May God redeem us from our ruinous tribalism

May God redeem us from our ruinous tribalism

Evolutionary psychologists explain it as an ancient survival effort: stick to your own kind, as the song in “West Side Story” goes. We humans are a tribal people who find protection and acceptance in our respective tribes. Other tribes are enemies who war against us, trying to get our goods. Intermarrying is forbidden, and all we have to do is look to the Old Testament to see how Israel saw that. The others were not God’s chosen people and in fact were idolaters. Even within Israel with its three provinces in our Lord’s time, Samaria was scorned because of centuries-old mixing of races. Archeologists have unearthed roads taking separatist travelers miles out of their way to avoid Samaria. Galileans were rustic hayseeds, and Jesus was scorned partially because he was a Galilean. Cosmopolitan Judea, with the capital of Jerusalem within it, looked down upon the others.

The evolutionary theory is some comfort as we try to sort out why it is so hard in this sophisticated, learned age to treat people of other racial tribes well. Hard as it is, we occasionally step back from the melee and ask why majority Caucasians make life hard for minority African-Americans. You would think that after owning up to entrepreneurial Americans’ having brought captive slaves by the millions here in chains to grind out white profit with blood and sweat, we could show mercy. You would think the wrenching sadness of black families separated permanently at the auction block would move cold hearts. You would think that after fighting a war costing us more casualties that all our other wars before and since to perpetuate slavery in some states, we could relent. You would think that after the executive action of Abraham Lincoln before the Thirteenth Amendment to emancipate the slaves, we would find it abhorrent that we Caucasians lynched over 4,600 identified and named black men, women and children from 1877 till 1950 in 12 states. . . . And you would be wrong. Are we whites jungle savages? Is that evolution or devolution?

Poll taxes may be gone, but redlining is not. Also not gone are white police brutality on blacks, mass incarceration of black males, diverse prosecution of crack versus cocaine violations, white supremacist groups right here in our own diocese, job discrimination that explains a lot of black ghettos and poverty, unequal funding of schools, judges resigning in disgrace not only for emailed porn but for racist jokes. What chance does an accused black have in such a court?

We call our country Christian. Yet the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that Sunday morning at 10 o’clock is the most segregated time of the week. Blacks in their Christian churches and whites in their Christian churches, hearing the same Scripture readings and invoking the same God through our Lord Jesus Christ who said that to be his disciples, we had to love one another. When the Pharisees asked who was the neighbor to be loved, he exemplified the Good Samaritan. Whose prayer is God likeliest to hear? The mother of Jesus, Christianity’s earliest prophetess, said that God would pull down the mighty from their thrones and send the rich away empty. I think we can sort out which tribe she meant.

A theme I come back to regularly in this column is the canary in the mine: our young. To their parents’ frustration, they leave church practice largely because they see their elders piously at prayer each Sunday morning, beseeching God for world peace and brotherhood — and maybe sisterhood in the progressive church. But actions to make this happen after everyone goes home from church are in too little evidence. Presidential campaigns degenerate into hypocrisy theater. Staten Island, Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore and many more become outbursts of white racism. Despite our Christian iconography that characterizes him as white, Jesus lived within walking distance of Africa, where his parents fled with him when Herod became paranoid. Ancestry.com would find him far swarthier than white supremacists would like. He would have seen Nubian slaves brought up from Africa on the merchant trails that passed through Israel.

We have a dismal separatism encoded in our genes. The sooner we escape it, the better it will be for us, if only because economists tell us that integrated societies are the most prosperous. Homilies to this effect will be unpopular at first, but where better should it happen? May God redeem us from our ruinous tribalism.