When Tribalism Leads to Enemy-Making

It is so easy to day to make those around us our enemies because they don’t think like us, vote like us, believe like us, behave like us, or do things like us. It seems like we are living in unprecedented times of division within the culture, the church, the family, and elsewhere.

I am positive that division has been around for quite some time, but it just seems like things just keep getting worse. I mean, can we really expect the times not to when we either turn away from God or have forgotten our first love, that is, Jesus and what he has done for us?

Anyways, what I really want to dive into and talk about is this idea that, regardless of the differences of another person, group, church, culture, or party, we, as believers, are not called to ostracize them and to make them into our enemies. We’re not called to say that God is on our side while God is not on their side lest we are 100% convinced that we’re perfect and on the same playing field as God in all aspects of life.

There’s this story in the Bible, in the book of Joshua, where Joshua meets this mysterious figure. Joshua say this mysterious figure and said, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” The mysterious figure, in return, said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” God is neither for Joshua nor for his enemies. God is for Himself; for his glory and for his purposes.

What if we were to approach this mysterious figure (whom we now know represents God himself) and ask, “Are you for us (Republicans, Baptists, Calvinists) or are you for our enemies (Democrats, Nazarenes, Arminians)? In response, this mysterious figure says, “I am for neither. I am for myself.”

Are we to really believe that we have all the right answers and right beliefs all bottled up in one denomination, one party, one family, one society, one country? Are we really to act in such a way that others who don’t believe like us or think like us are not worthy of what God has done on the cross through Jesus? Of course, we may never vocally put it that way, but let’s really think about what we’re actually doing in our self-righteous attitude when we subconsciously define the qualifications to join our tribe.

Let’s take a look at Psalm 97. This is a Psalm about God as King. I believe that this Psalm gives us all some perspective in our dealings with those around us who may come across as different especially as it relates to the public square. But it also has a lot to say in our dealings with those in our classrooms, those in our own churches, those in our own families, and those in our own communities. Just switch our some words and it’s quites revealing.

In the first verse, it tells us that God reigns and the subject to God’s reign is the world. I think we can all agree that God reigns but what we might forget is that God is not American. God is not Baptist or Presbyterian. God is not white. God is not blue-collar. God is not southern. God is not Republican. God is not contemporary. God is also not the opposite. God is for neither. God is for himself. He is not for a brand, a denomination, a certain nation. This is quite evident when we notice that the subject to God’s reign (or the world looking on) is the world; the earth. God is not for one and against the other. God is the God of nations.

So, our first perspective is that others, even if they think and believe differently than us, are not to be made our enemies. Who are we to decide who’s in and who’s out? Who are we to determine who is doing life the right way? Who are we to declare who is an enemy of God when we were once enemies of God too?

A second perspective from this very same verse is that God’s reign, according to Charles D. Drew, is permanent, absolute, flawless, and worldwide. This is especially helpful when it comes to politics. No one party has it all 100% pure and flawless. No one president can boast the same claims either. No one denomination can do so either. Nations rise and fall. Presidents come and go. Parties switch from the right to the left. And yet, God still reigns perfectly and flawless no matter what changes in our little world. This means that we ought not to fear when a vote goes a certain way, when society drifts away from God, or when a denomination goes off the deep end.

When we fear, our judgment toward others become impaired. We begin looking for answers, help, hope, and redemption in created things when it should be in the Creator. When we do this, we make other human beings somehow less dignified and less worthy than what God has declared that human being to be.

Do not let fear be your deciding factor when it comes to making decisions that will effect others, whether in the voting booth, the comment thread, or determining how we will treat others.

A third perspective comes from verse one as well and it’s that, since God is for his own glory and purposes, everything we do in society should aim for that same purpose and not just for the purposes of our own agenda. What this means is that, when we make decisions politically or theologically, let’s make sure the outcome of those decisions aim to please and honor Jesus worldwide or beyond our own little worlds.

For example, we may believe in our nation building a wall but let’s also take action to seek justice and mercy for those outside the United States. As Gospel people, the audience of God is not just America. It’s Mexico too. It’s refugees too.

In short, don’t just act and think politically and theologically for our own country or community; do so for the world. What might this look like?

A fourth perspective is that God hates evil; not the people we we’ve so easily deemed as evil. This comes from verse 2 and 10. Now, this is where it gets messy. We are not simply called to hate evil in the other party; we are also called to hold to the same standards in our own. We may fight global terrorism since it is evil but we must also be against the evil of killing innocent civilians in the process. We may be against abortion but we also must be against the mistreatment of those at the border, those in the heart of our own cities, and those who don’t have a voice.

I’ll wrap it up here for now since this is a lot to chew on here but the important this to remember is that God is for his own purposes and his own glory; not our own agendas, or the American Dream, or a certain party. When we act, think, or speak politically or theologically, it needs to have a wider audience in view.

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