ReVision

Tribalism

When it settles in your soul, it's dangerous.

Fleshly Winds (7)

But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”
Acts 4.15-17

Sinful self-interest
Many winds of doctrine are blowing around us these days, as we have seen. These do not appeal equally to us, and to some we pay but little heed. But the law of sin that lingers in the soul can open readily and unexpectedly to those ill winds that promise to vaunt the self; and there is a clear explanation for this.

God is continually revealing Himself to the soul of every human being. He does this through the things He has made. All of creation and much of the culture people make and use bear witness to the fact that God exists; they tell us something about His Deity – His transcendence, immensity, goodness, wisdom, power, and more (Rom. 1.18-20). Every human being knows God, at some level. But the natural tendency of people – due to the law of sin – is to deny the knowledge of God, and to exalt the self to the command seat of the soul. Rather than glorify God and give thanks for His greatness and love, people turn to their own ideas and thoughts about life, making themselves the final reference point for belief and life.

Thus, the self becomes god, the final arbiter of truth. “You will be like God” resonates in the soul of every person who turns from the true God to their own selfish interests. And whatever ill wind reinforces this notion is welcomed by the law of sin and channeled into the sails of the soul. People can become so full of self, that not even incontrovertible evidence will change their views.

Take the case of those religious leaders who arrested Peter and John for healing a lame man and preaching the Gospel. They were perplexed by the boldness of Peter and John. They remembered that these men had been with Jesus. They saw the evidence of the lame man right before their eyes, and they heard Peter testify that it was faith in the Name of Jesus alone that made this man well.

In conference, they agreed that “a notable miracle had been done through them” and that throughout the city of Jerusalem, people were talking excitedly about it. A great good work had been done, exciting many to wonder and hope. And how did the religious leaders respond? They tried to sweep the matter under the rug and stamp out any further spread.

Why? A great good had been done. People were abuzz with hope and anticipation. And all that cadre of religious leaders could think to do was to stamp it out?

Yes, of course. Because as good as that work was, it was not, in their minds, as great a good as preserving their status as leaders in Jerusalem. They had already fallen back on that commitment to put Jesus to death (Jn. 11.45-48), and in our text it is clear they were just as committed as ever to maintaining their place and power. Their self – individually and corporately – was threatened by Peter and John, and they would take whatever steps were necessary to reinforce their self and maintain their position, their authority, and their place in the public eye.

The sin of worshiping self blinded them to the truth. We see the same thing happening in our own day.

Tribalism revisited
This self-willed blindness to truth demonstrates tribalism that has passed from an outward influence to become a flaring infection in the soul. We previously described tribalism as that tendency to seek like-minded others in whose camaraderie and common views we can find reinforcement for our own ideas and aspirations. Finding a tribe we feel safe in, is thus an outward quest for community, and can be a strictly temporary phenomenon. But committing to a tribe and its views, place, and project can so infect the mind, heart, and conscience that ideas of truth, goodness, and justice are corrupted, and we become blinded from within to the obvious realities around us.

This is what we read in Acts 4, and this was entirely consistent with what we saw throughout the public ministry of Jesus. The religious leaders of two opposing tribes, Sadducees and Pharisees, joined forces to protect their common interests. It didn’t matter how much good Jesus did, or how true His teachings were, or how faithful He was to Scripture. He had to go. And if He had to go, to protect their tribal self-interests, His followers had to go as well.

The tribal loyalty that attracted these men outwardly had become a fixed condition in their souls. Only a miracle of God can overcome such deep-rooted self-interest.

Problems with tribalism
When tribalism becomes settled in the soul – that conviction which says, in the words of Job mocking his interlocutors, “We are the people, and when we die, wisdom dies with us” (Job. 12.1, 2) – then people become blind to the truth and seek only to vaunt themselves, their views, and their project. Self and that which supports the self – one’s tribe – become the defining values for those whose soul is filled with the winds of “me and everyone who agrees with me.”

Tribalism at this level makes us so self-interested – individually and communally – that we become determined to cancel those who disagree, deny their rights, and suppress their freedoms. If we don’t, if we fail to take drastic measures, even in the face of contrary facts, then our self and our tribe may be unmasked as shallow and merely self-interested, leaving us embarrassed and vulnerable.

Tribalism as a worldly wind can often be just a tempting breeze that we might entertain for a while but never wholly embrace. Tribalism as an ill wind settled in the soul can be blinding; it can unleash irrational fears and inchoate reasoning, and lead to hurtful and dangerous actions; it can cause us to fabricate realities that exist nowhere other than in our mind and our tribe, and can, in the end, be a denigrating and destructive force.

In our day, the ill winds of tribalism have interdicted the souls of many in high places. They are immune to truth; intemperate in condemning their opponents; irrational and at times hysterical in vaunting their views; and determined – like the religious leaders who confronted Peter and John – to silence anyone who disagrees with them.

Be on guard against such tendencies finding a home in your own soul.

For reflection or discussion
1.  Tribalism can affect us at two levels. Explain.

2.  How does deep-seated tribalism cause us to look upon those with whom we disagree?

3.  How can you tell when you are beginning to be influenced by tribalist notions?

Next steps – Preparation: In prayer, consider: Is there anyone in your Personal Mission Field whom you are failing to love as your neighbor? What should you do?

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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