ON INTERSECTIONALITY AND THE FAMILY
By Dr. Riley B. Case
There is a new word entering the United Methodist institutional vocabulary these days, the word intersectionality. One general agency definition is that intersectionality is a “paradigm that addresses the multiple dimensions of identity and social systems as they intersect with one another and relate to inequality (such as racism, genderism, heterosexism, ageism and classism).” Clear as a bell, right? On the web page of the General Commission of Religion and Race we read, “while racism remains our primary focus, our perspective and partnerships reflect a broader context, which includes poverty, nationalism, tribal conflicts, gender discrimination, homophobic, disability and generational bias—because we know that all forms of bias are connected, and they cannot be dismantled in isolation.”
I checked with a number of lay persons I know to see how they are responding to “intersectionality.” Of those I spoke to not a single person had even heard of the word. But of course. United Methodist lay persons live in an ordinary world. They are concerned about keeping their jobs, caring for their aged parents, paying the bills, taking care of the family and participating in their church activities. They are not moving in the right circles to understand intersectionality, the right circles being gender studies departments in universities, progressive social media, the LGBTQ advocacy groups and, in the case of United Methodism, church bureaucracies and institutional seminaries.
In late October the General Commission on Religion and Race, the Council of Bishops, the United Methodist Women, the General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Communications (quite a line-up) worked in partnership to develop some videos to address the problem of racism. One video was entitled “Racial and Sexual Parity Linked” and featured Rev. Traci West of Drew Seminary and Miguel A De La Toree of Iliff Seminary. These presented a strong message that there will be no progress in dismantling racism until we first achieve LGBTQ and transgender acceptance.
Does that part of United Methodism that lives in Africa know about this?
Persons who want to dismantle racism, famine, guns, poverty, classism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism and genocide are really dreaming of nothing less than utopia. Not all with this goal are Christian, or even religious. The word intersectionality originated 30 years or so ago out of the secular academic world. The Christian version seems an updating of modernism’s Kingdom of God dream. (Today it is the Realm of God since Kingdom of God is offensive to some feminists). Neither the secularists nor the religious folk refer to “sin” as a barrier to achieve this goal. The Christian’s doctrine of Original Sin teaches that human beings by nature are subject to prejudice, hunger for power, and the disposition not to love the neighbor as the self. This has infected us all, black and white, rich and poor, privileged and not privileged, male and female, old and young and must be addressed before reaching utopia or any kind of human betterment. This part is passed over by the progressives who seem to believe that we should be able to dismantle racism and bring about a just society by good laws, the application of social engineering and an appeal to humankind’s better nature.
Many of us are not fans of the word intersectionality. On the other hand, there is something to be learned from the concept that many of society’s social ills are connected. However, the Christian, at least the evangelical Christian, would explain and analyze these differently from the secularists and the progressive church bureaucrats. Those of us from the evangelical perspective also see oppressive structures and forces in society. We believe this has a spiritual basis: “we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and rulers of the present age” (Eph. 6:12). We are in battle against sin. Sin affects us all and is the source of the ills of society: poverty, misuse of alcohol, mental health, drug addiction, classism, racism, violence, income inequality, family disintegration, marriage disintegration, loss of shared community, and loss of institutional loyalty. And, to use the idea of intersectionality, these problems are interrelated and connected.
But for the evangelical Christian, the place to start in dealing with these social ills is not with bringing our teachings about human sexuality in line with secular culture, but with the Bible and historic church teachings about such things as marriage, family, covenant making and orders of creation. This, admittedly, puts us in direct conflict with the intersectionality folk for whom traditional understandings of marriage and family appear to be part of the problem and not the solution.
We live in a time when we are bearing the fruits of the sexual revolution, a cultural shift which might be dated from the late 1960s (if not before). This revolution led to a liberalization of established moral understandings regarding sexual standards including gender and same-sex sexual relationships as well as redefinitions of the family and greater experimentation with sex, especially outside of marriage.
What is the result? How about broken homes, broken marriages, broken people, out-of-wedlock births, sexual addictions, sexually transmitted diseases, sex trafficking, poverty, co-habitation outside of marriage, higher incidents of sexual predators, sexual confusion, poverty and suicide.
Today for the first time ever in America, married households are a minority among the nation’s households (49.7% of the nation’s 111 million households). While 34% of American women’s first sexual union was outside of marriage in 1995 today the figure is 48%. 40% of the children born today in America are born outside of marriage. 25 million porn sites operate globally.
George Will in a recent column wrote about the direct link between poverty and sexual permissiveness. According to studies only 3% of families live in poverty when the father and mother first received at least a high school diploma, then got a job, then got married and only then had children. Contrast this to the statistic that 71% of low-income families are headed by single parents.
As of the 1950s fewer than 1 in 20 children were born to an unmarried mother. Today it is 40%. In another study 44% of black men, about 34% of Hispanics and 18% of white men were unmarried when their first child was born. To put it another way, 72% of black children, 52% of Hispanic children and 27% of non-Hispanic white children were born to unmarried parents (from an article in the Indianapolis Star by Michael Hicks of Ball State University).
There is not the first notice of any of this in the UM general agencies’ web pages nor in any of the strategies meant to combat racism and poverty. Shall we not conclude that progressive ideology, whether religious or non-religious, is not good for families and because societal health is to a large extent based on family health, it is not good for society? And in the Christian world, it is not good for church health. At one time General Conferences and bishops regularly passed resolutions on the family altar and the sanctity of marriage and the family. No more. I cannot remember the last time a UM bishop expressed concern for the break-up of the modern family. In 1976 Good News advocated for Family as the church’s missional priority for the quadrennium. The effort failed spectacularly. The present web page of the General Board of Church and Society lists 30 areas of the board’s advocacy. Not one is related to family, or to marriage.
The first Methodists in America were instructed by John Wesley that they had “nothing to do but save souls.” They also had as a mission to reform the nation. Our UM mission statement says we are to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. For evangelicals making disciples means saving souls. It is unsure what it means for others. The winning of persons to Jesus Christ is key to the goal of transforming the world. How the idea of intersectionality as an approach to social ills relates to this is hard to understand.