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Why I'm Not Looking for a Tribe, and Hope My Children Won't Either

A lot changed in America during the two years we were in Africa. Froyo and cable TV pretty much died.  Facebook is aging, and Snapchat has reduced communication to pictures of people pretending to be puppies. Food trucks have finally received the credit they deserve. Flossing is no longer merely a means of combating plaque, but also a dance move. Minority treatment and immigration reform are receiving much-needed press. We have a president who used to be a reality TV star. Did I miss anything?

Like all things, language changes over time. Each generation champions certain terms that embody their values. Milennials who are geographically displaced and virtually detached have recently adopted the term "tribe" to describe "their people". For so many reasons, this term is troubling. Throughout history and in much of the world today, conflict between tribes has resulted in devastating loss of life and opportunity. In low and middle income countries (LIC, MIC), tribalism often manifests overtly as physical oppression. In West Africa, tribalism might mean doing the wrong thing to benefit one's own tribe before doing the right thing to benefit another tribe. In high income countries (HIC), tribalism more subtly influences economic, social, and political policies. In the United States, legislation that will benefit the poor is generally opposed by the privileged. And closer to home (before we all say, "Amen!"), our closest friends are those who don't disagree with us about whatever we consider important.

At its core, tribalism is perpetuated by exclusivity. Inherent in the designation "my people" is the reality that others are "not my people". We surround ourselves by those who value the things we value, fight the battles we fight, and love the things we love. We feel safe in these groups, because nobody is going to point out our glaring, common blind spots.

If we're honest, "tribe" is just a trendy and acceptable new word for "clique". As Christians, we cannot relish such exclusivity. The Apostle Paul lists his tribe of birth (Benjamin) and religious group (Pharisee) as part of his spiritual résumé (Philippians 3), then goes on to describe these things as garbage (the Greek term is even stronger) compared to knowing Christ. Scripture describing every tribe and people and language in Heaven (Revelation 7) focuses on the common purpose of corporate worship, made more beautiful by the integration of seemingly incompatible parts.

To be clear, I am not just taking on the resurrection of the word, "tribe". I'm taking on the concept that surrounding ourselves with those we define as "our people" is good for us or our children. Using the word tribe in this way cheapens the anthropomorphic complexities of the term and desensitizes us to the reality of ongoing suffering based on tribal lines. God is calling us out of groups that meet our needs and make us comfortable to live as those without an earthly "people" or even homeland. The Scriptural word "church" (called out ones) really highlights this concept - as believers, we can't find a group we like and say, "these are my people". God puts us with people we think we have nothing in common with except Christ and says, "these are your people".

What if we intentionally leaned into relationships that made us uncomfortable? If we didn't spend all of our time in mutual admiration? If we sought out the hard conversations that result from interacting with people who can't finish our sentences?

I don't need a tribe. My kids don't need a tribe, either. Christ has come to abolish the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Greek (Ephesians 2), slave and free, male and female (Galations 3). When I pray for my children, I'm not asking God to send them friends or mentors who make them feel good about themselves or give them permission to live in excess. I'm asking God to teach them to serve -- not only those who are different, but especially those who are different.

We are all one in Christ. As our brothers and sisters in Cameroon said during hard times: we are together. 


  1. This is super good! Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Thank you, sister! We sure miss you, and thank God for you often.


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