Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Problem of Tribalism

A week or so ago, Scott Evans was a guest on the campus where I teach. Scott serves as a chaplain at the University of Dublin in Ireland, and is an author, speaker, thinker, and--by all evidence--a gracious encourager of an authentic faith. (Oh, and he has a pretty amazing beard too.) I was tremendously encouraged and challenged--at the same time, no mean feat--by the message he brought in chapel while was visiting.

It was great having Scott on campus again!

Scott preached on Acts 6-7, which tells the story of the growth of the early church, and the growing pains that they experienced. They didn't always get along well. There were different groups within the Body even then, and it took creative, faithful problem-solving to address the needs of the different groups. Scott challenged us to think about the contemporary church as well, and how we are functioning as a creative, faithful Body. He was far more eloquent than I am making him sound here, I'm afraid. You can watch a recording of his message, if you're interested. (I recommend it!)

Our campus chaplain mentioned that Scott and a couple of fellow Irishmen have a podcast called The Graveyard Shift, and after being so encouraged/challenged (encourochallenged?) by Scott's message, I figured I'd give it a listen.

Oh, I'm SO glad I did.

I highly recommend you give it a whirl. I find listening a joyful, thoughtful experience. Part of the joy for this American boy is the lovely Irish accents of the three gentlemen as they talk. Part of the joy is the fantastic sense of humor that these gents bring. (Seriously. The episodes I've listened to so far begin with a game of "50 Shades of Pray": Scott shares the title of a real book, and asks his co-hosts to determine if the title is a Christian devotional, or a dodgy romance novel. It's harder than you'd think!) Part of the joy is the way these men of God wrestle through thorny issues for people of faith, giving encouragement and advice for the broader Christian community, but with such a humility and pastoral heart. All of this combines to engage me and stir my thinking, and I find I keep thinking about their discussion long after the episode ends.

Their most recent episode as of this writing is entitled "Politics, Conversation, and Life in the Post-Truth World." I found it fascinating because they gave an international view here on the current American political situation. It was interesting to hear their take on the American scene--very astute, in my opinion--and their critiques of the two major candidates rang true for me.

But one thing really stood out for me, and I've continued thinking about this over the past few days. In this episode, they spend some exploring the impact of tribalism in American politics today. I really encourage you to take the time to listen to the episode and hear them in their own words.

As I've been thinking about this, I think that the fear that seems overwhelmingly present in this election season--more than ever before that I recall--is flowing out of this tribalism. It's so strongly a case of "we" and "they." There is little desire at all to listen to what "they" say, because "we" are clearly right, and "they" are clearly wrong. "We" are on the moral high ground. "They" are obviously the enemy. "We" have the right candidate that will solve the problems. "They" have a candidate that will only make things worse for America for the future.

I wonder, as you read this, if you place yourself in a particular "we" in terms of your political affiliations? If so, can you pause for a moment, and try to place yourself in the "they" instead? Try to imagine the "they" as your "we" instead, if that makes sense?

You might find this to be incredibly challenging. I do, and I'm pretty politically moderate, close to the center for sure. I can imagine if your political identity is far to the conservative or liberal end of the spectrum it might be nigh impossible to put yourself in the shoes of someone who believes the opposite of your core political viewpoint.

But what if this is necessary for moving forward?

What if understanding this incredible fearfulness that seems to have gripped American politics demands trying to understand the fears of your "they" as well as you understand the fears of your "we?"

What if the way forward is empathizing with the "they" as much as you identify with your "we?"

I have Christian friends on both sides of the political spectrum, striving to live out their faith perspective. Liberal and progressive, and Christian. Conservative and traditional, and Christian.

It makes me wonder a bit, honestly.

What is their primary identity? Is it first with a tribe? Or is it first with the Body?

Are they FIRST "Republican" or "Democrat?" "Liberal" or "Conservative?"

Or are they FIRST Christian--striving to follow Jesus?

There are some Christians, I know, who want to equate their political views with their faith perspective. I'm going to call that out as I see it...


I think that some Christians today are following the ideology of a political party at least as much as they are seeking to follow Jesus. Maybe even more than they are trying to follow Jesus? Or, at least, they are trying to baptize their political party with the name of Jesus, trying to syncretize them somehow.

I think this leads to tribalism.

If we're going to accept the name of Christ, THAT should be our primary identity.

Does that mean we're going to always get along in perfect unity, with no conflict or disagreement?


But neither did the early Church in Acts, right? There were tensions. The conflict between the Hellenistic widows and Hebraic widows in Acts 6 is a great example. The apostles had to get creative, raising up new leaders to address the problems. They had to see all sides of the situation. In order to seek the good of the Body, they needed to empathize with the "they."

Fellow believers, we aren't always going to see eye to eye. But how will we deal with these times of disagreement? Will you join me in seeking to empathize with those who also claim the name of Christ, even if we disagree politically?

Let's get beyond the fear of tribalism. Let's call out the fear-mongering for what it is--calls for more division. Let's rise above name-calling and nastiness. Let's embody our faith in our conversations. Let's seek to listen, and understand, and empathize, and...dare I say it? Let's LOVE people, even if they think differently than we do.

No comments:

Post a Comment