Why Is America So Divided?
These days, people are rather predictable. Insert the scandal of the day and opposing sides will form quickly. Rather than just differing on opinion, the sides will get harshly divided. Whether it’s kneeling during an anthem, tax cuts, or a potential abuse of authority (police, politician, etc.), people are quick to yell, separate, and defend a side.
Yelling and petty arguments happen. Rational discussion, progress, and unity are more rare.
One side labels the others and treats them like idiots; the other side follows suit. Even those seeking to respond in a balanced manner will get divided by the sides. Republicans, Democrats, Progressives, Conservatives, Liberals–whatever the tribe, it’s a problem on all sides. Gone are the days of reasonable discussion, common ground, and civility.
But why are we this way?
Some people are finally beginning to ask that question. Most people have no answer. Most Americans, especially the media, fail to identify the real problem that makes us this divided.
Tribalism is a basic reflex of all human beings. Tribalism is a term used to describe how we as people tend to organize ourselves into groups and categories. Tribalism not only leaves people divided, but it creates a strong sense of inward-focused loyalty. When someone is in a tribe, their tribe comes first. Their tribe is most important. This is the basic mindset of tribalism.
We make tribes through a million different sets of criteria. It can be geographic, cultural, ethnic or racial, socioeconomic, or anything else we may choose. We most often draw the lines politically.
This tribal mindset changes the tenor of conversation from one of cooperation between differing sides to competition between divided combatants seek to dominate the other.
We resort to tribalism because we were born this way. Contrary to musings from former presidents, we do come into this world with this tribalism, pride, and hatred in our hearts.
I’m not throwing the former President under the bus–this is the only response that the world is left to give. It’s even something that Christians might say; but, it’s not true. As much as an atheist, secularist, or other-ist may want to avoid it, we have the Word of God and thousands of years of recorded human history that prove humanity is not a perfect blank slate. To live as though this is not the case is to either be naive or willfully ignorant.
The Biblical worldview gives us an actual, legitimate response to the problem of divisiveness and tribalism that we see today. Nothing else does.
At least a small part of the solution is hearing each other out, so don’t give in the temptation to close the window if you disagree.
Hurricanes and Hatred
We act this way because of sin. Sin entered the world in Genesis three. Every human being since has been born as broken as this world is (Psalm 51). There are not just earthquakes and hurricanes in nature, there are earthquakes and hurricanes in the human heart.
Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.
— Romans 5:12, 19 (ESV)
This cancer we are born with manifests itself in 2-year-olds yelling at parents and 40-year-olds yelling at neighbors. It is pride, anger, and tribalism.
This is the real problem with humanity. The answer is not pop-psychology, cultural conditioning, or education. We don’t need less income inequality, more borders, or less borders. These solutions have been tried and failed.
What do we do?
We must find the real solution. We must refuse polarization. Whether it’s NFL players kneeling during an anthem, police brutality, tax reform, or any other issue, we need to refuse the reflex of tribalism. We must put our emotions and pride aside. We must answer about the truth of the given situation. We must not resort to “the leader of my party says yes, so I say yes,” or “my favorite news channel or celebrity says no, so I say no.”
Don’t hate those who disagree with you. When the news tells you to be divided from your neighbor, turn the news off. If your friend says they think police brutality is an issue and you don’t think it is an issue, you can still be friends with them!
The christian should exemplify a lack of polarization, even though we are sadly as bad as the world around us. This should be doubly true between Christians in the Church (John 13:35, Ephesians 2:11-22, 4:1-6). The world should be amazed at how the Church (especially local churches) are not divided, but unified.
Refuse the narrative that tells you to turn anyone who disagrees with you into your enemy.
We must actively love our neighbors. Go out of your way to serve your neighbors, especially the ones with whom you disagree. The world has no choice but to resort to tribalism and division; the Church ought to look different.
If you want to stop being divided, then go love your neighbor. Go love the Democrat across the street or the Republican at work.
Most importantly, people need the good news of Jesus–that through Jesus Christ alone we can find freedom and redemption from sin and its curse. One day, Jesus will return, bringing judgement to all those who hold onto their pride, hatred, and self-righteousness. He will also renew Heaven and Earth, where sin, division, tribalism, and hatred are wiped away. He will bring this hope to those who turn to Him in faith and trust that He is the only means of salvation. This Gospel is the hope for future—full redemption—and it is the power for current redemption and unity.
No other solution answers the real problem. We won’t find redemption by rallying around a flag, a leader, or a political party; we will find it in rallying around the Truth–the Savior.
Refuse division and polarization–defeat it in your neighborhood, workplace, church, and school by actively loving your friends and supposed enemies. Show people the true message of hope and unity in Christ. Demonstrate it with your lives; proclaim it with your lips. Unity starts with the power and hope of our Savior.
Unity: The Victory of Jesus Christ over racism, ethnocentrism, and cultural superiority by Deric Thomas
Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian by John Piper
Racial Reconciliation by Matt Chandler
On the Block: Developing a Biblical Picture for Missional Engagement by Doug Logan (book)
On the Block with Doug Logan (interview)
Race and the Gospel sermon from Joe Thorn