Rachel Dolezal is the latest to make headlines by raising important questions about human identity. Whereas Caitlyn Jenner’s much-publicized transition challenges traditional notions of sexual identity, Dolezal, who recently resigned as head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, challenges common assumptions about race.
Like Jenner, Dolezal places less stock in biology than in the dictates of her heart. Dolezal’s DNA may settle the matter of her European ancestry but her primary emotional connection in this land is with the children of Africa.
I’ve noticed that many in our culture who are uncomfortable with alternative definitions of human identity often move quickly to ethical questions. Was Rachel Dolezal deceitful? What is she hiding? These questions may need a hearing but they may also be distractions if they overshadow the opportunity her story affords each of us to reflect on the more fundamental question, “Who am I?”
The spiritual life honors individual identity. At its best, however, it leads us out of our identity silos—politics, religion, race, sexuality—to an expansive appreciation of identity beyond biology and beliefs. “Open wide your hearts also,” St. Paul exhorts his audience in one reading for this coming Sunday (2 Cor. 6:13).
“Children of God” is the term that appears over and over in Scripture for people of faith—and all people. If, as we proclaim, God is love—and if our primary identity really is “children of God”–then the best guide for a response in any debate about human identity may be, “So act like it!”