There’s something about human nature that’s deeply tribal. We enjoy knowing who’s on our team and who’s not and we become profoundly attached to our team. We don’t even need any rational basis for becoming tribal. Go to any professional sport and watch opposing fans get into fist fights. The players on the teams aren’t from the cities they represent. The fans aren’t necessarily from those cities either. Literally, the only difference between the teams is the names on the jerseys and the colours of those jerseys. And yet the fans will become so deeply committed they’ll actually engage in fistfights.
Even when it’s profoundly irrational we all get lost in deciding who’s on our side and who’s not. Put another way, we all get lost in deciding who’s “us” and who’s “them”.
In the Christian community, we have received this beautiful image of the Body of Christ. It represents the reality that all Christian’s are part of each other. As St. Paul said over and over and over, there is no distinction of gender, social class, or ethnicity. It was, when Paul first wrote it, a deeply revolutionary and profoundly challenging truth. I can only wish that it wasn’t still.
The idea that we are all one body remains revolutionary. Our deeply tribal nature causes us to fall back into determining “us” and “them” based on every distinction, both rational and irrational, that we can construct. Gender, sexuality, ethnicity, skin colour, place of birth, age, wealth or poverty, education, social class, and, of course, religion. The beautiful gift of the Body of Christ should prevent us from making tribes of every small distinction but it doesn’t prevent us from making tribes based on religious faith or practice.
Of course, our faith should prevent that. As theists we believe that we all spring from the same source. All of us have our beginning and ending in God. Every life, every thing that is, came from the heart of God. Even if we wish to draw people deeper into faith through Christ we cannot see others as anything but siblings born from the same Eternal Parent.
But it’s easier to play games of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There’s no easier way to win an election or a referendum. There’s no easier way to get a congregation to unify. Pick someone as “them” and paint them as the opposition. Our long rooted tribalism will solidify and we’ll stand to strengthen and defend our borders.
Easier, however, doesn’t mean better. Shutting out “them” doesn’t make a better or safer or stronger congregation, community, country, or world. It might feel more comfortable for a while. But it won’t be long before there’s a new “them” in town and the comfort will be gone and we’ll be back to where we started.
And while we’re doing that we’ll be missing the richness and depth of the siblings we have from God. The family members who may or may not be members of the Body of Christ but who were created by the same Eternal Parent and by the same Eternal Love.
Exploring the depth, joy, and richness of our siblings will take work. It will take discipline, mutual support, and mutual love. It won’t be easier. But it will be better.