Intersectionality

Last November Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor of ethical leadership at New York University delivered a lecture entitled The Age of Outrage. And in that he said, “Injustice is centrifugal.” Do you understand what he means by that – injustice is centrifugal? Centrifugal is a force that is directed away from its axis of rotation. So, in other words injustice is divisive. It sends people in different directions. It destroys trust, causes righteous anger.

Institutionalized racism bakes injustice into the system and plants the seeds of an eventual explosion. He goes on to illustrate how in slavery, for example, racism was baked into the system and you eventually have explosions like the civil war, ongoing more subtle explosions like Jim Crow laws and the reactions to those. And then he talks about the civil rights struggle which he describes as a form of identity politics. But he argues that it is a good, generally, a good kind of identity politics.

For example, when you read Martin Luther King Jr’s major speeches, King was arguing against injustice by referring to documents like the Bible or like the Constitution. Dr. Haidt is not a Christian. He’s not arguing trying to make this a Christian country. What he what he’s arguing is that Dr. King’s arguments were based on documents that attempted to unite all people.

For example, in Dr. King’s speech at the March on Washington he said this,

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

Now do you hear the hope in those words? There was this ideal, this vision we have not lived up to, but there is hope because of this promissory note that we will live up to this ideal where he says further,

“I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

Dr. Haidt is arguing that these words were framing “our greatest moral failing as an opportunity for centripetal redemption.” Now again he’s not talking about theological redemption, but what he’s talking about is centripetal, that is a force that pulls inward rather than fragments. He’s talking about racial reconciliation rather than sending us into more division. And he’s calling this a good kind of identity politics where, and this is key. I don’t know that he says it this way, but I think this is his point, where the well-being of one group is linked to the ideals of the whole. Do you follow that?

The well-being of a group is linked that is currently not well, is linked to the ideals of the whole. But this kind of identity politics is increasingly being rejected in our country. And another kind is being embraced. And it’s especially being embraced on university campuses. And the term that helps us understand what this new kind is, is intersectionality. Now I know when you saw that as the title of this sermon, you got really excited. How warm, meaningful this message is going to be.

I know it sounds a little more technical, but I believe it’s really important, especially for high school and college students, but really for all of us to understand, I’m not talking about the divisive politics at the expressive level, I’m talking about as a shepherd burdened for the roots of what is feeding that kind of thinking and that kind of division. And if we don’t get back to the roots, we’re not going to really understand what has happened on either side of the aisle.

So today we’re going to focus in on what really is intersectionality, how should we think about it. If you’re here for the first time in this series as we’re ending this series, you’re going to think, wow this is a weird place to start. Well we’re not starting, we’re actually building on a pretty big foundation. So, I would encourage you to go back and listen to the foundation that leads us to this. But in order to build a foundation for what we’re going to talk about today, I want us to look at Psalm 62 because it helps us understand a frame of thinking through which we can look at what is happening. Psalm 62 is all about where do we turn for what we need, specifically when we are in crisis. And he gives three big answers.

Number 1, God is the only source of true security. God the one who made us and all things, who understands, sovereignly oversees all things, is the only source of true security.vVerse 1 Psalm 62,

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, from him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”

So, when words fail, notice the silence there, eyes lock in on the only one who can come through. We breathe, we rest, we reject frantic centrifugal thoughts. So, verses 1 and 2 are stating where true security is, and you’re going to notice the psalm alternates between true and false sources of security. So, jump down to verse 5 where he comes back to the true source,

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”

So, he comes back and says essentially the same thing he just said, but he does a couple things he didn’t do before. First of all, notice in verse 5 he is reminding himself, he is talking to himself. He says, “O my soul,” as if to communicate saying it once or hearing it in a sermon is not enough. You have to preach this to yourself continually because everything inside of you and around you is screaming the opposite. “O my soul.” Then in verse 8 he turns, and he proclaims it to everyone else.

O people, verse 8, “Trust in him at all times, O people.” You’re going to be tempted to put your confidence elsewhere. There’s also an intensifying of his confidence, if you notice in verse 2, “I shall not be greatly shaken.” Then verse 6, “I shall not be shaken.” My refuge is God. Number 1, God is the only source of true security. Now he alternates to fake security.

