Why is a sense of belonging crucial for Christian identity?

As Christians, our beliefs and convictions play a significant role in shaping our identity. We often find a sense of belonging within a church or denomination, and this belonging reinforces our beliefs. However, it is essential to examine whether our convictions are based on truth or simply a product of our upbringing and group identity. This article explores the importance of a sense of belonging for Christian identity and how it can sometimes hinder our ability to engage in open and honest conversations.

The Donkey Dilemma: Challenging Assumptions

The Absence of a Donkey in Biblical Accounts

In many nativity plays and Sunday Schools, we are accustomed to imagining Mary riding on a donkey to Bethlehem. However, upon closer examination of the gospel Christmas stories, we realize that there is no mention of a donkey. This innocent example highlights how we can develop mistaken beliefs, even within the Christian context. We absorb certain ideas through our upbringing and cultural influences, which may not align with the actual biblical accounts.

The Influence of Group Beliefs

Our convictions as Christians are not limited to harmless assumptions about donkeys in the Bible. There are more significant and contentious issues that can cause divisions within churches, such as speaking in tongues, baptism, creationism, same-sex relationships, and the fate of people from other faiths. These convictions become part of our group identity and contribute to our sense of belonging. However, they can also make us intolerant of alternative views and even create divisions within our own church.

The Role of Upbringing and Identity

While it is important to develop our beliefs based on reason, experience, and the Bible, we must acknowledge that our upbringing and group identity often play a significant role in shaping our convictions. Our sense of belonging within a church or denomination reinforces our beliefs and can make us resistant to alternative views. This can lead to closed-mindedness and an unwillingness to engage in meaningful conversations with those who hold different beliefs.

Closed to Conversation: Confirmation Bias and Intolerance

Confirmation Bias: Seeking Validation

Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that leads us to actively seek information that aligns with our existing beliefs while discounting evidence that contradicts our views. This bias can prevent us from engaging in open and honest conversations, especially when it comes to contentious issues such as same-sex relationships. Some individuals may even leave their church simply because a conversation on this topic is suggested, indicating a reluctance to consider alternative perspectives.

Overcoming Confirmation Bias

It is crucial to recognize and overcome our confirmation bias to foster a more inclusive and open-minded approach. Listening to different viewpoints, even those we may disagree with, can broaden our understanding and challenge our existing beliefs. By being curious and seeking to understand why others hold different truths, we can cultivate empathy and build meaningful relationships with people from diverse backgrounds.

The Dangers of Intolerance

Our group identity and deeply held beliefs can make us intolerant not only towards those outside our faith but also towards fellow believers who do not align with our convictions. This intolerance can create divisions within churches and hinder our ability to engage in healthy dialogue. It is essential to remember that our identity as followers of Christ should prioritize teachability and humility over rigid adherence to specific beliefs.

The Limitations of Beliefs: Separating Creedal Truths from Topical Debates

Fundamental Beliefs and Creedal Truths

As Christians, our faith is grounded in a set of fundamental beliefs outlined in the ancient Creeds. These beliefs include God as the creator, Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, and second coming, as well as forgiveness. These creedal truths define our Christian identity and should not be diluted or compromised. It is essential to differentiate between these foundational beliefs and the topical debates that can arise within the Christian community.

Extrapolating Creedal Truths to Topical Debates

Unfortunately, some individuals may extrapolate their fundamental creedal truths to topics such as evolution or same-sex relationships, making these debates central to their Christian identity. However, these debates are not essential to authentic Christian faith. It is crucial to acknowledge that our universal group identity as Christians is defined by a small set of creedal truths, and engaging in topical debates should not overshadow our shared beliefs.

Life Experience and Faith: Navigating Disruptions and Growth

Life’s Disruptive Influence on Beliefs

Messy life experiences can often disrupt our tidy belief systems. When faced with situations such as a close friend coming out as gay or a family member marrying someone from another faith, our beliefs may be challenged and questioned. These disruptions can be distressing and may even lead to a crisis of faith. However, they can also present an opportunity for growth and a deeper relationship with God.

Embracing Discomfort and Confusion

Rather than clinging to our comfort blankets of certainty, we should embrace the discomfort and confusion that can arise from life’s challenges. It is through these experiences that we can develop a richer and more authentic relationship with God. Instead of seeking answers, we can focus on embodying Christ’s love and grace in our interactions with others.

The Role of Belonging and Identity in Christian Faith

The Importance of Belonging

Belonging to a church or denomination is crucial for our sense of identity as Christians. It provides us with a community of like-minded believers and fulfills our innate need for connection and rootedness. However, it is essential to ensure that our sense of belonging does not hinder our ability to engage in open conversations and embrace diverse perspectives.

Identity and Openness to Conversation

Our group identity and the beliefs associated with it should not create an atmosphere of intolerance or closed-mindedness. Instead, we should strive to hold opposing views in tension and engage in respectful and meaningful conversations with those who hold different truths. Our identity as teachable followers of Jesus should take precedence over any allegiance to a specific group or tradition.

The Impact of the Internet

While the internet was intended to connect us with different perspectives and broaden our knowledge, it has often resulted in creating echo chambers that reinforce our existing beliefs. Instead of engaging with diverse viewpoints, we tend to connect with people who already agree with us, further solidifying our biases. It is important to actively seek out different perspectives and challenge our own beliefs to foster growth and understanding.


As Christians, our sense of belonging plays a crucial role in shaping our identity and beliefs. However, it is essential to critically examine our convictions and ensure they are based on truth rather than mere group identity. By embracing curiosity, overcoming confirmation bias, and engaging in open conversations, we can foster a more inclusive and authentic Christian faith. Our ultimate identity as teachable followers of Jesus should guide us in our interactions with others and our pursuit of truth.

Note: This article is an adaptation of “This Article Won’t Change Your Mind” by Julie Beck in The Atlantic, May 2017.