I grew up in the American South in the 1960’s when the country was tearing itself apart over the war in Vietnam and the horrible cancer of racism and prejudice. I remember the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King in Atlanta and the fact that my grandfather was a policeman in Atlanta during those scary times.
The terrible consequences of ignorant tribalism are simply too plain in human history to ignore. And it isn’t anything new. Folks have been harboring the silly notion of superiority based on bloodline since the beginning, and it’s always proven disastrous and insular for every culture that has fallen prey to this delusion.
But is there such thing as a healthy tribalism? Can’t we readily admit that some cultures are actually better than others? I mean, who is going to defend the culture of headhunters or cannibalism? Isn’t a free society better than a totalitarian society? So, how do we tell when our tribalism has gotten sick?
Look at our lesson today in Galatians 3:23-29; 4:1-5:
Brethren, before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
St. Paul tells these Galatian Christians that there is no distinction in worth between Jews or Greeks; between slave or free people; even between males and females. In Christ, the Creator of a New Tribe; a New Race of people, all of us are valuable and filled with worth and dignity. Everyone! Period!
And Paul marks that transition from the smaller “tribes” and “groups” and “identities” at our baptism. When we are baptized we “put on” Christ. We take on His perspective and His life. We forever relegate any and all other “smaller” identities to a lesser status than that of a Christ follower. We are Christians before we are ANYTHING else.
You see, there were some who were foolishly telling these Galatian Christians that they had to become Jewish converts BEFORE they could become Christians. These “judaizers” were more proud of their Abrahamic heritage than they were of their Christian faith, and their prejudice showed up in their religion!
But Paul reminds them and us that our identity as Christians supersedes ALL other identities. And he means ALL others. And it is precisely this prioritizing my identity as a Christian above all other differences and identities that protect me from falling into the diseased prejudice of this or that lesser identity. My Christianity comes before even my social standing as either a slave or a free person. My freedom in Christ makes me free from the smallness of “my team is better than your team” tribalism.
Today, is your identity as a Christian the main way you understand yourself? Jesus Christ has set us free from the perpetual war between nations, races, ideologies, and even genders. By being Orthodox on Purpose we see our world through the eyes of Jesus Christ.