Number 2, man schemes for security through status redistribution. Man schemes for security through status redistribution. Verse 3,

“How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence. They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly curse.”

So, we think that security is going to come by getting what others have. It doesn’t matter how much I have, I don’t like the fact you have something that I don’t have. As Kidner writes of these verses, “Evil is ruthlessly competitive.” We crave power, verse 4, we conceal our intentions, latter part of verse 4, “we take pleasure in falsehood” and if you skip down to verse 9 where he comes back to this false source of security, verse 9, “those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion.” You see how he is flattening social caste systems?

Doesn’t matter if your high born or if your low born, you’re a breath, and it’s that word wind. Think vanity, think Ecclesiastes. You’re insubstantial. You have a weightlessness to you, and that weightlessness of verse 9 “breath” is in contrast to the glory of verse 7, that “On God rests my glory. That word glory is kavod, which is the Hebrew word that has the idea of weightiness. God is my weightiness my significance. I rest in him, not in my house, not in my neighborhood, not in my bank account, not in my success. Even the appearance of success and security are lies.

Verse 10, whether you’re talking about street crimes like robbery or white-collar greed, riches increase, both are delusionally dangerous. Whether you’re joining gangs or golf courses, golf membership, in either case he is saying If you think that status is going to provide security, you’re delusional. So, number 2, man schemes for security through status redistribution.

Number 3, God has the power and the love and holds man accountable. Verse 11,

“Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work.”

So real power is God’s property. He is great. The contrast here is with pretend power of human injustice, verse 4 and of human achievement, verse 10. Real power is God’s property. Secondly real love is God’s property. He is good. “To you belongs steadfast love.” And that steadfast love is hesed, which is that loyal covenant love, in contrast to verse 4 where mouths bless and hearts curse. So, people who find their source of power and love in God aren’t playing the status game or the status card.

Trying to find their own security through seeing themselves as under or over or equal to other people. It’s like drinking, that kind of status redistribution is like drinking salt water. You never satisfy your thirst or scratching an itch. The more you scratch, the more you need to scratch.

So today I’m contending that we as a nation are pursuing power and love in ways that actually increase our insecurity. And we’re focusing in on one way in which we do this. There are many ways in which we do this. One way is intersectionality. So, what is intersectionality? It is the way in which different kinds of discrimination intersect. In 1989 UCLA law professor Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term to describe a discrimination case at General Motors. She was convinced that Black women were experiencing hiring discrimination.

However, the judge in the case did not agree because the defense argued there’s no racism in this case. There’s no sexism in this case. And their defense hinged on the fact that Black men were hired for manufacturing, so there’s no racism. White women were hired for clerical; therefore there’s no sexism. But what Kimberle was proposing is that to understand discrimination you can’t simply look at a single factor of identity. You have to look at the intersection of several factors. Because even though Black people were being hired, as in men, and women were being hired, as in white women, Black women were being greatly underrepresented, is what she was arguing.  In statistics, this is known as interaction effects, that is the effect of one variable depends on another variable.

So, kids can understand this. If you’re walking home from (Oh great, we’re going to give you nightmares). If you’re walking home from church and you encounter a bear and you play dead, you’ve got about a 50% chance of survival, theoretically. But things change. If you encounter a black bear and you play dead, your chance of survival actually goes down. If you if you encounter a grizzly bear and you play dead your chance of survival actually goes up. And it works the other way, too. If you encounter a black bear, and you pretend to be big and strong, your chance of survival goes up statistically. If you encounter a grizzly bear, your chance of survival if you try to pretend to be strong, it goes down.

So, what is going on there statistically? And we do have a counseling ministry here if your children are traumatized at all by this inappropriate illustration. So, the interaction effect is, your chances of being killed are affected as various factors interact with one another, the kind of bear and the kind of response. And what advocates of intersectionality are arguing is we cannot simply address injustices by looking at main effects, race or sex, gender of the individual, but we need to look at the way the effects interact with one another. Does that make sense? Some of you look scared to go out of the building but the point is clear hopefully.

So, let’s talk first about positive aspects of intersectionality. Why is this a good thing first, and then we’ll talk about some concerns. So, intersectionality in its positive form.

