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Break out of tribalism, urges Tim Costello

Christians must be wary of becoming isolated and insular, says World Vision chief advocate

By Stephen Cauchi

May 6 2018 

Tribalism – fuelled by the internet – is on the rise and Christians must be wary of becoming isolated and insular, World Vision chief advocate the Revd Tim Costello told the Surrender conference held at Belgrave Heights, 23-25 March.

“It’s easy to find and stick with a narrowly-defined group of people who share our own interests, prejudices and values,” he said.

“There’s a similar trend in some of our churches – like-minded people gathered together, giving comfort and security. We feel safe inside our own walls, happy in our comfort zone.

“But the comfort zone isn’t where we are called to be as Christian disciples.”

Revd Costello said tribalism, which could be defined by such factors as gender, skin tone, politics, religious belief, sexual preference, birth place or nationality, was “one of the most powerful forces in the world”.

Tribalism was “hard-wired and pervasive”, he said, and in recent times “the internet has helped fuel a new tribalism”.

But true Christian discipleship meant reaching out to others.

“The call, and it means carrying our cross, is moving past the tribalism of family, the tribalism of ethnicity and religion, the tribalism of gender, the tribalism of economic class.”

Jesus loved people of all tribes, he said. “Jesus loves porn stars and terrorists as much as he loves priests, pastors and cuddly grandmas… Jesus also loves Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un. And Osama Bin Laden and Joe Stalin. Now that really annoys some people.”

Discipleship, he said, “means following Jesus and practising all he taught”.

“Discipleship means that instead of seeking comfort we need to be feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting the prisoner – not just people like ourselves, but whoever and wherever they are.”

Jesus’s challenge to love our neighbours, he said, was difficult as “our neighbours are probably the people we like least in all the world, the ones whose religious opinions offend us, and whose political opinions make us angry.

“It follows that we must give our neighbours and enemies the same honour and respect we give to those we hold most dear.”

The world was full of challenges in which Christians could become involved, he said, including debilitating poverty, child slavery, injustice and disease.

“Why should we not work for the betterment of others instead of ourselves?” he asked. “We need to give our hearts and minds to a greater cause.”

It was a further challenge being a Christian in a world “that seems to misunderstand us,” he said. To many, Christians were “dogmatic, non-thinking conservatives who work to a set of outdated rules and hate Muslims, gays and atheists.

“Sadly, that’s sometimes true.”

The Church today, he said, was “unfortunately better known for its negative proclamations” rather than a message of “hope and redemption”.

The good work that Christians were doing was being buried by “our defensive narrative,” he said.

“Secularists complain that we are too self-righteous and promote a set of rules rather than a message of inclusive love and acceptance.”