Question: "What is intersectionality, and is it biblical?"
Answer: Intersectionality is a term used to describe how different forms of discrimination can interact and overlap with each other. In recent years, it has become a feminist buzzword. As a concept, intersectionality deals with the cumulative societal effects of systemic discrimination on people who belong to more than one disadvantaged group. For example, a woman is oppressed by the anti-women crowd; a black woman faces anti-woman and anti-black bias; a black lesbian woman faces anti-woman, anti-black, and anti-gay discrimination, etc. The point of intersectionality is that the victim of only one type of discrimination may have a hard time identifying with those who face multiple types of oppression.
The term intersectionality was coined in a 1989 essay by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a legal scholar who wrote that individual anti-discrimination laws are insufficient to address the experiences of those who suffer from intersecting discriminations. Current political efforts to end individual forms of discrimination such as sexism, racism, and classism, Crenshaw posits, will always be insufficient because they don’t take into account the cumulative nature of different types of discrimination. The answer, according to promoters of the intersectionality concept, is more progressive social programs.
The Bible doesn’t use the term intersectionality, but the concept of overlapping discriminations was present in ancient societies, just as it is today, and examples of it can be found in the Bible. The woman at the well who encountered Jesus in John 4 was the victim of different forms of discrimination. First, she was a woman, and rabbis typically did not speak publicly to women. Second, she was a Samaritan, and there was great hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews, who considered them idolatrous half-breeds. When Jesus asked her to give Him water from the well, she was shocked. “How is it,” she asked, “that you, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (John 4:9, ESV). Third, she was a social outcast because of her lifestyle and past. Drawing water from a community well was a form of social interaction for people and usually occurred during the early part of the day. The Samaritan woman came to the well at the sixth hour, or noon (John 4:6), when she knew others would not be present. She was shunned in her town because she was living with a man who was not her husband and had been doing so with other men (John 4:17–18).
The theory of intersectionality, which has become the darling of radical feminists and, more recently, Christian feminists, may have some validity. However, the number of ways we discriminate against one another really isn’t the issue. The issue is the sinfulness of the human heart. All sin separates us from God, and all sin must be atoned for. This is why Jesus died on the cross, to pay the penalty for our sin and to redeem a people unto Himself.
All forms of discrimination and their intersectionality are the result of the fall of man into sin. No doubt discrimination will continue as long as sinful people reside upon the earth. Christians should acknowledge the problem of discrimination and work to counter it, but lasting change can only happen through the life-transforming power of Christ. Movements that seek to divide people along racial, gender, or class lines; that create designer victim groups; or that seek retribution through ever more autocratic policies are not truly benefiting society. Christians should be peacemakers working to unite people in the truth rather than divide people or stoke feelings of resentment.