There’s a battle raging right now, and it’s hard to know whether it’s more tragic or more beautiful. On one side, we have subjective identity groups. On the other side, we have the camp of the ostensibly principled and objective. Think LGBTQ+ as an example of the identity type. Think evangelicals as the principled.
They’re not on a shared continuum. That’s why the shrieking gets louder as they get nearer to one another, and their ability to hear each other gets worse. They’re on parallel tracks, like two thundering trains, and they drown each other out as they pass.
Personal stories build communities.
How the Identity/Subjective People Build Community
Identity communities seem to form around personal, outlier stories being shared in the context of other people sharing similar stories. Using the LGBTQ+ example, maybe the personal story has to do with coming out as gay. It’s profoundly personal, and it’s an outlier story because it’s a minority story experienced as part of a minority facing negative social pressure.
How the Principle/Objective People Build Community
The other camp, the objective/principled camp, holds tight to ideas of impersonal truth. Most commonly, the impersonal truth claims validity based on religious doctrine. Of course, cultural doctrine is a pretty convenient surrogate when religious thinking runs thin. This camp tends to coalesce around ideas and authority rather than personal experience and compassion for outliers.
The tragedy to the battle is not the fact of conflict or the inability of the camps to interact. The tragedy is what each side is losing.
What Each Side is Losing
In short, the subjective side is losing God. At least a God who gets to define Himself. One whose distinct identity and authority represent a useful framework for living and for transcending human frailties. It’s one thing to use experience as a way of navigating one’s own perspective and sense of self. That approach falls short when defining someone else – especially God.
There are plenty of people in the identity/subjective world who would argue they’re more than willing to accept this loss. When all they’ve known of God is the religious doctrine that made them outliers, a certain level of protective agnosticism makes sense. When religious conviction threatens intimate relationships (as in the LGBTQ+ community), proximity to religion can feel a lot like cuddling a pet rattlesnake.
What about the objective/principled side? What’s their tragic loss? Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “facts don’t care about your feelings.” True enough. But you know who does care about your feelings? God, and anyone who loves you. Your feelings don’t change facts, but what the objective/principled side is losing at an increasing rate is humanity. The more people focus on principles and objectivity, the harder it is to hold space for irrationality, appetites, and the “self” in both lover and beloved.
Keeping Principles and Subjective Experience Together
If we all have a desire to know “right relationship,” we must refuse to ever jettison one of those words in favor of the other. There are plenty of people in the objective/principled world who demonstrate a preference for being “right” over remaining in relationships. Especially relationships that don’t conform to doctrinal norms or mandates. At a certain point, a person can conceive of themself as an object, an illustration of a principle, without a subjectively-affirmed identity. This, rather than as a person defined and pursued with a timeless longing by a God whose goal is communion and relational intimacy. And whose efforts and sacrifices are the only means by which intimacy can be achieved.
What is the Identity + Objectivity Solution?
So, what’s the beauty in the battle? The beauty is the solution. And that solution is the function of this site: to share personal, outlier stories of Jesus. One camp already values personal, outlier stories and knows how to make room for the approach. The other camp already insists on the importance of God. Jesus is the summation of Heaven’s desire to reconcile humanity with divinity. A loving invitation to go beyond ourselves without ever erasing ourselves.
Tribes like evangelicalism begin with a rejection of a religiosity in favor of a “personal relationship with Jesus.” But when faced with divergent personal experience stories, an impersonal religious objectivity rises to the top. The history of faithful Christianity is all about personal outlier stories. Not so today.
Meanwhile, current identity tribes struggle most of all with personal stories that are outliers to specific reactionary agendas. The most religious stiff-necked among us are very often the ones most hostile to ideas of religion at all. The history of emerging tribes and emerging movements is the generous embrace of strangers. Definition by inclusion, not tribal animus.
Getting Beyond Tribes
Tribes won’t save us. They only consume us as they pit us against other tribes. We need to dive into our personal experiences, in front of one another, and ask where those experiences truly invite us. The “where” could well be “together,” and that in the company of a Jesus all of us need to meet afresh. If He is who He says He is, we’ll see Him and find each other as we find Him.
If you want to grab the beauty instead of the tragedy, it comes down to these two things: look for what Jesus does, and share your personal, outlier stories not for the sake of building a religion, but for the sake of helping others see Jesus too.