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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tribalism Is Killing The World And The Church Is Not Helping

What is clear from both the Old and New Testaments is that our regard and love for God is in inextricably tied to our treatment of people. Thus, regardless of the number, size, or grandeur of the houses of worship we build, the energy with which we sing hymns, and the risks we take to preach the Gospel, if we are not just in how we treat others, God does not acknowledge our worship, prayers, works, and words. This is something that should strike fear in all of us simply because we have all been unjust to others and thus all of us should constantly be praying the prayer of the tax collector, from the parable of the two men praying, who could not even lift his eyes up to heaven because he could not erase the shame of his own sins from his sight.

The Scriptures mention 3 ways by which we practice injustice against others.  The first way is that we can exploit or abuse others.    The second way is that we neglect those in need. The third way is that we treat those from whom we can benefit the most with  preference. We should note that these ways of being unjust to others are not mutually exclusive; all too many times we practice injustice against others in multiple ways. But perhaps before we continue, we should explain these three ways.

To exploit someone is to take advantage of them. And in the majority of times we exploit others, we do so by capitalizing on a perceived weakness. But sometimes we take advantage of those above us because of what we can get out of them. When we are young, many more times we gain status before our friends by publicly humiliating others. And when we are old, we find that some things never change. Many times, this exploitation involves abuse. Abuse involves the hurting and mistreating of others. We abuse others by what we say about and do to them. In doing so, we reinforce a pecking order in our little world. What should give us reason for pause is that God remembers each malevolent peck we give to others. 

When we neglect those in need, we either blind ourselves to the needs and hurts of others or we join Cain in rhetorically asking: "Am I my brother's keeper." In either case, we find a reason for not stopping to provide some measure of relief to those who are suffering. This could be done by withdrawing ourselves from those who are being ridiculed or marginalized and thus need personal intervention or by refusing to share with others the bounty which God has given us. In any case, unlike Jesus who stopped to minister to those who were suffering, we continue on our way.

Finally, we show preference to those from whom we can gain something. Sometimes, we gain in immaterial ways while at other times we gain material ways. And perhaps the majority of ways by which we show preference to others is to overlook their sins while we gleefully point out the smallest of faults of others. And one of the reasons we are silent about the sins of those above us is because we are afraid of retribution.

But note that the above descriptions and examples show only part of the problem with how we treat others. They revolve around how we mistreat others as individuals. We haven't talked about how the groups we belong to practice injustice. And it is this mistreatment of others by groups and our responsibility for the cruelty which needs more of our focus simply because the actions of groups can more often cause more pain than the actions of individuals.

The groups that have caused the most pain are nations, economic systems and classes, and races. And when loyalty to one's nation, economic system and class, or race, which is loyalty to any group, trumps commitment to keep principles and morals, we have tribalism. And during the Cold War, it wasn't difficult to see how some forms of tribalism put all human life on earth at risk. A full scale nuclear war will most probably cause the end of all human life on earth. And those who would participate in pulling the triggers would be doing so because following orders and loyalty to one's nation would allow individuals to participate in the wholesale slaughter of millions of people. And though the risk of a nuclear holocaust has lessened, the nuclear missiles of both Russia and the United States are still aimed at each other. In fact, we came within a few minutes of a full-scale nuclear war in 1995 when a Western satellite launch was for a period of time interpreted as a missile attack against Moscow.

Of course, we don't have to have a nuclear war to see how one nation and race could commit wide-scale atrocities on others. To many of us, Nazi Germany comes to mind here with its mass extermination against the Jews, Socialists, Homosexuals, Gypsies, and others as an example of how one group can abuse others for the glory of a nation and under the waving of a flag. But Nazi Germany is not our only example. The treatment of America's indigenous peoples by its European settlers is has been as bad an example of injustice in the name of a nation and under the waving of a flag. Though there might be a dispute in the numbers killed, the murderous removal of people from their land that a young United States practiced is beyond dispute and the abuses continue today. And we should never forget how Whites have, and continue to do so, sorely persecuted and oppressed Blacks. All of the injustices from our three examples were practiced because loyalty to group trumped commitment to principle and the basic respect for people.

But national and tribalism aren't the only threats that further injustice today; economic systems also promote injustice. We should note John Pilger's study of Apartheid that is available in either his book, Freedom Next Time, or his documentary film. For here he shows that the South Africa's Apartheid system didn't die when it became politically unviable. Rather, since Apartheid was intertwined with an economic system, it survived its political demise because the economic system remained in place. And this is why, though there are more exceptions to the rule today than before the end of political apartheid, the wealth disparity between Whites and Blacks in South Africa has increased rather than diminished with the end of political Apartheid. We should note that a somewhat similar result has occurred in America despite advances made by the Civil Rights movement. This is because those belonging to the dominant economic system care more for the profits of the few than the welfare of the many.

Part of the injustices of our current economic system come from the following. The globalization of trade and neoliberal Capitalism has increased the labor pool especially for repetitive and low-skill jobs. And as any Capitalist knows, with an increase of supply comes a decrease in price/cost/pay. So market forces have either lowered the wages of some or removed employment of others making such people and their communities expendable. So while some make a financial killing out of the outsourcing of jobs to other countries, others are subjected to sweatshop labor conditions while others have no work at all.

And if we add to that the way we extract natural energy resources, such as using mountaintop removal to mine for coal or fracking to drill for oil or natural gas, we see the uncaring destruction of people's communities and homes in an effort to increase profits. But not only are people's current lives being destroyed, so is their future. And this is done all in the sake of profit and we see that millions suffer and die because of this tribalism.

See, for as long people as unquestionably support their own nation's quest for conquest and their own economic system's desire to grow big and rich at the expense of others, we have tribalism. We have a culture where right and wrong depends solely on who does what to whom. 

What is the Church's response to all of this? The Conservative Church's response to this tribalism is to reinforce it by practicing its own forms. In the Church's tribalism, we see, for the most part, the Conservative Church aligning itself with power and wealth, with patriotism and Capitalism. It won't challenge either. But not only will it not challenge either , its infighting and its self-ostracism from "worldly' influences provide more examples of tribalism. 

The above is not the only picture we see in the Conservative Church but it is the predominant one. And it is unfortunate for both the Church and those outside. It is unfortunate for the church in that it shows itself to be no different from the rest of the world. It is unfortunate for the rest of the world because as the Church shows itself to be the same as the world, it deprives the world of hearing a credible witness for the Gospel. 

Finally, it is also unfortunate for the world because it is following the path that tribalism has so often traveled before only this time it is traveling with technologies that carry far bigger impacts. Our weapons can destroy all human life, our industries and tools can make earth uninhabitable, and our computer and communications technologies can be used to impoverish greater multitudes of people than ever before. Yes, we have the same tribalism as before. But our technological advancements have made that tribalism more and more dangerous and the question for the Church becomes, what is it doing to curb today's threats? Though some may not think that is the business of the Church, if preaching repentance to those who practice injustice is part of sharing the Gospel, then addressing today's manmade perils is at the heart of evangelism and the Church's mission. 



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