Tribalism is nothing new. Humans have always divided themselves into groups and aligned themselves along certain interests and ideologies. Growing up, I was a Sooner and I wore my crimson and crème with pride. I detested orange clothing, in all it’s shades. This was especially challenging for me as I attended a high school that had orange and black as our school colors.
Sports provides a strong example of tribalism, but even if you don’t find an interest in sports there were other things to align ourselves with. It could be a favorite band or singer, a restaurant, a clothing brand or even the church you attend. It is human nature to put ourselves into groups and to define ourselves by the groups we belong to. For the most part, this type of tribalism has existed as harmless fun. We all know someone who probably took it too far, but for most of us, we just enjoyed good natured ribbing when our “tribe” came out on top.
Advertising executives definitely recognize this and make it a core part of their strategy to get people to identify with their brands in this way. They don’t just want casual customers, they want people who will commit to their culture and influence others to do the same. Influencers is now a career for many people who have mastered the art of marketing themselves and the products they use/promote so well that they can earn a living off of doing nothing but that.
There is one area of tribalism that you may think is missing from what I’ve discussed so far, and that is politics. Politics used to be like some of these other tribes. People used to think about it in November, sometimes only every 2 or 4 years. Some issues were always considered political, such as taxes and the military, but few people who weren’t directly involved in politics spent much time thinking about the impact and influence of politics on our daily concerns. I remember in the 80’s and 90’s having some thoughts about politicians, but only being vaguely aware of whether the people around me were of the same political tribe as me.
It just didn’t matter that much. It didn’t seem like real life. Real life was lived with real people as we went about our business, built our communities, worshipped our creator and generally, enjoyed life. Somewhere along the way, things began to accelerate into a very different direction. It didn’t happen overnight, but in the world today, everything seems political. It bleeds over into our sports, into our schools and even into our churches. Everyone is pushed to choose a tribe and to align with those interests.
We have rejected an opinion-less life in order to have a politically-aligned take on just about everything. Just as we have social media influencers who are pushing us to want to use certain brands and products, there is a huge industry out there pushing us to align with the opinions of others, to join their tribe and unfortunately, to condemn, make fun of and reject those with differing opinions. This is fueled by the distance of the Internet, where we can judge everyone, including those in our neighborhoods, communities and families at a distance. We have the freedom to cast out anyone whose allegiance to our tribe seems to buckle with an inappropriate post on social media.
We’ve just finished an incredibly divisive last 2 years. Most likely, there are people who you consider to be members of other “unclean” tribes today that you weren’t even aware of even a few years ago. The ability for you to live your life daily in a way that is glorifying and honoring to God and loving to your fellow travelers has been damaged by all of this. The divisions that exist are deep, but they don’t have to be permanent.
Some people act like a politician they are defending on social media is some rich aunt and uncle and they are trying to earn a spot in their will. Seriously, why do you care so much about all of these things? Why are you willing to break a real relationship that you may have had for most of your life, for the sake of someone who wouldn’t give you the time of day if they passed you on the street. It’s okay to care about these things. It’s okay to vote for your convictions, but defining our lives by political tribalism is a destructive way to live. Do any of these things really bring joy into your life as believers?
In 1 Peter 2, Peter writes:
9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. 10 “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” 11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.
As followers of Jesus, we are different, and we are called to be recognizable as a different kind of tribe. We are not an earthly tribe, but a tribe defined by God and His ways. This is the identity that has been given unto us. While we live on this earth, we have opinions and preferences. We will have favorite bands and sports teams. We will find the policies of some earthly leaders to seem more true than others, but in all of this, we are not to be defined by those things. We are called to live honorable lives as temporary residents and foreigners in a foreign land.
As we identify with this “tribe”, the tribe of Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity to have an impact that does matter. It matters in our own life, in the lives of our family and in the lives of everyone who we encounter, because if our lives are truly pointing to Christ, then we are pointing people towards the only tribe they can join that will have an eternal impact. Remember that as you journey out into the tribal landscape.