I am heading off to the Philippines on Thursday. This is the 11th year that I have been at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) as one of the facilitators. On 21 May, I will co-facilitate a course called Religion: Dialogue, Theories and Practice for Peacebuilding with Deng a devout Catholic and Alzad, an Islamic Scholar and university professor. This is always a challenging and rewarding course as we lead the group through both learning and practice of inter-faith conversations. We take a field trip to visit a Mosque and the Bishops/Ulama Conference office.
When discussing faith across religious boundaries, I have started to use the word “tribe” to describe the ethno, cultural aspects of my Mennonite denomination. According to the on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary, a tribe is a social group comprising numerous families, clans or generations … having common character, occupation or interest. My tribe, Mennonite, is one that has inhabited the theological outlands in Christianity. We have a nomadic ancestry both in terms of;
a. geography - seeking freedom from religious persecution
b. theology as we broke off from European Christianity 500 years ago
In understanding my religio-cultural heritage, the concept of tribe works if I accept that we do not have an absolute and exclusive corner on the truth. This acknowledgement, hand in hand with a more recent denominational cultural and national diversity, moves tribal focus away from cultural boundaries to the core values and principles of tribal theology. Embracing diversity clarifies that much of what I might be tempted to call “Gospel Truth” is actually “tribal cultural truth.”
This understanding of my denomination as tribe works well as I reach across my cultural walls to shake hands with other "religious tribes.” It is an increasingly important thing to do as the global dust continues to settle from the failed experiment with the nation-state. Tribe is increasingly reasserting itself as the most functional way people express identity and redefine themselves.