The White Student Union and the Kingdom of God
A young man who is a student at Towson University is concerned about the level of crime afflicting his campus and the seeming inability of the police to stem the tide. So, he is arranging for a series of unarmed student foot patrols around the university to increase student safety. The problem? The student arranging for the foot patrols heads a group called the “White Student Union”, and its blog warns that the university is experiencing a “black crime wave”, with “black predators” preying upon the “white majority student body”. Ouch. To make matters worse, the young man, Mr. Mathew Heimbach, is an Orthodox Christian, who stated his desire to enter seminary to become an Orthodox priest. Double ouch.
What are we to make of all this? It seems that the fallen tribalisms of this age are hard to eradicate from the human heart, and sadly, can even survive conversion to the Orthodox Church. It is commendable that someone might want to arrange for student-led patrols of the campus to increase safety. It is less commendable that anyone would define himself, especially today, in terms of colour or race. Why have a White Student Union? Why call the “crime wave” a black crime wave? Presumably no one, of any colour or race, cares much about the colour of the person beating them about the head and taking their money. Defining the criminals and the victims in terms of their colour seems unnecessarily provocative, if not incendiary. Why describe the situation on campus in terms calculated to increase racial tension?
It seems as if human beings have an ingrained tendency to define themselves tribaly, according to external features, and then to oppose this “us” against a “them” who do not share these features. We take comfort and security in being part of a group where everyone is the same: we are all black in our group, or all white. We are all Greeks in our club, or all Russians, or all Americans. We are all English-speakers here, or all Spanish-speakers. It can begin innocently enough: we are all part of families and tribes and nations, and our group’s shared experiences and accomplishments legitimately provide us with a sense of patriotism and pride. It is not wrong to take pride in being Greek, or Russian, or American; nor is it wrong to delight in our group’s struggle to overcome adversity and oppression.
The difficulty is that this legitimate delight in our own tribe can quickly mutate into deadly competition against other tribes, so that we see the other tribes not as equally-delightful examples of diversity and creation’s richness, but as threats—that is why the term “tribalism” is always derogatory. In North America, aboriginal tribe warred against tribe, as did tribes in Africa, and in Arabia. This deadly tendency to experience diversity as threatening apparently is timeless and universal. When we divide the world into “us” and “them”, we always declare war against “them”.
The only real and lasting alternative to the tribalisms of this age is the Kingdom of God. In this Kingdom, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). St. Paul would not have countenanced a “Jewish Student Union”, nor a “Gentile Student Union” at his seminary, and when some did try to preserve such tribalisms in the Church in the form of Judaizing and insisting that Gentiles be circumcised (i.e. become Jews), he thundered, “I wish those who unsettle you [by insisting on circumcision] would mutilate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12). As far as St. Paul was concerned tribal divisions could have no place in the Church. It was the same for St. John: in his vision of heaven, he could find no such division. “I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). In that assembly, all tribes and races and colours and nations stood together as a single mixed multitude.
In the Kingdom of God tribal and racial distinctions are not done away. God has something much better for us in mind. They are not abolished; they are transcended. In the Kingdom we see diversity as we were meant to—not as a threat, but as a gift. Admittedly in this over-heated age where war reigns and no hurts are long forgotten, transcending tribalism can be difficult. But we need not fear, as if the task were impossible. We were told that things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
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