Somebody warned me long ago: “If you stand in the middle of the road, you’ll get run over both ways!” Back then, I was working for an organization divided against itself. The conflict grew intensely personal. When the mob chooses sides, they organize right and wrong around personalities rather than principles.
That fact should makes us skeptical of reporting when it’s colored red or blue.
To see more objectively in our age, we need to recognize the subtle allure of tribes.
The trend of tribes
Seth Godin uses the word Tribes to illustrate the hidden benefits of marketing a product or message to a narrow audience. That trend sums up a lot of social media behavior as well. Inflaming people who share our biases wins sales and social media likes; whereas, civil discourse requires a cooler head.
Christians can succumb as well. Some have tribed-up to leverage power against “defining deviancy down.” Others flee to where compassion, no matter how unmoored, orders one’s loyalties and convictions. The sanctimony on each side multiplies.
Evangelical is not a tribe
Some news programs begin with, “Good evening,” and then say why it’s not. By contrast, the word Evangelical literally means Good News in answer to the bad news of the human condition. Here’s what some people forget or just don’t get: it’s the tension between grace and truth that distinguishes the evangelical message. If it were just a message of either grace or truth, “an evangelical” could fit snugly on the left or right.
Reinhold Neibuhr, one of the 20th century’s brightest scholarly lights, recognized there were two false answers to the problem of relating gospel and world. He revolted against a theology to the left (“liberalism”) and a theology to the right (“fundamentalism”) striving to represent Christian realism instead.
Principle needs no tribe
Realism describes true Evangelicals. They are outward because the planet and its people matter. They know exactly why they voted for Trump, unless of course, they voted for Hillary. They put a lot of energy into taking clear stands (i.e. the journal, First Things) unless they’re busy applying those beliefs to social ills like poverty (i.e. World Vision). They try not to harp about the environment, except when they recognize it as a gift of God for which they’re called to be stewards. So evangelical is not a tribe, party, or stereotype. It’s an old word, stretched and often abused. It’s a message that must be lived in a self-examined way. It’s not maintained by party affiliation.
This evangelical vision of grace and truth has been achieved fully by only one Person. All attempts since have skewed left or right.
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:1)
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