Outside the Tribe

Recently I was reading to my girls from their children’s Bible. One of their favorite stories right now is about Jonah and the other is about the Israelite girl who helps Naaman get healed (2 Kings 5). One thing those stories have in common is God’s call for his people to cross boundaries and serve their enemies – to go outside the tribe.

I’ve seen a few people recently write versions of this idea that I think is very true: If you don’t disagree with your political party or tribe on any major issue, you are almost certainly not putting God first. In other words, your party/tribe/nation has become your god. The God of the Bible has no party, and his followers are called from every tribe.

Now that does not mean Christians do not belong to parties, tribes or countries. We are called into or join those because they are simply forms of community, and we are all called to live in community. We should be a part of communities and we should be serving and seeking the good for them. What we must guard against is those communities becoming a boundary we never venture outside of, or setting a standard we never challenge.

When I think about this subject, I can’t help but focus on one of my favorite unexpected political odd couples: Bono and the late Senator Jessie Helms.

Senator Helms was generally the standard for right-wing Republican politicians in the 80s and 90s. His views on a number of subjects, including AIDS, were very loud, extreme, and often incendiary. He was a bogeyman to most of the political left.

Yet Bono, the stereotype of the liberal entertainer playing politician, was inspired by working on third-world debt and the Jubilee 2000 campaign, and did not shy away. Bono went beyond the cynical assumption that Helms would never listen, never change, and certainly would not be swayed by some liberal rock star who wasn’t even an American.

When Bono decided to act on rallying support for the AIDS crisis in Africa, he got a meeting with Helms. Bono was later quoted by The Guardian saying “I have friends who won’t speak to me because of Helms. But it’s very important not to play politics with this…So let’s not play, ‘Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?’”

For those at the time of Christ, perhaps nothing was more surprising in his ministry than his relationships outside of his tribe. From the Gentile woman at the well to the Roman centurion, his willingness to cross boundaries and engage people are not just a model, but the heart of the Great Commission – a calling above any vocation or earthly loyalty we have.

As a cowboy-boot-wearing Texan working in the Bush White House, I met more than a few people who thought they could pigeonhole me. And sometimes they were right – there were plenty of times I uncritically adopted the party line (and still do).

But often nothing was more powerful in conversation and relating to people than a willingness to question the party line and listen to other points of view. Moving beyond the easy cynicism of politics and viewing people as more than a set of talking points is critical to living as a Christian in the political arena, to going beyond just living and dying with each election.

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