our deeply-embedded prejudices and sense of privilege, because we are still liars. We are still murderers. We are still adulterers. We still steal. We still have hearts full of lust and addictions to pornography. We are still cruel. We are still slaves to our appetites. The new social identity morality is an easy morality to preach and believe because it’s a social morality, not an individual morality, and preoccupation with social identity morality is a distraction from our own broken and sinful natures. The new social identity morality means that we are a broken society in need of social redemption, which is true, but it is only true because we are a society composed of fallen and sinful human beings.
The new social identity morality is not self-evident, and it does not necessarily follow from traditional morality. Like all so-called social progress, new social identity morality is untested. Human society and culture are impossibly complex, and it is impossible to anticipate the ramifications of new ideas and new cultural norms, especially when they are adopted rapidly. We are talking about the rapid dissemination of powerful new ideas into an imperceptibly complex system, and there is simply no way to anticipate what the results will be, much less have any kind of certainty that they will be good. And that’s without even bringing up the fact that as fallen creatures, our ideas are also fallen. It should not come as a surprise then that history is full of examples of utopian ideas that end in killing fields.
So the more I hear about social sins, identity sins, and social identity morality in a Christian context, or worse, when I hear social identity morality implictly or explicitly presented as the heart of the message of Jesus, the more I think that we are not talking about the real Jesus and the real Christianity at all. To the extent that we make our Christianity subject to our fallen cultural whims and notions, no matter how good we think they are and how deeply we hold them, then our Christianity is compromised. We have ceased being a part of the Kingdom of God and become, however unwittingly, part of a satanic fifth column attempting to subvert it.
I pray that when we acknowledge Jesus as our King that we subject ourselves to him fully and completely, that we allow ourselves to be fully transformed by his grace into new creations, washed clean by his blood and freed by his sacrifice from all of the chains of this world that bind us and that, truly and finally free, we may be glorified in Jesus for eternity.