“My dear brothers, take not of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. For man’s anger DOES NOT bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” James 1:19-21
Mankind is a tribal people. We all have “tribes” we identify with. With each successive tribe, the bonds are tighter and lines of separation are thicker. For example, my tribes are: Male, American, Caucasion, Midwest America, state of Indiana, Winchester Community H.S. alumni, North Central University alumni, Christian, Assemblies of God, Pastor, Michigan Wolverines fan, etc. Each tribe identifies itself by different markers and even with its own set of values. I may share the American tribe with millions of people, but all of the other things separate me from most of those Americans and create a host of differences between us, and more intimacy with those who share many of the other things.
America prides itself on unity (UNITED States of America) and freedom. Yet that very same freedom often creates more division than unity. One person’s idea of freedom infringes on another’s idea. One “tribe’s” idea of freedom infringes on another “tribe’s” idea. It was easier in the beginning of our country because a large majority of the people looked alike, thought alike, worshiped alike, and shared many more commonalities. As America became more diverse, those same freedoms that made us great began to cause many differences and create a “tribal” mindset. Where there are many tribes, there are many interpretations of the same things.
In Christianity, reports indicate that there are anywhere between 21-40,000 different denominations. This is a little misleading, for many of those listed are really independent churches, but the fact remains that there are literally tens of thousands of churches which have different beliefs. Obviously there are many similarities in the doctrines of those churches, but they do not hold to a unified doctrine. Among some “christian” denominations, the doctrines are as different as night is from day. Each denomination is a tribe, and even within those denominations other tribes develop. The fellowship I am connected to is no different. Though we adhere to certain doctrinal statements, there are differences and disagreements among others which has caused all kinds of political-type division. We’ve seen corruption among some and attempts to steer people toward the election of certain individuals-no different than the ways of the world.
Yet for those of us who claim to be Jesus followers, we are called to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Often we are the exact opposite. We are slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry. I think this is a consequence of our social media/internet generation. It’s easy to express our anger for all to see while remaining behind the veil of our computers and phones. All of sudden, everyone is an expert. Here’s the thing, no matter how much I learn about black people, I’m not black and can never truly understand their experiences. No matter how much I know about women, I am not a woman and can never understand their experiences. The same is true of so many other “tribes” of which I will never be a part. As a pastor myself, it’s frustrating when people who aren’t try to speak to me of things they don’t understand. Yet too many Christians do this. It isn’t true of all, but it is Christians I address because the Jesus we say we follow has taught us and called us to a different way.
A white man telling a black man how good they have it now is akin to an atheist telling a Christian what Jesus really taught. This doesn’t mean that all those who stand for a certain issue do so the right way, but followers of Jesus need to remember who we serve and what he taught. If I really want to understand, I need to hear from the perspective of those of other “tribes.” I can’t understand what it means to serve in the military, but I can listen to their experiences. I don’t know what it’s like to live as a black man, but I can listen to their experiences. And to those who would say “things are so much better than they were then,” don’t really get it. Just because things are better doesn’t mean there isn’t room to grow.
American freedom can’t really work today the way it did in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. One person’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” directly opposes another’s right to the same things. Nowadays, when one person exercises their freedom in a way others don’t like, the other “tribes” vilify the offender. That isn’t freedom. That’s conformity. This is why my hope is not in the freedom of America, but the freedom that comes through the person of Jesus Christ. Of all the “tribes” that we identify ourselves with, we often overlook the most important one, and the only one that really matters–the tribe of the human race, the sons and daughters of God. All mankind was created by God, in the image of God, and for relationship with God. We were not created to separate into tribes. We were designed to be one body, the body of Christ, with Jesus as the head.
Beyond all of this, Christians are called to pray for those who present themselves as enemies, and to bless those who persecute us. Too often we do the opposite; the very things Jesus chastised the religious leaders of his day for doing. I think Jesus wants to say to us today, “Stay in your lane. Speak to the things you know, listen and learn of things you do not know. Spend time with people that are not like you. Build relationships. Love at all times. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. My hope and prayer is that people everywhere would heed these words, but to those of you who proclaim Christ, we have no excuse. We are called to love like Jesus loved, and for the same reasons that Jesus loved. So let’s follow his example and “stay in our lane.” Let us speak of what we know: the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent, for this is eternal life (John 17:3). Isn’t this what it has always been about?
Peace and Love,