There has been a whole spate of studies of late on the very disturbing increase in what is variously designated as tribalism, or in creating safe spaces in which one is able to avoid all voices and influences and voices that disturb one. An article in New York magazine, by Andrew Sullivan, is especially well researched in this phenomenon. Also disturbing is how this tendency, especially among the younger generation, which seek to create safe spaces, resists even the interchange of controversial ideas on college campuses, and protests against professors who insist on bringing them up in class.

In this country, it has become almost normative (and not unusually mixed with violence) in racial protests, ethnic discrimination, gun-lovers, political sub-cultures, etc. This is not new, but it has become distressingly present in what was always was assumed to be a nation where freedom of expression/speech was assumed a right.

I guess this should not be all that surprising to those of us with something of a Biblical orientation. In those fascinating early documents of scripture, which record the (call it what you will) folk history, or that history handed down by oral tradition, . . . we have that account of the tower of Babel, where the human community tried to achieve divine prerogatives, and were judged by having their tongues confused so that they could not communicate with one another. It all ‘went south’ from there. People speaking different tongues became different tribal units, and the human community was fractured, and tribes became suspicious, if not hostile, to one another.  So, the tribalism we are observing among us today should not be all that surprising. We don’t speak one tongue in many dimensions.

But sweep over to that moment in human history when God invaded his fractured, rebellious creation in the coming of the Son, Jesus Christ, to initiate his New Creation, (salvation, eternal life, kingdom, new humanity, etc.) and you come to that moment when the Holy Spirit descended on the believing multitude at the Jewish celebration of Pentecost, and where they all heard the message in their own language. The emerging community of God’s New Creation was inaugurated to be a community of both God reconciliation of the world to himself by the blood of Jesus, but also to be a community of reconcilers. It was to become a community that loved humankind as God loved humankind, and loved one another with that love. It was to become a community that loved strangers, and enemies, helpless, and those of other tongues redemptively.

That’s the norm for God’s people—that, not tribalism. But we keep failing and recreating competing tribes even with the Christian church, and failing in our ministries as re-concilers. We are to wear on our feet “the readiness of the gospel of peace,” but all too often we wear the shoes of suspicion and mutual antagonism because of differences in the interpretation of scripture.

But I will not despair. We are called to be a people of hope. What may seem like a human impossibility, or some kind of Utopianism, is not impossible with God by his empowering. I’m with Mother Mary in her response: “How can these things be (humanly)?” And the angel replied that they would become reality as the Holy Spirit came upon her. So, with us. Our ministries of love and good works, of being ministers of reconciliation, of resisting tribalism, . . . begin next door. We literally invade the world of Babel as children of Light in order to demonstrate God’s design for reconciled community. We’re to be healers, not divisive tribalists. Stay tuned . . .


About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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