“Tribalism is Satan’s counterfeit for community.” So said a friend; I’ve been thinking about this.
Community is based on positive relationships: love, grace, forgiveness, service, self-denial, encouragement and healthy confrontation, to name a few of its qualities. Community leads to the development of individuals within a supportive context. The outcome is seen in churches where the members serve each other and the community, actively share their faith daily, disciple others well and participate in spreading the gospel over the whole world.
Tribalism, on the other hand, is based on control over its members, making sure they keep within the bounds of blind loyalty and traditions. Group think is encouraged, questioning is not allowed, innovation is frowned upon, deviation is punished. Those who are different are viewed as the enemy, as less than the tribe. The outcome of this thinking is seen in the mass murder that occurred in Rwanda as the Hutu tribe attached the Tutsi tribe, killing over 800,000 within a 100 days.
It is sadly true that some churches become like a tribe, where blind loyalty is demanded, members are punished for not fully conforming and are manipulated emotionally, physically and financially. Such perversions of community are the exact opposite of what Christ taught and modeled.
The fact is, we live now in a tribalized society where conformity is demanded, deviation is denigrated and questioning is punished. Political correctness is coerced; there is forced approval of others’ values which a short time ago were seen as perversion; expression of opinion contrary to the tribe is labeled as hatred and racist.
How should we, as followers of Jesus, respond in this situation? Many Christians are retreating to a their own tribalized position of “us and them,” seeing those who oppose biblical values as the enemy.
While there is truth to the lines drawn, Jesus would have us give a radically different answer to the attacks and pressures of those who oppose biblical truth: “Love your enemies” “Pray for those who persecute you” “Fret not yourselves because of evil doers….Trust in the Lord and do good….” “Deny self, take up your cross daily, follow me.”
We can begin to combat tribilization by refusing to be tribal. We can offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving for the opportunity to be light and salt, praying for those who view us as the enemy, loving our neighbors who are so different, returning good for evil, establishing relationships with those who are different, offering wise, gracious correction to false thinking. In short, be a community to those who are caught in tribal thinking–just as Jesus was in His day. Such love bridges the gap, heals wounds and brings salvation. Are we willing?
picture below by unknown artist, seen in an office. The left side is community, the right side is tribalism