Pastor Phil McCutchen

Tribalism vs. Tribal Love.

“Wars are essentially, and often quite specifically, tribalism. Genocides are tribalism – wipe out the other group to keep our group safe – taken to madness. Racism and other ism’s that lets us feel that our tribe is better than theirs.” Anonymous  

Having given you that, I want to defend tribal love and loyalty. Truth is like a giant circle, if you travel too far in any given direction, you will end up in error.  This is certainly the case with the God given natural desire to love our own. I believe God created us to be tribal. Everybody needs a home base, everybody needs people they are bound together with by customs, schedules, values, standards, beliefs and celebrations.  We all need to have “our people,” to feel we belong somewhere, to have a community where we can know and be known.

I am disturbed by the writings of many Christians and many critics of Christianity who want to condemn our communities of faith with the accusation of “tribalism.”  If you read their articles and op ed pieces they put Christian communities of belief and practice in the same camp as the group think that birthed the unspeakable horrors of the Rwandan Genocide.  Indeed the Rwandan Genocide is a perfect example of tribalism.  Every group, including the church that is bound together by custom, values, beliefs, standards and celebration must pause and ask whether are not they have gone from the binding of tribal love to the blinding of tribalism.

While you will see the word racism a number of times in this piece, don’t be so narrow as to think racism is the only form of tribalism.  We all know towns, families, civic groups and churches that are guilty of tribalism.  Racism is the ugly face of tribalism that has recently reared its ugly head in America.  While I believe we are seeing tribalism versus tribalism in our country right now, it would be foolish not to be reminded of the ever present danger of the false doctrine of racial superiority.  Tribalism is what Dr. Luke is describing in Acts 5:17-18  “Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. ”  

If you study the situation in Acts 5 more closely you will see that the persecution by the Pharisee ruling religion elite was based on their insistence on social dominance.  Tribalism is not the mere effort to see my group succeed but the belief that our success must deny yours. That’s over simplistic but you understand.

Contrary to what most people believe, the Old Testament Scripture did not affirm racial and cultural tribalism. Here’s an example: Isaiah 56:6-7   And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant–7  these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

If you look closely at Isaiah 55:6-7 you will see that is condemns tribalism but affirms tribal love.  How you ask?  Well, it invites the outsider to come and join us in loving our God and one another.  Isa. 55:6-7 doesn’t disband the brotherhood of the Children of God or disrupt their rituals of worship but there were no secret ceremonies or clandestine back room meetings where the cause of the tribe and the demise of everyone else was plotted.

My point is, don’t let extreme globalism rob you of the joy and value of your Christian fellowship but at the same time don’t let fear and hatred of those unlike you drive you to oppress or even shut out the wonderful world around us.  I believe you need a spiritual family to learn, grow and develop in, just be careful that your love doesn’t become toxic.

Apostle Peter nails the concept of embracing tribal love without practicing the sin of tribalism in 1 Peter 2:17 >  Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

I can’t add anything that improves the way that great leader of the early church, who by the way had to be confronted for his  cultural tribalism.  (See Acts 10:9-22 & Galatians 2:11-14) He must have learned his lesson.

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