Tribalism and God’s nation

I don’t want to stray too far away from the topic of our Christian nation. I want to talk, though, about the concept of tribalism. It refers to the way that we define “us” and “them.” Every society has a set of rules that applies to our dealings with “us” and our dealings with “them.” We react differently to what happens to “us” than we do when it happens to “them.” (I discussed this in the post “Glad No Parrots Were Involved“; some read this as “America bashing,” when it was intended as “tribalism bashing”—that’s why the first illustration in that post was from Great Britain).

Tribalism says we can steal from them, but not from us. We can kill them, but not kill us. We can cheat them, but we’re expected to deal justly with us. If one of us is killed, we will avenge it by killing them. We see an innocuous form of tribalism in our sports; penalties against our team almost always seem to be unfair, while penalties against the other team are justified. If our team scores a lot of points, they are going for style points. If the other team scores a lot, they are showing a lack of sportsmanship.

Tribalism can occur at different levels. It can be based on family. Gangs operate via tribalism. Tribalism can be present based on religion, geography, or politics. In the West, people are often tribalistic at a national level, while much of the rest of the world divides itself along different lines.

We have to understand that the Christian nation doesn’t respect manmade borders and territories. As Paul so ably said it, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11) The church isn’t made up of Haitians, Egyptians, Filipinos and Canadians. We are Christians. We are one nation.

Here’s what we have to understand. A believer in China is more “us” than a non-believer next door. A Christian Iraqi is more “our people” than a non-Christian U.S. soldier in the same place. When we talk about “our people overseas,” we aren’t talking about U.S. troops, we’re talking about our Christian brothers.

Does that mean we will operate by the rules of tribalism, cheating non-Christians because they aren’t “one of us.” Of course not. But we will put as much importance on the well-being of Haitians as we do on that of people in our own hometown. More than citizens of the world, we are citizens of heaven, which makes us ambassadors of good to the whole world.

11 thoughts on “Tribalism and God’s nation

  1. Tim said, “Here’s what we have to understand. A believer in China is more “us” than a non-believer next door. A Christian Iraqi is more “our people” than a non-Christian U.S. soldier in the same place.”

    I may be wrong, but I thought Jesus was saying “treat everyone the same, he would decide who is in, and who is out” In other words he would do the judging.
    But as you say “SOME” try to do his job for him.

  2. just a random comment,
    Italians liked to ask and talk a lot about race relations in America, but at the same time, immigration was a hot issue there, africans and albanians were not welcome

  3. Tim, well said. I have had some of these same discussions in trying to raise monies for food and medical efforts for our brothers and sisters of other countries. Last year after the huricanes in Haiti and now again with earthquake relief. These people many speak and look differently than we do but they are still of the household of faith.

  4. Brian,

    I saw some of the same in Argentina. They would criticize us on race, but would justify their discrimination toward Bolivians… because it wasn’t racial.

    Tribalism is a common ill.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  5. Kevin,
    Welcome to the Kitchen! I believe it’s your first time here. May God bless your efforts to raise money for those in need.
    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  6. Tim, thank you for this entire series of posts and for challenging our faith, our thinking, and our priorities.
    Blessings to you and your family!

  7. And yet to truthfully speak against tribalism in a way that proclaims the truth application of a passage like Colossian 3.11 and many others is to be so counter-cultural that it is like swimming upstream on a very hard down-stream current…it aint easy and it is very stressful and tiring.

    Thanks for the great post!

    Grace and peace,


  8. Tim,

    these last few posts have been amazing. i really hope you’ll continue on fleshing out these ideas. they are a message that is utterly bereft from many pulpits i gather, yet so fundamental to our faith. please don’t stop now!



  9. From the comfort of our individualism, it is easy to see the flaws of tribalism. It is easier still to see the flaws in the aberrations of tribalism.
    On the strong group – weak group continium, the USA is just a bit to the left of Australia and to the right of everybody else. There is a lot that can be said for having a strong group mentality, especially if we value scripture. Obviously, without ethics or humility it is a disastrous system. I only wish that tribalism had a monopoly on lying, cheating, murdering, etc. Sadly, individualism is simply a system of one member tribes.

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