The identity politics of both left and right - Equality meets Liberty, and both say 'hi' to Fraternity

Tim Costello on the challenges of building a community that is committed to Jesus at the core, but an inclusive and welcoming fraternity open to all.

When I was a lawyer I belonged to what was known as the legal fraternity and there were a number of privileges that flowed my way simply by being a Barrister and Solicitor of the Victorian Supreme Court. I am sure it is the same for the medical fraternity. But both these fraternities are exclusive. You cannot belong and enjoy their privileges if you are not a lawyer or a medico.

My legal practice was housed within the St Kilda Baptist Church which was my first Pastorate and I was acutely aware that Christian faith is inclusive – neither Jew not Greek … but all one and equal in Christ. So as a pastor/lawyer I wrote our church mission statement as ‘committed at the core but open at the edges’. Committed to Jesus at the core, but an inclusive and welcoming fraternity open to all.

Identity in Christ created a fictive new family or kinship fraternity of very unlike people. An inclusive fraternity. Regular Christians and people who had a faith but had been or even were sex workers, drug users, or suffered with a mental illness and lived in the boarding house and special accommodations that were a feature of the St Kilda neighbourhood. One or two had earlier come out of prison. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 25 that he was hungry, naked and in prison and whilst our respectable society has excluded prisoners from our law-abiding fraternity, he has not.

Jesus called 12 into a new community following him. Why 12? Because they represented the new inclusive Israel. But his fraternity included a Zealot and a tax collector – a sympathizer with the extreme violent left and a right-wing collaborator with the occupying Roman Empire.

For a period of time, once a month on a Friday night, we had what we called a love feast meal that sought to demonstrate the good news that God is love and seeks to builds a new inclusive community based on a new identity. That meal continues today at the St Kilda Church with a once a week Community Kitchen that also holds a monthly service called ‘Matters of the Heart’.

Yes there were criticisms from Christians of a more pharisaical bent. The tension between the purity of identity in Christ and relevance by being open at the edges is always alive. The more focus on a pure identity the less relevance in reaching out, and the more relevance the greater the risk of identity being compromised. The fraternity of who is in or out is always tested. Law and grace always in tension.

Today there seems to be a different tension. Being part of the fraternity seems to have been captured by the identity politics of right and left. The left privileges equality and sees the Gospel as good news for the poor along with the Hebrew Scriptures’ injunction ‘so that there shall be no poor among you’. The right privileges freedom and as Galatians 5.1 says ‘for freedom Christ has set you free’.

So the left wants quotas in selecting women for Parliament and higher taxes for safety nets, welcoming of refugees and inclusion of LGBTQI people. But the more equality the less liberty.

The right sees party quotas as restricting liberty and higher taxes as penalizing my hard work where I, not the state, might choose who to give my charity towards. The right fears refugees overrunning our national sovereignty, and LGBTQI agendas as censoring our religious freedoms to teach our children a biblical sexual ethics.

Both equality and liberty are found in Scripture. Both live in tension. Members of the Body of Christ will have different interpretations of their political implications. But to belong to the fraternity of ‘in Christ’ is to reject the politicization of faith. We must reject substituting a political identity that draws false divisions and destroys the true identity of a fraternity by grace and faith alone.

And these political tensions are ancient. Jesus called 12 into a new community following him. Why 12? Because they represented the new inclusive Israel. But his fraternity included a Zealot and a tax collector – a sympathizer with the extreme violent left and a right-wing collaborator with the occupying Roman Empire. The identities of a revolutionary and status quo appeaser were replaced with a new transcendent identity.

Yesterday I sent a link to one of my Christian friends from those St Kilda church days – the report of how an article from CPX (The Centre for Public Christianity), published by ABC News on Easter weekend, sparked a flare-up on Sky TV, who accused the ABC of trying to cancel God at Easter. (You can catch up on the story which ran on ABC’s Media Watch here.)

My friend is a hard-wired political conservative who mainly watches Sky TV. Initially he said well Sky may have got that wrong but the ABC is hostile to Christianity and it started the culture wars and advances the cultural Marxist agenda. I pointed out that the ABC also has great religion- (and Christianity-) friendly programs like Soul Search and Religion and Ethics. After a bit of sparring we agreed when he wrote ‘I wouldn’t advocate putting your faith in politics, left or right, as I think you would be bitterly disappointed’.

Amen to that. Ultimately we both knew which true fraternity was and where we belong together despite our political differences.

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