Tribe of All loyalty to a tribe or other social group especially when combined with strong negative feelings for people outside the group.

“Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?” – The Gospel of Matthew 


            Sometimes I think about 9/11–the way the whole country became one in spirit for a short while after the attacks. For the first time in decades, America was one tribe. The tribe of America.

            It reminds me of movies about alien invasions, where not only America, but all of humankind becomes one tribe. It’s the tribe of humanity–the tribe of “us” vs. the tribe of alien invaders–the “them”. Lately I wonder if the world couldn’t benefit from a hostile alian invasion so we would realize we’re all more alike than different. Or maybe it needs to go even further. Maybe it needs to be bigger than the tribe of humanity. Maybe it needs to be the tribe of Creation. That’s a tribe I’d like to identify with. It feels more liberating than the alternatives. It’s like the phrase is infused with a fresh breeze. The tribe of Creation. Tribe of All. Tribe of God. 

           I’ve grown increasingly sensitive to tribalism – that clanging gong of us vs. them which blares from car-radios tuned to political talk, circles the world a million times a second aboard the bullet train of social media, and reverberates against the walls of our church sanctuaries. Tribalism in church. It ought to be a source of chagrin, but instead, we celebrate it, don’t we? Instead of greeting one another at the eucharist with an understanding that says “I am broken in the same way my neighbor is broken”, we most often resemble the pharisee in Jesus’s parable, saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men…”  

            We cling so fervently to our tribes, and I suppose for the most part it is unavoidable. We’ve been raised this way, not only by our parents, but by our earliest ancestors. Throughout history, tribalism has been necessary for our survival. Outside of a tribe, a person was vulnerable to the elements or wild animals or other tribes. In many parts of the world, it remains necessary for the same reasons. 

But what about here in America? What about in church?

            It’s ironic: tribalism has been key in allowing humanity’s survival, yet it’s the very thing strangling the life from countless church communities. Awhile back, I was listening to an episode of the Bad Christian Podcast. One of the hosts of the program is going through an incredibly painful season, as his wife is fighting breast cancer. During this particular episode, his pain foamed over during a discussion about former CMA artist Jennifer Knapp, whom they’d interviewed the week prior.  “Is this really what’s it’s about, guys?” he said. “I mean, what the fuck are we doing? My wife’s got cancer, and we gotta defend ourselves for not being harder on Jennifer Knapp for having a girlfriend?”

More and more each day, I find myself echoing his lament. Is this really what it’s all about? In my heart, I hope it is not. In my bones, I know it is not. 

4 replies »

  1. Sometimes we forget that the lies of our tribes are more dangerous than the truth of the universe. The lie of hate based on anything other than universal truth. Greed for anything except wisdom and the knowledge of when it is best to use it. and the self-righteousness that has murdered billions just because they were part of our tribe. And still, we refuse to learn from the mistakes of those who came before, telling ourselves that the past holds no sway on the future…oh, but it does. More than we could ever imagine. Sad that humanity cannot get past its desire to be tribal. The more civilized we think we are, the more barbaric we become. for all of our advancements, we still have yet to rise above what we have always followed: the precept of hate. Perhaps, someday, we will finally rise above it and realize that we are all one.

    • Excellently worded comment; it pretty much sums up how I feel about this whole topic. I’ve been discussing this off and on with my brother recently; he’s off at college and has started getting really jaded toward the Church in particular because of this prideful, tribal mentality. That’s something that turned me off of attending church here in my small town as well; there was a lot more to my decision than that, but it certainly made it easier to stay away. There’s a church of a different sect than mine in town that is very active and self-promoting, and it’s astounding how often I heard people in MY church making disparaging remarks about the other church. Hey, they’re trying to bring people to Christ as much as you are, maybe even more. You may disagree with their methods or the particulars of their beliefs, but ultimately they want the same thing as you.

      And isn’t that what it boils down to? We’re all so prideful and sure that WE are right and everyone else is wrong, and we get so jealous about protecting our particular worldview that we only want to allow people in who agree with us. And that refusal to be open to the possibility of being wrong, of maybe needing to grow and learn, eclipses the ultimate truth–that we’re all human beings who are just doing the best we can, however the methods may vary. That’s an understanding lacking from every message taught in modern society. Frustrating.

      • Well said, my friend. I think you’re spot on when it comes to our inherent unwillingness to consider we could be in error. Certainty is another attribute I’ve become hyper-sensitive to. When I hear someone speaking in a way that sounds like a white knuckle grip on certainly, I’m done listening to that person.
        I heard a quote recently that truly spoke to this, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty. For of what use is faith in the light of knowing in the way of facts?”

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