In Defence of Tribalism: 5 Reasons we need to be careful not to kill it.

In the last little while I have been hearing a lot of…well to translate it into caveman: “Tribalism bad, must kill all tribalism” in the Christian culture I work in.  But let’s take some time, as we head out to the shed to find the lynching rope behind the lawn mower and hunt down the monster, to ask if killing tribalism is actually a good idea.

Before I go any further, I should point out that I do live in the real world.  I do know about the pain that tribalism in the Christian community has caused.  I have scars, I have seen the bad side, I have probably also been guilty of causing some of this pain.  I am not here to justify the sins of tribalism nor to say that there isn’t a problem, but to ask what we lose if it was strung up to die or more what we would lose while we doing the lynchin’.  So in order from the least important to the most:

5. Tribes can only be so big

Tribes are inevitable.  Tribalism is merely combining tribes into the one.  But the dynamic of a tribe is that there are only so many chiefs and the rest are indians who follow the cultural norms of the tribe, and often feel neglected by being on the outer.  It’s one thing to say we should just have one big tribe, but that really puts power in the hands of a few, not unity as we are being presented it would have where everyone gets a chance to collaborate.

4. Different tribes bring competition

One of the things I keep hearing in the justification of mob violence against tribalism is that we need to stop competing against each other.  Actually I think we do need to keep competing.  It stops us from being complacent, to keep innovating, to ask some hard theological questions from each other.   Competition done well is a good thing and we shouldn’t be afraid of it.

3. Killing Tribalism distracts from more important things

To kill tribalism we need to track it down and kill it.  OK, so what we really need to do is spend time talking and meeting with each other.  I am not against this and it can be beneficial, but I have seen guys in ministry fill up their week with catch-ups with others in ministry and not do any evangelism or meeting the pastoral needs of their churches.  We need to count the cost that killing tribalism does.

2. Unity is in Jesus and not in the Tribe

One of the dangers I think we have in seeking to kill tribalism is that we think we need to create unity.   That unity has already been created for us in Jesus.  We don’t need to nor are able to create that kind of unity.  Yes, that unity should be expressed and tribalism can be the criminal that stops it.  But I do not think is to kill tribalism is the solution and that is the solution that is being presented, but rather to recognise the unity that we already have.

1. The Gospel may be at Stake

In one of my previous jobs I had a meeting with a wiser, older man trying to convince him that our two organisations that worked happily together should simply merge: it would be easier.  He counselled me well in showing the danger of that.  His argument was that while both organisations were currently Biblically faithful and working well together, history teaches us that that will not always be the case.  One or other of the organisations will fall, become heretical or there would be a falling out causing one group to fail.  The other needed to be around to continue the work.  “The Gospel is more important that either organisation” were the words that still ring in my ears so many years later.  The Gospel and it’s progress is more important than killing tribalism.



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