Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Deadly Sin of Tribalism

Our world is filled with violence. It’s all over the news. It’s in our own cities, and sometimes even in our own neighborhood, or family.
One of the root causes of violence in our world at large, however, stems from Tribalism. Throughout human history, acts of violence – war, genocide, terrorism – have all been done in the name of tribalism. One tribe vs the other tribe; one religion against another religion; one nation against another nation.
In his book, “In the Name of Identity:Violence and the Need to Belong”, Amin Maalouf documents the effects of tribalism on our world and how it leads to violence and conflict. The process is simple: I identify myself as being a member of this group [pick anything]. Because I am in this group, I see the need to protect others in my group, and I have a strong desire to help my group advance in power, popularity and influence.
This, at the most basic level, creates the “Us vs Them” mentality. From there, it is a short walk to violence and conflict against “those other people” who are not part of my tribe.
If my identity comes from being part of a certain tribe, then I rejoice when other tribes fail. I laugh when those other tribes lose. I cheer when our tribe wins. I demonize people from that other tribe as being stupid, or hateful, or evil. That makes my tribe seem better and their tribe seem worse. Very soon, I am joining in with those who rush to stop that other tribe from doing something we don’t like. Then we get aggressive in our tactics and before you know it, someone is throwing a rock or firing a weapon to give our tribe the advantage it deserves.
Jesus understood this. It’s why He told the Parable of the Good Samaritan to Jews who hated Samaritans and were asking Him to clarify who exactly was this “neighbor” they were commanded to love.
In our culture today it could very well be re-told as The Parable of the Good Homosexual, or “…the Good Muslim”, or “the Good Liberal Democrat”, etc.
Until we abandon our tribalism, we will never fully understand what Jesus was trying to tell us about what it means to live in His Kingdom.
Simply put, if we ever hope to love our neighbors, we have to be able to step outside of our tribe and see beyond our traditional group identity.
In the Body of Christ, there shouldn’t be any tribes at all.
This is why Paul did not allow the believers in Corinth to line up behind Peter, or Apollos, or even himself, to create little factions or tribes within their church.
“My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Peter”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” [1 Cor. 11-13]

The point Paul wants them to understand is quite simple: Don’t align yourself with anyone but Christ.

So, if it was wrong for those Corinthian Christians to divide against one another over a preference of Apostle, how in the world would it be acceptable for Christians today to divide against one another over allegiances to this Political Party or the other? Or to divide over this Political Candidate or another one?

Answer: It’s not acceptable.

"Is Christ divided?" Paul asks us. No, He is not.

Yet, today, Christians in America are especially divided over politics, and yes, over this Christian leader or that other one; over this doctrine or that denomination; and it ought not to be.

Now, just imagine what might happen if you could honestly strip away every label and scrap of tribal identity? What if you were not a Baptist, but simply someone who loved Jesus? What if you weren’t a Republican or a Democrat anymore, but simply a follower of Christ? What if you abandoned your identity as an American and saw yourself simply as a citizen in the Kingdom of God?
That is exactly what Paul wants us to grasp when he says:
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” [Gal. 3:27-28]
Casting off our former identities is essential to unity. It's also essential to our mission, which is to love everyone - regardless of nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or otherwise. 
“But,” you might say, “isn’t being a Christian just another tribe to join?”
Maybe, but I am not convinced it has to be.
For example, you can find your identity in Christ without resorting to tribalism. You can see yourself as a citizen of Christ’s Kingdom without standing against another nation or kingdom, or religion.
Here’s why: Because being a member of the Body of Christ – by definition – is to be someone who does not use violence, or dominate others, or seek to put down other people, or take joy when others fail.
Remember: Jesus told us to love our enemies. That means we don’t hate them, we don’t seek to dominate them, and we certainly don’t kill them. (Would you kill someone you loved? Of course not.)
We must also remember that Jesus’ greatest command was that we would love one another as He has loved us.
Because love is our highest command, we hold tight to these facts about love:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” [1 Cor. 13:4-7]
So, whenever you see people who claim to follow Christ standing up to boast, or to be unkind, or to dishonor someone from another tribe, or to read out loud a list of their sins and failures, then you’re seeing someone who is still entangled in tribalism and still very, very far away from what it means to be “in Christ” and full of love for everyone.
Only a Republican can mock a Democrat. Only a Liberal can dishonor a Conservative. Only a Lutheran can scapegoat a Methodist. Only an American can insult a Mexican.
But a Christian – a person who is filled with the agape love of Jesus and transformed by His indwelling presence – cannot do any of those things.
Tribalism separates us. Denominationalism divides us. Politics split us into opposing factions. But Christ came to bring us together. He has given to us the Ministry of Reconciliation.
It’s time to renounce our Tribalism.
My only identity is in Christ. The rest of me died when I took up my cross to follow Him.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Galatians 2:20]


Living Liminal said...

"My only identity is in Christ. The rest of me died when I took up my cross to follow Him."

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we really grasped that reality!

Teena Stewart said...

Well said.