Secondary Issues


I used to believe I could divide people into primary and secondary categories. I did not see that at first, because they were “issues”.

Gender roles (or, another way to say you’re limiting women) was secondary to the gospel. LBG marriage was secondary to the gospel. Politics were secondary to the gospel. If it didn’t relate to the destiny of a person’s soul, it was not primary, and secondary issues were (are?) often dismissed as not important enough to debate or argue over. Everything was a theological category with a place either on the primary shelf, or the secondary shelf. Those categories drove me mad at one point, when I began to think more deeply about the “issues”, and realized they were really about humanity. I could no longer shuffle people around as primary or secondary categories.

By issuing a “secondary” status upon human beings, they are being reduced to things, and are therefore made to be less than human, and disposable. Being dehumanized can have deadly results, so it is quite literally a matter of life and death. Are life and death secondary matters?

What else happens when a human being becomes secondary? A few examples of the consequences of being dehumanized come to mind: queer folks battling deep depression and anxiety and then committing suicide because of being labeled and treated as abominations, women enduring abusive marriages and/or being forced to bear children at the expense of their own lives (because they are merely vessels), POC enduring brutalities (I would include denial of access to clean water here), fatalities (I would also include a failure to care for pregnant mothers and their infants here), chronically ill, wheelchair bound folks being denied access due to lack of accommodation; all of these groups are also in more danger of spiritual abuse as a result, so not only are their bodies disposable, but so are their spirits.

When human beings become “secondary issues”, what does the accompanying theology look like? That’s another leading question, I know. (One might also excuse some of those “issues” as politics, but that is an invalid excuse, and I will show why.) Good theology produces life, and not death. According to Helmut Gollwitzer, via dialectical theology (and I am thus far in agreement), all theology is political theology, because all theology is contextual. One’s politics will demonstrate one’s theology, and the reverse is also true. If your politics do not include care for more vulnerable people such as the aforementioned, chances are your theology is lacking, or dare I even say, death-dealing, rather than life-giving.

If you are looking for the scriptural justification to care for the vulnerable, you can find it without much effort at all. I am assuming you know what the scriptures say, if you call yourself a Christian, but I’ll put two references here: Matthew 25.25-40, Jeremiah 22.3

To borrow one more illustration from dialectical theology: one of its core tenets is the nonobjectification of God. That is, God must not be made into an object of any sort; God is wholly other. I would venture to say, if your theology makes vulnerable people out to be “issues” of a secondary nature, and because you leave the final word to God, then you are declaring God to be an object that looks like a white, cis-hetero, able-bodied man. In other words, you are forming a god of privilege and oppression.1

Oppression, also a matter of life and death, should not be given a secondary space. When it comes to humanity, no human being should be “secondary”.

  1. Dear dialectical theologians, on the very off-chance any of you are reading this: this is my first attempt to conceptualize the nonobjectification of God. If I’ve messed it up, please message me on Twitter or shoot me an email, because I am trying to learn this well!