Christian Tribalism: When the Politics of Purity is Confused for the Jesus Way

I’m rereading Miroslav Volf’s book, Exclusion and Embrace (Abingdon, 1995). It is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Volf is sharp in his insight and reflection. He’s extremely wise. It’s a book that every Christian leader should read.

In chapter two of his book, he integrates his reflections with those of Henri Levy who wrote the book Dangerous Purity. I am deeply concerned that we in the American Church are engaged in the politics of purity–when it comes to politics and when deciding with whom we will associate and who we will have in our churches and institutions. We say we welcome all, but we can’t even welcome our brothers and sisters who differ slightly in theology and practice. If we can’t welcome them, we can’t love them. What we want is cookie cutter Christians just like us though we decry cookie cutter Christianity.

Shawn and I and dozens and dozens of others know what it is like to be reduced, ejected, and rejected by “Christian” leaders who engage in the deadly politics of purity-leaders intolerant of slightly different views in theology and practice.

Here’s an excerpt from page 74 of Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf:

“Consider the deadly logic of the ‘politics of purity.’The blood must be pure: German blood alone must run through German veins…The origins must be pure: we must go back to the pristine purity of our linguistic, religious, or cultural past, shake away the dirt of otherness collected on our march through history….The origin and the goal, the inside and the outside, everything must be pure: plurality and heterogeneity must give way to homogeneity and unity….The will to purity contains a whole program for arranging our social worlds-from the inner worlds of our selves to the outer worlds of our families, neighborhoods, and nations. It is a dangerous program because it is a totalitarian program, governed by logic that reduces, ejects, and segregates.”

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