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Trumping Tribalism

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

If there’s anything we do well as Christians, it’s rally together towards a common cause. We’re quick to find camaraderie, to confide in similar values, and to point others to our hope in Christ. After all it was Jesus who said, “My prayer is…that all of them [who believe] may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:20-21).

Unity has always been a focal point in living for Jesus, as it should be.

Yet, over the last 50 years in Canada (in the West) our culture has become increasingly secularized. Traditional marriage, Bible reading in school, and Sunday church are a few examples of what were once seen as rites of passage, but have since become viewed as outdated and, therefore no longer needed.

As this opposition has grown stronger, and it’s become clearer that we’re living in a post-Christian country, you could argue that this has further banded Christians together. Nominal believers (cultural Christians) have been weeded out and devout followers have been spurred on to take their faith more seriously.

However, the way that the body of Christ has confronted such paganism has had undertones of tribalism. It’s in the lead-up to this US election that many of us are only now seeing this come to the surface.

The Bible informs Christians of three enemies: the Devil, the flesh, and the world (Eph. 2:2-3).

While there is certainly value in emphasizing these common roots of opposition to the Christian faith, it’s how we’ve pitted the world against us, and who we’ve defined the world to be that is troubling.

For example, the Christian movie series, God’s Not Dead, highlights how there is reasonable evidence for God even in an age of uncertainty. This is a great premise and the film, based on Rice Broocks’ book, captures this is in an educational setting where presuppositions of belief are often challenged. Although, it’s the way this movie depicts the atheist professor as not just someone who opposes the Christian faith, but as a definitive villain that lends itself to tribalism.

Other Christian resources have taken a similar approach, likely with pure intentions, but they're doing so through a rather binary lens.

Sure, there is good reason to be leery of ideologies and practices that oppose the Christian faith, but it’s how we’re drawing this line in the sand that needs to be re-evaluated.

This notion that we should excuse someone’s injustices because of the political party they're attached to or that we should see someone with a conflicting worldview as evil isn’t just tribalism, it’s short-sighted. Popular Pastor and writer Tim Keller elaborates on this in terms of US politics in his piece for the New York Times.

Ultimately, if we’re not careful to address this subtle tendency, we as Christians will not just be in enmity with the world but will become divided amongst ourselves.

Tribalism does not have to be embedded in Christianity, for Christians identity is first in Christ, and so how we unite with others should be rooted in this humility, which in form should take a more cosmopolitan shape than a dogmatic one.

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