Overcoming the Divide

I did not ‘do’ sports in high school. My extracurricular activity of choice was theatre. Even so, when both junior and senior high school football teams ended up in the regional finals, every student felt an obligation to go and support them, especially since it meant the afternoon off school. We were bussed to Ivor Wynn Stadium, the home of the Hamilton Tiger Cats, to cheer our team to victory.

Not knowing the rules of the game, I kept asking for explanations. By half time, I was able to follow the plays by myself. As the game progressed, so did the emotions of the students on both sides. At one point near the end of the game, an opposing player was running the ball towards our end, and our entire side of the stadium rose as one and roared “Get him!”, “Stop him!” “Kill him!”. When I sat back down, I thought, why was I wanting someone I didn’t even know to be injured? For what? A ball? For the first time, I’d tasted tribalism in its mob form, and I didn’t like it.

Tribalism, a polarization of thought, belief and action into the “Us” versus the “Not-Us”. It’s what drives nationalism, racism, sexism, class-ism, political and religious extremism and war. Cheering for a sports team is, at first glance, a relatively innocent activity. But when passions are aroused to the point where fans of opposing teams start fighting or the mob takes over and riots occur all because ‘our’ team lost, then something is very wrong.

Tribalism encourages us to take sides, to identify with one group of people over another. Tribalism isolates us from others and encourages us to think of the “Not-Us” as something less than human, or at least, less than us. Listening to and participating in the chants and hollered insults at that game made me realize that by dehumanizing the opposing players, I was also dehumanizing myself. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, through my actions, I was drawing further away from God.

The problem is, the media encourages these divisions among people. Obviously, we see it promoted in the sports arena. Polarization of issues is encouraged in talk shows, while comedians mock those with whom they disagree. On Facebook and other social sites, we can read the vitriolic opinions of complete strangers who emotionally react to posters without apparently having read the complete post. Some of our biggest fiction shows include revenge, hatred and killing with little thought given to consequences or to the humanity of the victims, unless it was one of the ‘good guys’ — ‘Us’ versus the ‘Not-us’.

When I entered the Orthodox Church, a prayer was said for me which included the phrase, “Remove far from her, her former delusion and fill her with the faith, hope and love….” At the time, I understood the term ‘former delusion’ to apply to the beliefs of the church I was leaving. But over the years, I have become convinced it also includes any belief which negates God’s love and encourages me to think of another person as less than me. Any thought which enables me to disparage another person because of their skin colour, gender identity, political or religious affiliation or anything else in which they differ from me is a delusion not in accordance with Orthodox belief and needs to be renounced. I am NOT saying a differently held belief cannot be debated. What I am saying is criticism of the different belief cannot be allowed to dehumanize those who hold the belief. Once upon a time, debate over issues centred on the pros and cons of the issues. It wasn’t allowed to devolve into childish, playground name-calling. Many people I know, including myself, try to avoid conversations about controversial issues for fear of being personally attacked. There once was a time when people could hold differing opinions and discuss them reasonably, logically and even heatedly, all the while respecting their opponent. That doesn’t seem to be the case now.

In Matthew 5:25, Jesus says “but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” I think Jesus is expressing concern for the soul of the person whose state of heart has allowed him to verbally abuse or even think of someone in such a dismissive, condescending, dehumanizing manner.
This is tribalism and any sort of tribalism is antithetical to God’s original plan for creation as well as its restoration. At Pentecost, the effects of Babel were undone, bringing all people together with an understanding of the promise of God’s love. Any follower of Christ should be seeking ways to continue this promise. We should find common ground to communicate God’s love to all people instead of allowing our differences to separate us. Instead, let us celebrate our differences and the variety of ways we can rejoice in our God and each other. To think we are better than someone for whatever reason is not the nature of Christ. The nebulous constructs of what constitutes a country, an ethnicity or even a political affiliation have become false gods who sometimes demand human sacrifice to maintain their image. Anyone serving any of these gods has nothing to do with Christ.

As a member of the body of Christ, I have no tribe. My job as a Christian is to pray in love for all people, even those who do not believe as I do, even those who may hate me and may want to kill me, whether figuratively or literally. Christ came to restore all of creation and calls all to salvation. Whether I like it or not, my salvation is dependent upon my relationship with all the people around me. How I treat them is how I treat God, because each one carries the image of God within them.

“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” — 1 John 4:20

In God’s love, there is no place for tribalism.

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Patricia Anastasia Bartlett is the author of 'Glimpses of Glory',…
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