Why political tribalism is bad for the soul


We Christians must love our enemies... unless they're UKIP supporters. Or... unless they're pro-choice. Or, socialists. Or any particular political tribe that we consider to be beneath us and morally inferior. That's what I read, when I scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feed, and it's bound to get worse as the 2014 elections draw nearer.

There's no better incubator for our inner self-righteous Pharisee than strongly held political views. I should know. Trained in my youth to hate Thatcher and love the State, I thought anyone to the right of Labour ate poor children for breakfast while swimming in oil and blood stained £50 notes.

When I first became a Christian I wasn't much better, as then I had the moral code of Jesus with which I could judge those I disagreed with. But when my new love for Christ inspired me to practise what I preached in my community, my political views were quite radically changed by my experiences. Now I'm more in danger of siding with the other 'tribe', and realise that my previous political arrogance was naïve to say the least.

Yet really, any kind of political tribalism goes against the spirit of Jesus' teachings. It cultivates pride and condemnation, and usually leads to our ignoring one part of His message for the sake of another. Jesus loved the rich Zacchaeus as much as the poor leper. He didn't shout at Zacchaeus for not giving his money to the poor – he loved him, and there was change as a result. Jesus loved Margaret Thatcher just as much as He loved Tony Benn. And really, we can't be sure how He would have assessed their political views.

It's clear that Jesus is very concerned that we help the poor – but he didn't say we should do it with taxes and through the State. No political party has a monopoly on social justice. There are people who care about poverty throughout the political spectrum. The Conservatives are often condemned for their policies on welfare and benefits. Yet one of their senior advisers in the DWP is Philippa Stroud, who spent time with Christian heroine Jackie Pullinger among the slums of Hong Kong, set up several homeless hostels in the city of Bedford, and wrote a book called God's heart for the Poor. You can hardly accuse her of not caring.

In the same way there will be greedy and selfish individuals on both the right and the left, who care more about lining their pockets than any positive social benefit. But should we be the ones to judge who they are?

Of course if I was living in the US, I might be writing about the harshness of Christian attitudes towards those who are pro-choice, or socially liberal, or whatever. I don't think it's the political colour that matters – people just generally like to move in tribes, and once we are in that tribe, the terrible temptation is to condemn and look down on others. We all do it, but it poisons our hearts.

When we consider our tribe to be superior to others, then we're always going to fall down ourselves, and ignore what is good and helpful in the views of our opponents. We don't know the hearts of those we disagree with, or why they have come to their particular opinion. And they, like Zacchaeus, are welcomed by Jesus just as much as anyone else.