Number 1, it actually increases our awareness of someone’s vulnerability. So as Christians we want to know people’s individual struggles so we can pray specifically and help appropriately. As Christians our goal is not just to help, because you can actually help in a way that hurts, but to help in a way that actually helps. If we, like God, care about individual and collective justice, which he clearly does, then this must be a priority.

Let me illustrate this from a book in the Old Testament, the Book of Ruth. Do you remember when Ruth (who the Book of Ruth is named after) was coming back to Israel, was coming to Israel for the first time with her mother-in-law Naomi. She had a number of challenges. First of all, she was Moabite, so she was a foreigner. Secondly, she was a woman. Now you get a glimpse of the need for sensitivity in the way these two variables interact with one another when you see in chapter 2 verse 9, Boaz who is the farmer who owned the land says to Ruth who is picking up the scraps on the field to take them home and feed herself and Naomi. Boaz says to Ruth, “I have told the young men not to touch you.”

See what’s communicated there? Boaz, as someone who had some degree of power because he owned the land and a lot of people worked for him, was aware of the interaction of several aspects of Ruth’s identity. She was a woman. She was a foreign woman, which meant she didn’t have a network. She didn’t have a lot of people looking out for her. She didn’t have a lot of power. And so, I’m going to look out for you, and I want to make sure that nobody touches you, nobody does you wrong.

So, she’s a Moabite, a woman, a widow, and poor. And all of these interact in a way that makes Ruth especially vulnerable. And this is really big. Boaz uses his advantages, his status in society not as a way to prey upon or ignore or sweep aside Ruth, but as aware of, to understand her vulnerabilities, and to make sure he steps in and uses what he has to help those who don’t have what he has. It’s really big. To provide a voice for the voiceless as Christians, and this is big especially in light of what I’m going to be saying and a little bit, as Christians it’s vital that we not permit the abuses of intersectionality to silence us when we encounter injustice. Because in our culture right now there are so many people crying wolf that it can actually blind us and deafen us when there is actual injustice that needs to be addressed. So, we want to make sure as we talk about something like intersectionality that even though there are obvious abuses, that we learn to be sensitive to the way various people’s vulnerabilities intersect, and to respond appropriately.

Secondly, this increases respect for people, all people and for God’s grace in their lives. See when Boaz noticed Ruth, what she had done for Naomi. He actually, it blew him away. Because when he was gracious to Ruth, Ruth responded like why are you doing this for me? I mean I’m a widow, I’m a foreigner, I have no claim to any of the kindness you have shown. And Boaz’s response is, we’re all talking about how amazing it is that you would leave your family and homeland and travel this distance with your mother-in-law to care for her and make sure she’s safe and provided for at great risk to yourself.

So, by understanding the interaction of these variables in Ruth’s life, it actually heightens an awareness of, look at the grace of God in your life! I thank God for you. I give glory to God for the grace in your life. I see what you’ve had to face. I see the challenges you have, and I see the way you’re facing them with confidence. And so, God receives glory, and people are encouraged because their eyes are open. These are just a couple of the positive expressions of intersectionality. But let’s talk about the negative form. I’m going to mention five aspects. Sure, there are many.

Number 1, intersectionality in its negative form is cultic. David French wrote about this recently. It’s cultic.

It was foolish for anyone to believe that a less Christian America would be a less religious America. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes. God ‘put eternity in man’s heart.’ Traditional Christianity and Judaism aren’t just being removed from American life; they’re being replaced. The more passive person often fills its heart with the saccharine sweetness of moralistic therapeutic deism.

That’s a mouthful. Let’s stop for a second and make sure we understand what he’s talking about there. Moralistic, therapeutic deism. That is, God is our therapist. He exists to take care of us. Each person must find out what’s right on their own. And if you’re good enough you’ll make it to heaven. That is the new religion of America. You bump into your average, what he calls passive person just breathing the air in America. You’re going to find some version of MTD, moralistic therapeutic deism.

But also, he says you’re going to find the opposite, the non-passive person. The angry activist often stokes the burning fires of intersectionality. The angry activist often stokes the burning fires of intersectionality.

So, intersectionality has evolved in our day from a helpful tool to a religion. Well if it’s a religion, what does it preach? Here are the tenants of intersectionality. It has a mortal sin. The mortal sin of intersectionality is privilege. Remission for that sin is to check it, check your privilege. Your duty as a good intersectionalist is to control language and labels. Control language and labels. And the highest calling. The missionary of intersectionality is to be an activist. As Senator Chris Murphy said not too long ago,

“There is no anxiety or sadness or fear you feel right now that cannot be cured by political action.”

