The Christian Mandate to Subvert Tribalism

The Christian Mandate to Subvert Tribalism

Our call to pursue nuance, a love-infused, subversive force.

The awful hangover from last year’s contentious US presidential election seems to have transitioned into something of a chronic migraine. Interparty animosity is higher than it’s been in a quarter century; nearly 9 in 10 of those in both the Republican and Democratic parties have at least one of three negative emotions—frustration, fear, or anger—toward those in the opposing party. Even Christians who worship in congregations with some political diversity are not immune. According to 2016 data from Pew Research Center, Christians across all major denominations and on both sides of the political spectrum are as negatively minded toward the rival party as those with no religious affiliation.

Of course, Christians experience division along many lines other than partisan politics. But while legitimate differences in perspectives and convictions are to be expected among God’s people, division can harden into enmity, and enmity into blatant tribalism. Tribalism in turn chokes out nuance by creating rigid dichotomies. Our tribe is loyal; theirs is seditious. We are complex; they are simple-minded. Our camp is orthodox; theirs is heretical. We are good; they are evil.

Lest I get overly theoretical, ideological conflict has manifested itself under my own roof in the past two years. Much of this has existed between my live-in mother-in-law and myself, but it’s also affected my marriage. When I retreated into online forums with more likeminded people after the election, I fell more deeply into a trap of contemptuous tribalism and perpetual agitation. The relationships in my innermost circle suffered. In the interest of prioritizing the people whom God had given me to love, I made some radical changes. …

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