We Christians are one of many “sacred tribes” of peoples throughout the world. I define a sacred tribe as a tribe or group of people whose self-professed primary identity both as individuals and as a group center on meanings, beliefs, and practices derived from their perception of the Divine.
I am relieved to use ‘sacred tribe’ rather than that overused and abusive word ‘cult.’ I have written elsewhere at length on that topic, but here I simply cite J. I. Packer who in writing about the word “fundamentalist” underscores a problem all pejorative labelling words have:
In the first place, it [fundamentalism] is a word that combines the vaguest conceptual meaning with the strongest emotional flavour. “Fundamentalist” has long been a term of ecclesiastical abuse, a theological swear-word; and the important thing about a swear-word, of course, is not what it means but the feelings it expresses…. [Packer then cites a number of historical illustrations.]
There is no need to quote other examples; the point is clear. The verdict of history is that the use of vague prejudicial labels (and the more they are the one, the more they are the other) rules out the very possibility of charitable and constructive discussion. The interests of truth and love seem to demand that such labels be rigorously eschewed.
Dr. Packer’s lesson regarding the use of the term fundamentalist against many of us X-Tribe members is also a lesson in not using similarly vague / biased language toward other sacred tribes. But can we differentiate between various sacred tribes without some sort of pejorative labeling? I think so, provided that we carefully define pejorative vs. descriptive. So, whether a Christian or a Scientologist, each tribe member ought to be able to face one’s own history and/or the history and beliefs of one’s tribe with honesty and integrity. The fact that not all of us do so is not necessarily a commentary upon our respective tribes as a whole.
Why the X?
I choose to call us the ‘X’ Tribe because the symbol X is also a symbol of the cross; further, it is a ‘crux’ (as in “the crux of the matter”), an intersection, a conjoining of two into one. The term ‘atonement’ — ‘at-one-ment’ — further illustrates the centrality of the cross / X in Christian symbolic life. The horizontal experience of human life is impacted by the vertical invasion of that life by the Divine Lover/Rescuer.
Like other sacred tribes, we X-ers have beliefs and practices which form and inform our self-understanding as well as our understanding of others and of God. Like many but not all other sacred tribes, we believe that our beliefs are rooted in Absolute Truth and Absolute Love. I will call these “markings.”
Tribal Marking #1: Love
To believe in absolutes does not cancel out the value of others’ journeys who do not agree with us. We must not allow ourselves to fall into some sort of either/or fallacy; X-Tribe members believe both in absolute truth and in absolute love, the latter of which requires respecting other human beings’ journey’s toward or away from God, the former of which requires humility on our own part (we do not “have” truth but at best are only agents for the truth). Thus, I may engage a member of Scientology or Mormonism in a discussion, yet ought to remember that the person’s own story may well be one in which they are moving toward belief in Jesus Christ and away from previous materialistic beliefs which precluded all God-searchings.
This doesn’t rule out plain speaking at times, but it is instructive that Christ’s harshest words seemed reserved almost totally to the “church folk” of his time rather than non-believers and “sinners.” Since Christianity’s story involves relationship between a God Who woos his people rather than forcing them into relationship with him, our self-understanding (ideally, at least) necessitates a rejection of violence and / or coercion when trying to ‘win’ others to Christ. History does of course offer many exceptions to this ideal rule, but the biblical documents offer only evidence for it.
Paul’s exquisite 1 Corinthians 13 chapter on love illustrates:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Extract from Jon Trott, “The X-Tribe: Some Christian Tribal Markings.” Sacred Tribes Journal, Volume 1. Read the remainder of the article entry when you sign up for a free subscription to Sacred Tribes Journal.