Our First Identity
Whatever identities we may have – national, political, cultural, etc. – there is one that precedes and supersedes them all: child of God. This is our First Identity.
In a March 2020 BYU devotional address, President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
[Y]ou are and have always been a son or daughter of God with spiritual roots in eternity. First and foremost, you are and always will be a spirit child of God. Those aren’t just words from a beautiful Primary song. They are words of truth. They are imbued with eternal significance for all of us.
The foundational fact of heavenly parentage is not just my truth or your truth. It is eternal truth. It is written in big, bold, capital letters. Understanding this truth—really understanding it and embracing it—is life changing. It gives you an extraordinary identity that no one can ever take away from you. But more than that, it should give you an enormous feeling of value and a sense of your infinite worth. Finally, it provides you a divine, noble, and worthy purpose in life.
President Ballard later elaborates:
In this country and in many other countries around the world, a great divide has grown between political parties. Belonging to a political party can be a very good thing when it helps us align ourselves with candidates and others who share our personal values and beliefs. But we must never forget that although we may be a member of a political party, we are first and foremost citizens or residents of our country. That larger and more important shared identity should bind us to one another and help us overcome the petty squabbling and demonization that has sadly become standard operating procedure in contemporary partisan politics throughout most of the world. That is why we need to constantly pray for our countries and for our leaders.
The same is true in relationships between nations and their peoples. Identifying with your country of birth or your adopted country is appropriate. We need passports as well as the benefits of citizenship, and it is always fun to cheer on our country’s athletes at the Olympics. However, today we see where dedication to a false idea about one’s nation is destructive. In this case it is also important to remember that we are all part of a much larger society. That is, we are inhabitants of the same planet, and we are dependent upon each other for our mutual survival, happiness, and peace.
For us, the group that is most important to identify with is being the children of God. We declare that we are all the spiritual children of Heavenly Parents; thus we are brothers and sisters in God’s family. We will continue to be a part of God’s family after we die and throughout all eternity. Nothing can change that relationship. We must always keep this uppermost in our minds.
As someone who believes strongly in building bridges, finding common ground, and being a peacemaker in our families, communities, and world, these prophetic words resonate deeply with my soul.
The past 10+ months – or perhaps the past couple of decades, culminating in the events of the past year – have been bitterly divisive on all levels. The politicization of everything, including a global pandemic, has added considerable pain and suffering to an already difficult and deadly situation. New rifts have opened between families, friends, and neighbors. Existing rifts have deepened and widened. Even my own extended family has become fractured over political differences.
I believe that as we remember and remain true to our First Identity, keeping it foremost in our minds – with all our other identities, groups, and associations secondary to it – we will see less contention, conflict, and hate. When we make an effort to recognize our common eternal heritage and divine potential, we are more inclined to forgive, serve, and love one another regardless of our differences and shortcomings.
Our First Identity is our true identity. And in the context of eternity, it is the only one that matters. We are all children of God. Let's not let worldly identities get in the way of that.
Relevant excerpts from talks given at the October 2020 General Conference
Knowing that we are all children of God gives us a divine vision of the worth of all others and the will and ability to rise above prejudice and racism. As I have lived for many years in different places in this nation, the Lord has taught me that it is possible to obey and seek to improve our nation’s laws and also to love our adversaries and our enemies. While not easy, it is possible with the help of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He gave this command to love, and He promises His help as we seek to obey it.
Many of our world’s problems are a direct result of clashes between those of differing ideas and customs arising from their culture. But virtually all conflict and chaos would quickly fade if the world would only accept its original culture, the one we all possessed not so very long ago. This culture dates back to our premortal existence. It was the culture of Adam and Enoch. It was the culture founded on the Savior’s teachings in the meridian of time, and it is available to all women and men once again in our day. It is unique. It is the greatest of all cultures and comes from the great plan of happiness, authored by God and championed by Christ. It unites rather than divides. It heals rather than harms.
The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that there is purpose in life. Our being here is not just some big cosmic accident or mistake! We are here for a reason.
This culture is grounded in the testimony that our Heavenly Father exists, that He is real and loves each one of us individually. We are His “work and [His] glory.” This culture espouses the concept of equal worth. There is no recognition of caste or class. We are, after all, brothers and sisters, spirit children of our heavenly parents—literally. There is no prejudice or “us versus them” mentality in the greatest of all cultures. We are all “us.” We are all “them.”
Each of us has a divine potential because each is a child of God. Each is equal in His eyes. The implications of this truth are profound. Brothers and sisters, please listen carefully to what I am about to say. God does not love one race more than another. His doctrine on this matter is clear. He invites all to come unto Him, “black and white, bond and free, male and female.”
I assure you that your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. Favor or disfavor with God is dependent upon your devotion to God and His commandments and not the color of your skin.
I grieve that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice. Today I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children.
The question for each of us, regardless of race, is the same. Are you willing to let God prevail in your life? Are you willing to let God be the most important influence in your life? Will you allow His words, His commandments, and His covenants to influence what you do each day? Will you allow His voice to take priority over any other? Are you willing to let whatever He needs you to do take precedence over every other ambition? Are you willing to have your will swallowed up in His?