On Tribes and Community: Part 3, Can Progressive Christians Form a Tribe?

So the root of post-evangelical nostalgia seems to be our deep, human longing for a tribe.

Progressive post-evangelicals look back at their time as being a part of a tribe as a time when they belonged and worked alongside others with a sense of shared, common purpose. And all those things are highly correlated with happiness.

So why, it might be asked, don't post-evangelicals just create a new tribe? Why not leave behind the bad stuff in evangelicalism and keep all the good stuff?

The trouble, it seems, is that progressive Christians struggle with tribes. Religiously and psychologically.

Religiously speaking, given their bent toward inclusion and cosmopolitanism, progressives bristle at the very notion of tribe, especially a religious tribe. Tribes create tribalism, a line between insiders and outsiders, something that progressives are working very hard to eliminate.

Psychologically speaking, following the work of Jonathan Haidt regarding the moral roots of liberals and conservatives, liberals do not privilege the moral foundations of ingroup loyalty, sacredness, and respect for authority (which includes respect for traditional authority). And those three things, I expect you'll have noted, are critical ingredients for creating and maintaining a tribe. Loyalty to the group. A shared sense of sacred purpose. Respect for tradition and authority. Lacking these binding ingredients, progressives tend toward individualization.

Liberalism, I like to say, has an aerosolizing effect upon groups, it atomizes and disperses us, separating and isolating us as individuals. When liberalism hits a tribe that tribe isn't going to last very long.

Beyond these religious and psychological reasons, post-evangelicals also have their own personal stories that make them wary of tribes. Having been hurt by the evangelical tribe, many post-evangelicals are very reluctant to join any group that has a strong, tribe-like dynamic. It's too triggering. Too many ghosts.

Incidentally, can you see how this makes it hard for progressives to think and act like Christians, as described in places like Acts 2 and 4? Mutual love, covenantal fidelity, and koinonia all require a communal imagination and commitment, putting the interests of the group above your own. But any request that sounds remotely like "Hey, the group needs you to do this." pushes many post-evangelicals into a panic. And in the face of that panic there's just no capacity to create Christian community.  

All of these dynamics push post-evangelicals to run as lone wolves rather than with a pack. Religiously speaking, progressives see tribes as antithetical to Jesus' inclusive vision of love. Psychologically, progressives lack the critical ingredients--loyalty to the group, reverence for the sacred, respect for authority and tradition--required to form a tribe. And personally, post-evangelical Christians just have too many scars to make joining another tribe desirable or attractive.

So yes, while progressives long for a tribe, as everyone does, they struggle mightily to create and participate in one. And even if they can, these communities are often fragile, fleeting or failing. Witness the frequent progressive lament about trying to find, start, or grow a progressive church.  

And yet, to echo the prior post, tribes are necessary for human flourishing. We feel unmoored, lonely and adrift as isolated, aerosolized individuals living life in late-modern capitalism. Social media might lessen a bit our felt sense of isolation as we "connect" online. But as we all know, a hashtag isn't a home.

Surfing from screen to screen will never heal the ache we feel separated from the tribe.

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