Wow. You see that that is not a political statement. That’s a religious statement. That’s the opposite of Psalm 62. Where do you turn? What do you do? Heresy in intersectionality, if you want to be burned as a heretic then be truly tolerant.

You know what I mean by tolerant? The true meaning of tolerant. We disagree, but I respect you and respect your right to speak and believe. One former advocate of intersectionality who described himself as a queer activist but then has recently turned from that, turned from intersectionality and described it as a cult, I think wisely listed four aspects that appear in intersectionality – dogmatism, group think, crusader mentality, and anti-intellectualism. Now I don’t have time to unpack all four of those. Let me just mention an example of the last one.

If you watch on university campuses when a speaker invited to the campus is shouted down, you will hear examples of all four of those. But at one recently where two speakers were shouted down, and one of the speakers actually had to go to the hospital because she was hurt by the mob of college students. A couple the students were saying this. These are exact words from that mob of college students.

“Science has always been used to legitimize racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, ableism, and homophobia, all veiled as rational and fact and supported by the government and state. In this world today, there is little that is true ‘fact.’”

When you have your most elite college students on college campuses across the country saying that science is useless, and facts are undiscernible, what has happened to our education? What is actually going on? A respected scholar is ambushed and removed without even being able to speak. Facts are unable to be discerned. If that’s not a definition of cultic, I don’t know what is.

Second. intersectionality is hopeless because, in spite of its religious rituals, there is no hope of redemption in intersectionality. As Andrew Sullivan wrote recently, the only thing this religion lacks of course is salvation. Life is simply an interlocking drama of oppression and power and resistance ending only in death. It’s Marx without the final total liberation.

If you get the sense, if you read people who have been immersed in intersectionality, that there’s a hopelessness there which I have encountered for a long time, and I had a hard time putting my finger on what is this. It’s because it really is hopeless. It is that unending drama of oppression. Let me just show you one example.

Staff writer for The Harvard Crimson wrote an article entitled “Beware the Male Feminist.” “What these male feminists fail to realize is that, as men, they will always be oppressors.” Now let me pause for a second. She’s not talking about men who are beating their wives or men who are crushing women. She’s talking about the most enlightened of all men from her perspective. The men who advocate feminism and are very much involved in promoting it. She’s saying they are always oppressors.

“No matter how many feminist marches they attend or how much feminist literature they read, they are not exempt from perpetuating the subordination of women. Their support of the women’s movement does not erase the fact that they, on an individual level, are capable of harassing, assaulting, or silencing women.” [So, if you’re capable, you’re culpable.] “Nor that, on a structural level, they continue to benefit from a system that establishes male dominance at the expense of women.”

Don’t misunderstand me. Obviously, you have men that oppress, but to make a statement like this… She goes on to explain that their feelings of guilt and their good intentions do not exempt them from their class (again see that class warfare?) which is culpable for misogyny.

So, the comparable religion would be like me standing before you week after week. You’re a bunch of sinners. You’re dirty rotten oppressors. There is no Jesus. There is no cross. There is no forgiveness. There is no change. And then you wonder why, I don’t know why I go away from church feel a little discouraged. I can’t put a finger on it.

And the interesting thing is if you talk about it like I’m talking about it right now, the only reason you’re talking about it in any kind of critical manner is because you have power and you don’t want to give it up. So, and then there’s no way out. We can’t even have a conversation about what is what is true oppression what is not how can we move forward together. It’s hopeless.

Number 3, it’s exclusive. Intersectionality claims to speak for all minorities and therefore to be inclusive. However, the opposite is actually true. As Helen Pluckrose writes in her essay “The Problem with Intersectional Feminism,” she writes

“It is clearly misguided to assume that by listening to intersectionals, we are listening to women, people of color, LGBTs, and the disabled. We are, in fact, listening to a minority, ideological view dominated by people from an economically privileged class who have had a university education in the social sciences and/or the necessary leisure time and education to study intersectionality, critical race theory, queer theory and critical analyses of ableism.”

