Tribalism and propaganda are tearing us apart

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

One of the more concerning realities of our American culture is the increasing polarity between groups of people. This phenomenon is most obvious in politics, where Republicans and Democrats are convinced that the other is either seriously deluded or the spawn of Satan. But many of today’s social justice movements are also doubling down on human differences such as gender, skin color, sexual preference, and religion, labeling one group the oppressors or privileged group and the other the oppressed or targeted groups. The result, as I’ve reiterated throughout my current sermon series, is not increased justice and unity in our world, but increased division, mistrust, and hatred.

In Thaddeus Williams’ book Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth, he emphasizes the horrific impact that such tribalistic thinking has had on our world over the past century. He talks about how propaganda has been used throughout history to paint the most damning picture it can of another group, treat every individual as exemplars of that group, and then to blame all of life’s troubles on that group. For example, Williams writes.
An old Nazi pamphlet says that the Jew “only looks human, with a human face, but his spirit is lower than that of an animal. . . . [He represents] unparalleled evil, a monster, subhuman.” The Tutsis in Rwanda were called Inyenzi, or “cockroaches.” KKK literature reduced blacks in the US to “gorillas.” The two million victims of Khmer Rouge were deemed “microbes” who must be “swept aside” and “smashed.” White supremacists of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville spoke of the “parasitic class of anti-White vermin.” Propaganda is the uranium that powers tribalism and the social meltdown it incurs.

Whenever you hear language that paints all men or women, all white people or minorities, all gay people or straight people, all Republicans or Democrats, in this manner, by attributing the worst characteristics to them and then blaming all of life’s troubles on them, do not be seduced by such thinking. This is not of God, and will not lead to a just world. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. And love, in case you forgot, is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs. “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

It is easier to stereotype, to lump all people who look the same or believe the same into one homogenous group. It is much more challenging to truly listen to the views of a political opponent, to befriend a gay couple, to seek to understand the life experience of someone from a different racial background, to share a meal with someone from a different religion, to see the world from the perspective of a transgender man, and yes, even to consider the concerns of social justice warriors. But loving like Jesus means resisting our culture’s push towards propaganda, refusing to paint with a broad brush and blame the troubles of the world on whole groups of people. Loving like Jesus includes embracing our common humanity as people made in the image of God, resisting our common enemy, Satan, whose mission is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), and sharing the good news of Jesus’ saving love for sinners in both word and deed.

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