Traps to trust in tribes
By Lunminthang Haokip
June 7, 2007
Introduction: Rumoured humour has it floating around that a love-struck desperate suitor was asked to first seek the permission of her clan-president by the girl he’d liked to take home as bride. Decades of diversified education failed to shake off the burdensome clan hang-up in most of the Chikimi ( Chin- Kuki- Mizo) tribes of the North-East India.
Events in their respective histories had a lot to do with grouping and regrouping of clans into tribes. The process goes on even today. One expects the educationally enlightened and the religiously church-anchored folks to keep off petty politics of kinship-hopping. But ours is a small world. Plots hatched on the sly and deals clinched in the shade of time are news of the next week spreading wide in the open to be animatedly debated about in tea-stalls. Clans of yesterday club together as tribes of today.
Tribes of today threaten to break up as clans of tomorrow. The key-players in the name and rename-game are the political, social and religious elite of the concerned groups. The driving motive may perhaps be the craving for prominence, better bargain in politics and polemics, closer proximity to the A-team members among one’s kindred and the sadistic pleasure of gaining brownie points in teaching a lesson to one’s clan’s imagined collective adversaries. All said and done, the unfortunate casualty is the Christian faith and doctrinal propriety.
Unsettled Issues of Life: Chikimi tribes, in essence, are clans. Under the leadership of a sagacious statesman, all the kut-celebrating fraternity could have come under a common nomenclature. But, as of now, for all kut’s glittering show and glamourous display of homogeneous culture prodded by the amplified noises of jingoistic rhetoric harped on by pro-unity spin-doctors, there’s nothing in sight to alter permanent parting of ways. That’s if reports of the truth about ground realities are not doctored. Each Chikimi tribe is proud of it’s ancestry and heritage.
The unsettled issues of life pitted one against another. Each seems to have a grudge against all and vice versa. Sharing a common origin and sheltering in close neighbourhood for centuries could have accounted for the grievous grievances. That they can understandably communicate in one another’s dialect hardly helps kinship to flourish. The diatribe fired by one upon the next of kin in clan hierarchy never goes waste without hitting the target.
Fitting replies of verbal missiles are seldom held back by the sentimentally wounded. That’s how biting bytes of undated data of molten memories were stored up. The govt’s clever policy to recognize close-knit clans into separate tribes mentally double-clicked the restrained animosity saved hitherto. Thus, the stubborn bull of solid-solidarity was taken by the horn.
Bond of Clannism: The bond of clan-ism has the potential to pay rich dividends in this incorrigibly vain system of ours. A hillman residing on top of a high range that takes two days to reach on foot from the last bus-stop has the particulars of all the big people related to him in his finger-tips. Trouble-prone, when the VLPB( village-level power- broker) runs into land disputes with neighbours belonging to a rival clan, he argues boldly with an aggressive clout momentarily fired by possible support of influential clansmen in the bigger towns. Children are encouraged to study hard that later, they may hit big times like “this uncle” or “that aunty”.
Rural settlers have blind faith on the well-to-do kinsmen that in times of need, the latter would extend a helping hand. Some times things work out as dreamed. In other times, dreams die first. Hurt with capital-H, the heart of the snubbed favour-seeker whose hopes had been shattered by the snobbish indifference of a snooty relative he pinned his hopes upon, will harden in a mysterious silence when electoral favours are sought every five years on the strength of blood-relations. Such feelings of emotional betrayal crystallize to turn into spanners thrown in the wheel of bids to officially reshuffle or rescind one’s clan’s political or religious affliations.
Odd Campaigns: To let clan-ism take centre-stage and dictate terms in pre-Christian confabs or in a purely secular gathering of politicos, in a way, is okay. When the spirit is dead to things heavenly, it’s quite natural for it to cling on to things worldly. But it’s weirdly odd even by earthly standards for a mouth that preaches the Gospel of Jesus to whole-heartedly campaign on tribe-lines. We claim that we believe in Christ. The Bible says in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them”.
But our kind of congregational divisions are replete with traps to trust more in tribe-names than in God’s name. Tribe-names are bizarre pre-fixes in the identity given to churches and their organizations. Instead of winning each soul individually by giving the Word of God and sharing one’s conversion experiences in accepting Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Saviour, spirited endeavours are launched that members of a particular clan must join the church the majority of their clansmen are affiliated to.
Failure to heed to this emotional blackmail invites social isolation if not coercion into involuntary submission. What a distant departure from the teachings of our Lord? Absurdities of that magnitude have no place among true professors of the Faith. It is nothing but selfish outburst of the un-crucified Pharisaic self-righteousness Christ warned His followers of, “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20)”.