So, she’s arguing even though it’s claim to speak for all these minorities, it’s really a very narrow voice speaking from a very limited perspective.

Number 4, It is divisive. It is devisive in contrast to the unifying hopefulness of the original civil rights movement. Intersectional activism actually leads to more division. Dr. Haidt highlights this again.

“This means that on any campus where intersectionality thrives, conflict will be eternal, because no campus can eliminate all offense, all microaggressions, and all misunderstandings. This is why the use of shout-downs, intimidation, even violence in response to words and ideas is most common at our most progressive universities, in the most progressive regions of the country. Its schools such as Yale, Brown, Middlebury in New England, UC Berkeley Evergreen and Reed on the West Coast. Are those the places where oppression is worst, or are they places where this new way of thinking is most widespread?”

So rather than softening tribal divisions, intersectionality does the opposite. It fosters a victim tribalism where the more disadvantages you have, the more power you have. And I don’t have time to give examples, but it is tragic to watch people with disadvantages fight over who has the more disadvantages, which means they have the microphone. And everybody with fewer disadvantages, not just the white male cisgendered person. They are obviously out. But everybody else is fighting for the microphone, and it’s Psalm 62:3-4 on steroids. It’s divisive.

Number 5, it’s subjective. This is perhaps the most serious with the most long-term consequences because intersectionality denies absolute truth and emphasizes subjectivism. That is your experience, which is a real experience, but that is the test of truth, in some cases, a real experience. So, Dr. King’s argument that we as a nation must not allow our differences from keeping us, to keep us from our ideals, that kind of thinking is out. Ideals are removed. Truth is removed. It’s replaced with individual experience, and we’re in the realm of Judges 21 where everyone is doing that which is right in his own eyes.

Think back to Psalm 62. In that Psalm, we alternated between God’s objective stability and man’s subjective instability. You could feel the tension between, put your confidence here, not here. Put your confidence here, not here, all through the Psalm but the Psalm ends in verse 12, second part with “For you God will render to a man according to his work.”

This statement is quoted by Paul in Romans 2:6,

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking” [That’s that status redistribution. Somehow, I’ve got to get power by putting you down.] “and do not obey the truth,” [Which is not subjective. It’s objective.] “but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no [what] partiality.”

Now this passage is not advocating salvation by works, if you keep reading you’ll see that very clearly, as the message of Romans unfolds. But he is undermining partiality. Psalm 62. If you’re of low estate you’re breath. If you’re of high estate, you’re a delusion. It’s not about that. Partiality is the idea of the appearance of your face, the color of your skin, the kind of clothing you’re wearing does not determine your value as a person or your status before God. Paul goes on Romans 3:9,

“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No not at all. For we have already charged at all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:” [and look at this emphasis on no exceptions. We’re all in the same condition.] “None is righteous. No not one. No one understands. No one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

So, the gospel is unifying us all in our need. Strips away the false markers of success or failure. And the gospel then unifies us in his provision. Romans 3:21,

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

So, intersectionality is a way in which we divide everyone based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities. Let’s partition everybody up. Jesus unites us. We all have the same problem. Now Jesus is obviously not unaware of unique challenges in our secondary, you could call it secondary identities, the way we live out life. But in essence, the core of who we are, we are all united in the same problem and all united in the same solution.

It is not centrifugal, it is centripetal. He’s bringing people together. And so, as believers we can’t look at other people with racist eyes or sexist eyes or anything that divides people into political or identity categories and miss who we really are before God. I want us to pray, and then we’re going to respond by directing our eyes completely on Christ who unites. You get a glimpse of this if we had time to explore this, in the Book of Revelation, unites all eyes on him. We get a clear glimpse of who we really are and what our problem is, and then what unites people rather than divides people.

So, Father we cry out to you as our only source of salvation. You only are our rock and our salvation, our fortress. We shall not be greatly shaken. Lord, we’ve talked about a lot. And you’ve given us our brains, to use them in wisely assessing what is happening in our hearts, in our nation. And we just pray that you would grow us in discernment and wisdom, but also in love, that we would not react to the divisive atmosphere that is dominating our country. But our eyes would be on you Jesus, the Prince of Peace. So, as we look at you and feed on your grace now, we pray that you would nourish our souls. In Jesus name.

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