Whether you realize it or not if you are on social media a lot you probably have signed up to a tribe. And yet tribes are not exclusive to social media they are found wherever there are people. What is a tribe? Tribalism refers to a group attitude of undeserved pride/superiority based solely on identification with a group. Tribalism is part of our fallen human nature. All of us seems prone to it. We look for a group to belong to (a click) that gives us a feeling of security and superiority. Sometimes a person becomes a tribe of one which quickly reveals their narcissism and/or failure to get along with other people. God created us for community; tribalism therefore is a poor substitute for true and authentic community.
Tribes do not recognize themselves as tribal and members really do think they are superior to outsiders. Outsiders, however, recognize that any claims of superiority are false. We are seeing this today in politics as many Christians are joining political tribes that they believe upholds God’s will. Tribalism always echoes religion in gatherings that mimic worship. A modern mythos (Qanon for example) that celebrates past events, prophets, intense loyalty to the group and excommunication for those who lack loyalty.
For the secular world tribalism tends to lead to violence. For Christians, the problem with tribalism is the false sense of pride and superiority it encourages in us and its tendency to lead to idolatry. The cult of personality we are seeing today in politics has idolatry writ large all over it. Its ok to like and appreciate people but when we hang on every word and think that they will fix every problem we have a problem. The recent insurrection at our nation’s capital illustrates this with its coalition of outrage hiding behind God and Trump. Many self-proclaimed Christians bragging on camera about their involvement as if it was a holiday.
Tribalism is sin! Yes, there are many Pharisees in the culture, our job as Christians is not to point a finger at those guilty of tribalism but to examine ourselves. You have no moral high ground in your own self-righteousness and are no less prone to tribalism than everyone else. The only protection we have from tribalism is an awareness of our own sin and unworthiness and of God’s grace as the only reason for any good we have in life.
Many Christians are quick to protect and boast about false teachers and prosperity gospel preachers because the false teacher claims to be a Christian. Be forewarned that pastor or prophet you are defending might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We face untruth from conservative Christian bloggers, Pastors etc. and extreme news sources that shout the moral failings of our world all the while teaching legalism without grace. These false teachers are dangerous because many of their values align with ours, just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, there are plenty of moral people today who do not understand the gospel.
There is a lot of grade-school manipulation going on in our culture right now, in the news, social media and our culture in general, do not get caught up in it. Pray for wisdom and discernment. Many people when they get on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter etc. it seems like Christ is completely absent from their minds. If this is you make changes, get off social media if you must.
The poison and evil of tribalism must be resisted? As a Christian you must develop an aversion to idolatry and an avoidance of even the appearance of it. As a child of God, you are totally dependent on God’s grace and mercy for everything in your life. In our secular society there must also be an aversion to the illusion/delusions of a mob mentality and a historical awareness of the violence to which tribalism can and does lead to.
Our current form of Christian Tribalism is one in which cookie cutter Christians seek other Christians that like us decry other cookie cutter Christians. We are caught up in this politics of purity that is dangerous to not only the culture but Christians as well. Christian Nationalism is one label and there are so many we are being labeled to death.
“Consider the deadly logic of the ‘politics of purity.’ The blood must be pure: German blood alone must run through German veins…The origins must be pure: we must go back to the pristine purity of our linguistic, religious, or cultural past, shake away the dirt of otherness collected on our march through history….The origin and the goal, the inside and the outside, everything must be pure: plurality and heterogeneity must give way to homogeneity and unity….The will to purity contains a whole program for arranging our social worlds-from the inner worlds of ourselves to the outer worlds of our families, neighborhoods, and nations. It is a dangerous program because it is a totalitarian program, governed by logic that reduces, ejects, and segregates.” Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf (link)
Are you in a Tribe? Tribalism is expressed as self-pride in belonging to a group that claims superiority over others because they belong to the group. To make things worse there is the expectation of loyalty to the group because of the group’s false superiority. Finally, there is shame and punishment for disloyalty to the group. There is an almost immediate condemnation of those who only recently were called the most loyal. Our current politics illustrates this with accolades one day and condemnation the next. Revenge is openly displayed as the way to handle the disloyal.
Our loyalty unto death is to Christ, no tribe, no group. We mock God if we allow otherwise. If you have allowed a person or a group to become your go to, your default instead of Christ it is time to back away and reflect. A wise and mature person is aware tribalism is a problem and resists it. A wise and mature person, Christian or not moves away from the rituals of tribalism.
Christians are called to be Christ’s ambassadors: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
“The will to give ourselves to others and “welcome” them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity. The will to embrace precedes any “truth” about others and any construction of their “justice.” This will is absolutely indiscriminate and strictly immutable; it transcends the moral mapping of the social world into “good” and “evil.” Exclusion & Embrace, Miroslav Volf
We are not living in a benign moment. In the past when Christians have had power, they have used it to wield the sword. Church, The Body of Christ (in America and elsewhere) is not known as an agent of peace in our world today but more often is known for retaliation and violence. This is not how we represent the Kingdom of God. If we are going to be ambassadors for Christ who chose to hang on a cross so that he could love his enemies, we must be ready to demonstrate that same kind of self-sacrifice in our world today. Imagine what our world and culture would be like if we lived as agents of reconciliation instead of proponents of retaliation. No doubt suffering would begin to subside as the God of self-sacrifice would be beautiful and merciful. Perhaps many would have their eyes opened and in doing so find our Crucified Lord waiting patiently to be both the giver and recipient of an embrace.