More About Moreh: Take the bustling riot-rich Indian border town, Moreh, for example.The burgeoning township can boast of more churches than there are communities and tribes. Spires of church-buildings sprout chock-a-block and church-bells chime round the clock. A place of worship ought to be a spiritual factory where sin is confessed, forsaken, rebuked, and sinners spiritually treated and set right. The conscience should be cleansed and the sinner reclaimed to become “a cleansed vessel fit for the Master’s use”. If not, a soul gone berserk cannot delight in the Almighty’s work. A present sinner is to be seen as a latter-day soul-winner. Several rounds of correction and being prayed for is necessary before he can stand on his own. “Wherefore rebuke them sharply that they may be sound in the faith Titus 1:13 )”.
Lopsided Approaches: It’s sad that in many sheepfolds, the otherwise sensible leaders are under the pincer-clutch of clan-ism. A member is accorded undue importance in worship-affairs in proportion to the amount of tithe and offerings he can bring in – and not according to the fruits he bears for others to repent. Hardened transgressors are pampered and flattered and the need to repent is soft-pedaled. The pulpit is offered with equitable generosity. “Who may stand in the holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart (Psalms 24:3,4 )”.
Sin-harnessed seekers of deliverance occupy and vacate the pew mechanically without being prayed for with passionate burden. And when church-goers hear heart-searing sermons elsewhere and flock on in fresher pastures, they are herded back with filmy threats of dire consequences. How would global evangelism fulfill the Great Commission as desired by our Lord if iron-curtains are drawn against the conversion of nominal Christians. Within houses of God, no effort is spared to make lives miserable for those independent thinkers who simply refuse to toe the clan or tribe-line. Then, who needs an enemy without?
God’s Salvation Plan: God stirred up His faithful servants like William Carey and William Pettigrew in regions of India including Manipur. He also raised several other local Evangelists and Missionaries to convert our tradition-entrenched waste-terraces into His own vineyard. “He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine….So He expected it to bring forth good grapes (Isaiah 5:2 )”. A hundred years later, God thought His vineyard in this part of the world would have fructified – producing sweet grapes.
But He harvested, among other mediocre fruits, the wild-grapes of tribe-centric, denomination-dominated Christianity. The devil had further scaled down things to the clan-level. Ours may be one of the few Believers’ societies where a member of a clan fellowshipping with fellow- believers belonging to other communities is frowned upon with disdain as a ‘heretical’ exception and not an exemplary rule “Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you, for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him (Isaiah 51:2 )”.
Abraham didn’t allow the emotional love of his kindred come between himself and the God who called him out of his people. God saw the faith he had. That faith couldn’t have blossomed in the suffocating heathen environs of his ancestral place. He had to leave his own folks so as to be trained to grow in the will of God. There was nothing that could give him a semblance of a clue as to the shape of things to come except the promise of God,”Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation (Genesis 12:1, 2)”.
Jesus the Saviour of the world was a descendant of Abraham. Whoever believes in Him and accepts Him his Lord in all things becomes by faith a part of the great nation built up by the shed blood of Christ. It’s a contradiction in terms for one ransomed by the blood of Jesus to glory in tribal distinctions and clannish segregations. We’ll do well to remember Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free….for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
A Step-down: A Christian who still suffers under the unyielding yoke of the prejudiced notions and jaundiced emotions of advancing ecclesiastical interest with clan-ism as its axiom and tribe-ism as the basis of its axis had not been encircled by divine right-angle to taste the boundless love of Jesus. The official records had divided us in small pliable groups as permitted differences in dialect and culture. In a democratic country where population-size matters in making things happen to one’s advantage, our bargaining power had severely been weakened.
As a political entity, we had been dwarfed in this gigantic nation made up of hundreds of linguistically large communities. Going by the parochial parameters of the intended effects of fragmented tribe recognition, we stand no chance in this status-sensitive warped world of vanity. God offers an easy way out. If we consecrate ourselves and surrender our will to that of Our Lord Jesus, we become citizens of the great nation promised to Abraham – a people second in importance to none. If we had done that already, why do we reduce our spiritual stature to low Lilliputian levels by christening churches with names ethnic or tribal?
Traps to rule: It all zeroes down to the perverted belief that we first belong to our tribes. No. We believers belong to our Creator alone. From Him we came and to Him we go. No one was created by his tribe. Tribe was a convenient tool of identification by rulers who hated to see the ruled rule themselves one day. Its intrusion in Christian systems is a symbol of calculated suppression and oppression. Christianity didn’t begin and thrive in tribal clusters. The book of Acts tells us all about building God’s kingdom.
