The Sin of Tribalism

History has proved that man’s primary loyalty is often first to family, then to a social group. As Kenyans, our allegiance is never so much with an ideology, religion, or social class but often with our ethnic groupings. This has often led to ethnic confrontations, especially during election periods. 

There is hardly an election year (1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, and 2017) that was not marked by violence and death as people took to arms to defend their ethnic communities and leaders. Our ethnic identity has often outweighed the instinct to preserve life. Even Christians have sometimes been sharply divided, caring little that Christ’s bloodshed on the cross, which unites them, ought to be valued far above the dividing ethnic blood (Galatians 3:28). Too easily, God gets thrown to the rear once politics kicks in.

The Bible and Tribalism

Tribalism is the segregation and oppression of others based on tribal differences. It results from inherent selfishness and pride and holds back the harmony that leads to God’s blessing upon a people (Psalm 133:1-3). Tribes are not in and of themselves sinful; the unjust exclusion of others who are not of one’s tribe is sin (Leviticus 19:18, 1 John 4:7-8, Hebrews 12:14). Tribalism instructs us to consider ourselves better and more deserving, while Scripture teaches us the contrary (Philippians 2:3-4). 

Tribalism in the Church

Jesus Christ brought down the boundaries between tribes and nations (Ephesians 2:14). All races had sinned and could not be saved by the law or ethnic moral codes (Romans 3:23). We are all saved by the blood of Jesus Christ; thus, none can boast (Romans 3:27-30). There is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ, male nor female, slave nor free; hence, all are to be treated equally (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, ethnic divisions are to be least expected in the Church, the household of God. However, this is not the case. The sin of ethnicity has been present ever since the early Church (Acts 15:1-5, Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 1:10-13). 

The Bigger Picture

What unites us as citizens of heaven is much greater than what distinguishes us here, now (Ephesians 4:1-6). Our differences should make our earthly heritage more beautiful and not bring discord. But instead, we have majored in the minors and minored in the majors. Blind selfishness has caused us to place unwarranted focus on our small communities rather than loving our neighbours as instructed by the law of God (Matthew 22:37-39). 

In 1 Corinthians 1:10-12, we read of a conflict in the Church. Some individuals claimed to follow Apollos, Some Paul, others Cephas, and others Christ. Similar arguments exist today, depending on the side we are inclined to politically. However, we can focus on other more important matters. In 1 Corinthians 3:7, Paul overlooks the division due to the minor issues and exalts Christ above Apollos, Cephas, and himself. He says that the God who makes things grow is alone deserving of glory, not the labourers in his vineyard.

We are to similarly focus on what truly matters rather than getting caught up in trivial matters (Isaiah 43:7, Revelation 4:11). We must never forget that our nation is more significant than any specific tribe. We hinder our collective progress when we divide ourselves along ethnic lines. However advanced any particular community is, our progress as a nation remains threatened if other communities are ignored or left lagging. 

Even as this year’s elections draw near, may we as believers be the salt and light of this nation. May we hold each other accountable as we point each other and our country at large to the One in whose image we are all made. 


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