The world is filled with a variety of issues. When people engage with these issues, opposing sides are rapidly filled with their proponents at the ready to support their position, whether right or wrong. The problem that arises when engaging with these issues, especially difficult ones, is that people are susceptible to tribalism over truth. The tendency is to follow your tribe’s position, no matter the cost. This tendency is often seen amongst Christians when engaging with the hot topics of our time. Whilst Christians have the liberty to hold various positions on non-primary issues, what we do not have the liberty to is abscond on the truth because it does not fit our tribe’s view. So how can we faithfully navigate through different topics and ensure that our allegiance is to the truth and not to our tribe?
Say No to Tribalism
Firstly, it is important to define what tribalism is. Tribalism is defined as “the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates one member of a group from the members of another group”. In other words, tribalism is when people are overly loyal to their group (whether political, social, theological etc). This leads to people being over-critical of groups with an opposing view to their group and under-critical of the views of their own group. When we hold a non-critical view of our tribe, we become blind to its flaws, bad arguments, and poor positions. We can often find ourselves on the side of the oppressor, rallying against justice and standing firm against the truth. As Christians this should not be so after all “He [God] has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). We cannot stand on the side of justice, kindness, or humility if we are committed to being on the side of our tribe no matter their position.
The temptation to show greater fidelity to your leader or tribe than the truth is not a new phenomenon. Whilst the scriptures may not use tribalism as we have defined it, 1 Corinthians 3 uses a word that bears close similarity. In this portion of scripture, Paul bemoans the church of Corinth over their sectarianism (or tribalism). Paul states that when there is strife and jealousy amongst Christians because they hold varying positions, that they are acting according to the flesh (1 Corinthians 3:2-3). Whilst this text is referring mainly to Christians following Church leaders, the premise can be used for Christians following any leader or tribe. What we must remember is that our tribes are not given to us so that we can boast in them, but given by God as a means of grace for our benefit and the benefit of others (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).
Tribalism is Really Unbelief
If we want to accurately deal with the sins that beset us, then we must rightly diagnose them. Tribalism is a symptom, not the root cause. Tribalism – Partiality – Idolatry – Unbelief. Tribalism occurs because of the sin of partiality. To show partiality is to show unfair bias towards a person or a group and this is a consequence of tribalism. To show partiality is to break the royal law which is to love your neighbour as yourself (James 2:8). Yet this sin unravels deeper still because partiality is the fruit of idolatry. Idolatry is when we place any person or anything above the name and renown of God, thus diminishing His glory. Tribalism produces an ungodly allegiance that says my bias is a greater treasure to me than God. The truth does not matter to the one that is unwaveringly committed to his/her tribe. What matters is that they are right in their own eyes or the eyes of their tribe. This is a perilous position because the scriptures tell us that there is a way that seems right to us that leads to death (Proverbs 14:12). Still, idolatry is a product of a deeper issue still and this, in my view, is the seed that produces all of sins fruit – unbelief. Tribalism is ultimately unbelief because it states that a tribe can give me something that Jesus cannot. Tribalism states that the opinion of my tribe is greater than the opinion of God (John 12:42-43). Tribalism states that the truth is not important, but my position is, even if it is wrong and is potentially harmful in its implication or application. Tribalism trusts in its group rather than in Christ and by no other name can a man be saved but in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12).
Your Tribe is Christianity
In Christ we have the freedom to eat what we want, live where we want, support whatever political party and be part of whatever Christian denomination we want (Romans 14:1-12). What we do not have the privilege to do is use our freedom as an occasion for sin or to support that which is sinful (Galatians 5:13). Supporting a particular tribe is not an issue if we realise that our tribe does not have the monopoly on truth, Jesus does. We do not need Christians who are drunk from the ideological positions of their tribe, instead, we need Christians who remain sober-minded, committed to Jesus and those who He created in His image for His glory.