Are People are Paying a High Price for the Identity they Desire?

The utopian online dreams of liberation from “the Californian ideology” (essay in Mute Magazine) counter-culture helped pave the way for the matrix of phenomena we now know as social media. How liberating, however, is it to be under constant watch?

IMG_0151Jacob Silverman’s Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Communication (2015) examines the effects of invasive and evasive of commercial influences on identity. People who live under observation are required to make constant negotiations of identity and privacy. Silverman shows “how these acts help to create a culture in which to watch and be watched has become not just a matter of law enforcement or intelligence work but also a social practice. Through it, we become conditioned to want surveillance, not only for paternalistic protection but also for self-expression.”

Facebook promises to make us more authentic through exhibition. “Sharing becomes person-hood” because one’s identity and existence, as we photo our life events, are affirmed and “liked.”

“When our sense of ourselves depends on being seen,” Silverman says, “on being visible and circulating through the network, then when someone chooses to opt out, the whole enterprise can be called into question.” The whole enterprise here is a culture of surveillance that reaches beyond our browsing habits into our very souls, shaping our identity more than we may realize. Therefore, I find the questions Silverman calls to it profound.

Identity: Corporate or Individualistic?

Why are many white Americans less likely to understand how many black Americans are reacting to recent treatment of blacks in Missouri and Alabama? Do the recent riots and killings of police have something to do with identity?

IMG_2057This is a monument of Henry Ward Beecher in Brooklyn where I am preaching this week. He auctioned off slave children for adoption in his congregation to protest slavery. His sister wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

“God cares about systems” (Tim Keller & Anthony Bradley). Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch Prime Minister and Christian theologian, said: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” Redemption is to be applied in all of culture.

Since our identity includes are common and corporate identity as image bearers of God with the rest of humanity, our identity is not only individualistic but also corporate. We share an ethnic identity and national identity, as Christians share a common identity in Christ. What an individual does effects others. For example, as in Adam all sinned so in Christ (a Jew) all are counted righteous by faith alone (Romans 5). When Achan sinned in Joshua 7, all the people of Joshua’s time suffered for it. In Daniel’s prayer (Daniel 9) he asked for forgiveness from God for his ancestor’s sins.

Any system that excludes or marginalizes others in any generation shares a corporate responsibility and guilt. It was not right for an Evangelical to say to a black slave in the 1800s that “God loves you and has a great plan for your life as a slave.” Germans, who knew and actively oppressed Jews, were responsible and guilty for the crimes during WWII. Yet, so were those who knew and just followed orders or remained passive in that system.

Whites, still in the majority, are less aware of their corporate identity. Blacks, however, deeply sense their corporate identity because they have been a minority in America. Unless Christians in America embrace our corporate identity, which includes our responsibility and guilt for marginalizing Native Americans and Black Americans, we will not understand the times and the issues of contemporary culture.

Repentance of systemic racism and faith in the Gospel with prayer and active restoration of the marginalized is what is required in this hour. Only as we embrace our common Christian identity, which embraces diversity of age, ethnicity, and gender, will we begin to love our neighbor well.

Ask the Father in the Name of Jesus to pour out the Holy Spirit upon our generation in revival. For, He can make all things new and heal our land, but apart from Him we can do nothing.

God ordained the government to use arms to punish evil, restrain wickedness, and protect the innocent (i.e. the unborn), but He ordained the Church to use weapons of Gospel proclamation, prayer, and reconciliation with God and all peoples.