Despite the physical torture and the psychological odds posed by the hostile attitude of the Jewish leaders , God used unlettered laymen to win souls one by one through humble labour and the Spirit’s movement. God did not play favourites. Peter healed the crippled beggar and saved the Roman Centurion, Cornelius and thousands of others. The Lord changed the dreaded Saul into Apostle Paul who converted Lydia, the seller of purple clothes as well as the penitent jailor and so on. They were warned not to preach in the name of Jesus. But the Spirit moved them to defiantly chorus, “We ought to obey God rather than men ( Acts 5:29 )”.
League of nations: Nowhere in the Bible do we come across instances where a particular tribe or clan took orders en masse that they should stick to a certain denomination. True soldiers of the Faith, through out the ages, had always subscribed to the fruit-yielding method of building God’s work as the first-century disciples did. That’s the only way enduring testimonies can be raised. Some churches are making capital of the primitive but effective principle. The orthodox system may be regarded as a paradox, of late.
Lives are saved, nevertheless. When a sinner from one’s clan is transformed enough to conform to and join in the new ways of worship pattern, one goes hammer and tongs and cry foul. Such ignorance-ignited, prejudice-propelled and infidelity-inspired hoots and howls had nib-ed many promising heart-moves in the bud. That type of frog-in –the-pond outlook throttles myriad budding believers’ chances of making it big in the universal body of Christ in the biggest league of nations. Who’s the loser anyway? The Almighty’s kingdom will progress on one way or the other.
Greater Blessing: Mentally banking on the hopeful grants-in –aid one’s classy clansmen may possibly dole out when one would sink down to the doldrums of dire straits, is an imaginary luxury the insecure- in -self and shaky -in -faith resort to. In this me-first generation, altruism had long been edged out by self-ism. The most prosperous social icons , at best, take care of a few favourites in their own family- circles. God’s sufficiency alone can be trusted upon to meet everybody’s need. Material blessings cannot favour one for ever and ever.
The spell of good fortune is short-lived, or the receiver, compelled by the market forces, soon becomes tight-fisted. Either way, frustration awaits he who puts his trust not on Jesus, but on fallible men. Unless the innate nature of greed is rooted out by the power of being mortified- for- the-Lord’s-sake, a man will not learn to give generously. His idea of charity will be a bone to the dog. It’s only he who is delivered from the Judas’- mindset who will practice charity as a habit and way of life. He will share the meagre flesh of the meat with the dog when he is as hungry as the dog.
Even if you are on the look-out for name, fame, material riches and security, loyalty to tribe in spiritual and religious matters will hardly do you any good. Why don’t you try the God of Abraham who promised, “I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you (Genesis12:2,3 )”.
What a wonderful security?. In order to be a beneficiary of such a lofty promise, You’ve got to be lifted up to Abraham’s level of faith. He believed in Jehovah to the extent of giving his all and got his name and the names of the faithful among his descendants written in gold in the pages of Scriptural immortality. From them that honoured and got blessed by the worthiest inheritor of his faith, Lord Jesus, blessings went out in geometrical proportions.
To scale great heights in spiritual uplift, you’ve got to come out of your self-imposed cocoon of restricting self-righteousness. Clan-ism must be strongly resisted in church-related issues. It sows the seed of future bloody clashes. The vexed and jinxed intra-tribal and intra-clanish issues that fuel the the inter-factional killing-instincts of blood-brothers-ignited-to-go-separate-ways have a lot to demand from clan-rooted spin-doctors by way of explanation Tribe-ism ought to be bidden a final adieu.
It surreptitiously plots to usurp the special place in your heart that’s meant for the Lord. Trust only in Jesus – not even in yourself. Only then can your abs trust in Him snowball into a solid righteousness that will exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. Even your descendants will enjoy the hard-earned blessing. They will find every need in the Lord. King David put it down in writing, “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor their descendants begging for bread (Psalm 37:25 )”.
Having charted out a universal path for myself through the Spirit’s guiding, I might have rubbed many persons on the wrong side, unintentionally; of course, I offer a humble apology for that. When I was at the cross-roads of life in my post-conversion rawness, I had to choose popular acceptance of my own kindred by toeing the traditional line of following the herd or do things as the Word guided.
The Spirit of truth in Jesus encouraged me to choose the latter. I had to face lots of reproach and reviling I wouldn’t have got otherwise. What is life without an element of risk after all? In times of depressive weakness, God gave me the following verse to lean on and draw succour from, “If you return then I will bring you back; you shall stand before Me; if you take out the precious from the vile, you shall be as My mouth. Let them return to you, but you must not return to them (Jeremiah 15:19 )”.
The author is Additional Deputy Commissioner under the government of Manipur, a Northeast state in India.