Mistaken Identification and Faith Formation

A lot of (okay, probably all) teenagers struggle with identity at some point in their adolescent journeys. That is not the direct focus of this post.

So instead, let’s talk about mistaken associations and identifications and how our responses to them might impact our students. As youth pastors, does our model hinder or help teenagers if we bristle at a mistaken association?

For instance, if you’re a Boston Red Sox fan, you might get irate if someone mistakes you for a New York Yankees fan, or vice versa. So, okay. That’s normal. Natural. Understandable. Sports fandom, by nature, can be contentious and inflammatory and is, of course, mostly meaningless in the grand scheme of life, Christendom, and the kingdom of God.

So what about something that packs a little more punch, like, say, one’s political party? It can hopefully be agreed that political partisanship is generally not an issue of mortal sin. However, a lot of people—Christians especially—do tend to back up their party choices with rationales that directly relate to their philosophies of faith.

So, if we can tentatively agree that good people and good Christians can be Republicans as well as Democrats, what kind of implicit message, if any, do we send if we display extreme offense to being misidentified? If it’s okay to be a Democrat, and it’s okay to be a Republican, and we can come together in the unity of the body of Christ regardless, should we show offense if someone mistakenly associates us with the other side? Does it damage our teens’ identity-formation process? On the other hand, does it help them understand the importance of and need for identity formation?

There are many topics this discussion could cover, from as significant as denominational choice, to as somber as the corporate-versus-local debate, to as absurd as Star Trek vs. Star Wars. For maximum discussion and reflection effect, use your imaginative, creative, and critical thinking skills to apply the questions posed here to whatever other issues strike you as contextually relevant and pertinent.