By Bill Mefford
I recently had an online conversation with a long-time friend of mine who serves children in a non-Christian-dominant country. The leader of the country is a mean-spirited, nationalistic bigot who seems to hate those who doesn’t match his religion, ethnicity, and particularly his nationality. Sound like anyone you and I know? Yes, he is that’s country’s donald trump. In fact, I am not sharing my friend’s name or even the name of the country for the sake of safety.
This country has legitimized violence against people of minority religious faiths, including Christianity, because many in this country identify minority religious faiths, such as Christianity, with violent Western imperialism. The bigoted leader of the country my friend serves in loves to ignore the amazing work of my friend and others like her in caring for this nation’s children and instead paints “outsiders” as threats to the safety and security of his country. What those of us in the United States must realize in our current political climate is that donald trump is neither unique to history nor to the current world stage. He is part and parcel of the worldwide effort to oppress people who are not part of the majority.
Like all things, tribalism – one’s strong sense of loyalty to an identity group – can be both good and bad. Tribalism can define who we are and what we value, but the kind of tribalism practiced by trump and the leader of the country I am describing above is a sinful kind of nationalism. This kind of nationalism does more than provide a basic sense of identity; it demonizes and dehumanizes others, it blinds us to our own faults and injustices, it creates harmful policies to those on the margins, and it spurs violence.
In a globalized world, tribalism in one part of world impacts and is impacted by tribalism in other parts. What is ironic is that though this kind of ultra-nationalism wants to seclude itself with harsh immigration policies and border walls and high tariffs, and though it sees the outside world as the enemy, tribalism draws energy from ultra-nationalist movements in other places in the world. This helps us understand the Brexit vote in Great Britain happening just months before the election of trump in the United States.
There is actually no way to seal ourselves off from the rest of the world, though the rhetoric of ultra-nationalists would like us to believe we can. Living in a globalized world means we live in an interconnected world. What we do in this country has tremendous impact on the rest of the world. Tribalism breeds tribalism. Nationalism breeds nationalism. Hatred and violence breeds ever more and increasing hatred and violence.
Let’s look at my friend who serves in an amazing ministry in another country. Like many missionaries, my friend raises support and has people that financially and prayerfully support her and her work. I personally know that many of the same people who support her ministry, who pray for her work to be allowed to be continued despite the nationalistic attacks on her engineered from the leaders of the country where she lives, are at the same time die-hard supporters of donald trump. Though they are condemn the hateful, anti-Western, anti-Christian rhetoric and actions emanating from the country’s leaders where my friend serves, they seem to have very little concerns about the hateful, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions coming from donald trump and his administration. They oppose tribalism in one country, but fully support it in their own.
It is the lack of connectedness to the world in which we live which allows us to be so blatantly hypocritical and blase about oppression happening all around us.
Perhaps Jesus' most important teaching - to love others and to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves - could have a profound impact on our country's respect of human rights if we dared to put it into practice. But donald trump and the leader of the country where my friend is serving have turned the Golden Rule on its ear. Their version is to screw the other side until they start screwing you and then to go on Fox “News” and cry foul about how “unfairly” you and your nation are being treated. You only treat others with a modicum of fairness after they kiss your ass and allow you to walk all over them. This is the tribal Golden Rule.
And most sad of all, those who oppose tribalism in other countries while supporting and benefiting from it in this country will never be confronted by this inherent contradiction because we have created a missionary industrial complex. We send missionaries to other countries to “serve” and “minister,” but if those missionaries ever attempt to tell those of us in the Western-sending country that the nationalism we hold towards the United States and the resulting foreign and economic policies of an "America-first" approach that binds other countries to impoverishment are helping to produce similar ultra-nationalistic attitudes, behaviors and policies in the country where the missionary is serving, then that missionary will likely see a dramatic loss in their financial support. In other words, we have a missionary industrial complex that is dedicated to maintaining Western Empire.
Thus, it is crucial in our resistance of Empire for us to not stop our critique of the tribalism and ultra-nationalism we now see in the United States. We must connect that with these same movements in other countries. And we must call out the idolatry in the church which condemns nationalism in other countries, but which supports and benefits from homegrown nationalism.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, no matter the language that is spoken or the country in which it resides.