Claude M. Steele has written a powerful book entitled, “Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do”. Steele, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, defines identity threat as “socially premised psychological threat that arises when one is in a situation or doing something for which a negative stereotype about one’s group applies.”
It permeates all societies and cultures and his research has been duplicated and validated by many others. When women math majors were reminded of their gender identity, they performed 4-5 points worse than male math majors when taking the same math tests. However, when reminded they were from Stanford, they performed the same as men. Blacks similarly did worse than whites when they were told a sports test judged intelligence. However, they performed about the same as whites when told that the test was just another task. They did better than whites when told the test judged “natural athletic ability”. The implications are broad and disturbing. It has led to a critical re-evaluation of processes as diverse as college and professional school applications, and job interviews.
Chrisitians have been subject to identity threat since Jesus Christ was born. Presently, some Christians are labeled as racist, misogynistic, narrow minded, and bigoted-and these are the polite descriptions. These threats have changed over time. In the first years of the Christian Church, the original disciples of Jesus faced a raging dilemma. Some believed that one must still follow the Jewish traditions in order to become a Christian. Others believed that Jesus Christ had initiated a new covenant and former Jewish traditions, particularly dietary restrictions, did not need to be followed. Bigoted. Heretical. These accusations were hurled at each other. Yet both groups believed they were honoring God’s Word and were faithful Christiains. Enter the Apostle Peter. In a trance, God spoke directly to Him and instructed him to kill and eat animals that were impure and forbidden by Jewish law. Peter, a devout Jew his entire life, recoiled at the suggestion but God declared to him that all food was now pure. At the same time, Peter was directed to the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion and gentile who worshipped and feared God. Cornelius had also been given a vision by God to send for Peter so that He could hear the good news of Jesus Christ. When Peter met Cornelius and heard his story, he was humbled.
Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Acts 10:34-35 (CSB)
Peter’s dramatic declaration was confirmation of the sign that God gave Him. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was for everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike. Peter and the rest of the Apostles carried the Good News to the rest of the known world, unhindered and unencumbered by any cultural or racial divisions. So why doesn’t the entire world have a positive image of Christians? Why does an identity threat exist? Have some abused this calling?
The identity threat that Christians are faced with may originate from Christians. Sadly, the history of the world is stained with the actions and teachings of false teachers and leaders who have used the noble and sacred banner of Christianity to promote their discordant worldly views, ones that are diametrically opposed to the message of Jesus Christ. Slavery and wars are just a few of the egregious actions that have been instigated by Christians acting in the name of their faith. What can be done?
Christians must return to core values that Jesus Christ taught and eschew the worldly values that others have used to supplant the true message of God. It is not easy but we must educate ourselves to be aware of falling into the trap of identity threats with cultures and religions that differ from our own. Instead of attempting to change others to adopt our culture, we must start by embracing the teachings of the Bible and allowing Jesus Christ to transform and conform us to His image. Only when we take on the identity of Jesus Christ will we be able to silence the threats that have been associated with Christians for so long.
As Peter stated, “We must obey God rather than people.”
Acts 5:29 (CSB)
Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.