Tribal Politics Be Damned: A Pastor’s Plea for Civility Among the Brethren

 This guest post on tribal politics is written by Ron Davis,
Executive Pastor of Cramerton Church, Charlotte, NC

The hope of the world has never been a political party, politicians, or our ability to leverage political power. It has, and always will be, the beautiful gospel of Jesus Christ. As a pastor, I long to see brothers and sisters who are so driven by their love for one another that the gospel becomes more important than winning an unholy tribal war between Left and Right. Below is my call to civility — and maybe, just maybe, it will find its impact far beyond a late-evening Facebook post rebuking tribal politics:

Dear Friend, 

I think our Lord is much more grieved by the attitudes and actions of believers toward one another in Western society, where each side believes they have the “answer” to America’s problems. Both liberal and conservative Christians seem to forget they exist in a secular culture and both of their politics necessarily reflect these same secular points of view. Jesus made it clear: the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another.

This kind of interaction we find on Facebook is, sadly, fodder for the skeptical mind, as they see the Christian world being so divided over things like tribal politics. The hope of the world is the gospel of Jesus Christ not our ability to prove each other wrong. From my observation, there seems to be very little civility or objectivity from either side. Just a desire to “be right” and to look at almost every single issue with a particular set of glasses (and not gospel-centered ones at that). To me this is shameful and heart-breaking. The early Christian church was not concerned with achieving political dominance over others. It was concerned with making disciples, loving one another, their neighbors, their enemies, everyone – under peril of persecution, torture, and even death.

Early Christians were both loved and hated by the world.

They were “aliens” (Suetonius even used the word “genus” to describe the followers of Christ). Why? Because they didn’t fit the standard philosophical, political, or religious paradigms of the day.

They stood out. Why? Because they loved one another. They treated the women among them as equals. They believed in racial equality. They avoided the bloody entertainment of the day. They were against sexual sin – not because they were prudes, not because they thought sex was bad, but because they believed it was holy. These kinds of Christians simply didn’t fit, and they simply wouldn’t fit our liberal-conservative tribal politics, either.

In this highly-charged political landscape, we ought to stop seeking the perverted power of partisan tribal politics and seek to become real followers of Christ. We should speak out where/when God calls us, but never tarnish the image of Christ by acting hateful or uncharitably towards anyone, and especially not fellow believers.

We must never marry ourselves to any political party. God is neither Republican nor Democrat nor any other political persuasion. We are sojourners in this world, and our ultimate allegiance should be to God alone. And we should stand against every social injustice in this world, regardless of the political implications and without drawing false equivalencies, whether it comes from Republicans or Democrats. This kind of tribal politics is simply not for us.

My point: we seem to have lost focus here, and I am tired of trying to defend this kind of Christian infighting to nonbelievers who are trying to determine if Jesus is who he claimed to be. We are obscuring our witness for Christ when we become so consumed with own political agendas that we end up failing to love one another. It is truly shameful when our polarized political hatred of the other becomes the main characteristic by which the world knows us.

Imagine what it would be like if instead of demonstrating to the world our desire for political power, we showed the world the miraculous power of the gospel in our lives and communities? Imagine what it would be like if we were able to show the world that the power of Christ’s love gave us the power to transcend our tribal politics and differences of opinion? Imagine what it would be like if when the world looked at our relationships with each other they saw a people passionate about sharing the love of Christ rather than the destruction of one another’s political parties?

Shame on us for letting ourselves be relegated to the gladiatorial arena of tribal political partisanship, with all of its polarization, hatefulness, insensitivity, and lust for worldly power. Shame on us for cheering on political bullies whose opportunistic and un-Christlike behavior we are willing to ignore, or even celebrate, because of the perverse enjoyment we get from watching them bully our opponents. Shame on us for becoming so married to our own partisan tribal politics that we alienate those we oppose from hearing the Good News that Jesus (not the world) has to offer. Let others fight over these things. And let us rededicate ourselves to loving each other, our neighbors, and our enemies, and preaching the Good News of Christ’s love for the world to a planet that so desperately needs to experience it and understand its implications.

This is where I stand: if our penchant for partisan politics trumps our ability to be conduits of Christ’s love, then I say, “Tribal politics be damned!”