The bombardment of political ads leading up to the U.S. mid-term elections is leaving giant craters in the American landscape. (Canada will surely experience the same, possibly a year from now.) Such rancor shows how divided we are in these early years of the 21st Century.
But discord is inherent on this continent. (It goes all the way back to the formation and founding of our nations.) It’s just that we generally used to be a kinder, more tolerant people. In the past, worldwide crises decreased—and sometimes ceased—the hostile rhetoric from various groups. (Think World War II.) We worked together to find solutions. Today, mass media (particularly social media) tells us that we need to work within our factions to find who’s to blame for what we don’t like (and destroy them).
At a recent gathering of the National Association of Evangelicals board, we discussed Colin Woodard’s book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (Penguin, 2011, 2012, 2022). Check out this map and see which “tribe” you’re in.
The author says that “America’s most essential and abiding divisions are NOT between red states and blue states, conservatives and liberals, capital and labor, blacks and whites, the faithful and the secular. Rather, our divisions stem from this fact: The United States [and Canada are] a federation comprised of eleven regional nations, some of which truly do not see eye-to-eye with one another."
To give you a sample, here is Woodard’s description of just three of the 11 “tribes” that are spread throughout our continent:
The Midlands: “Arguably the most ‘American’ of the nations…Founded by English Quakers, who welcomed people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies…Pluralistic and organized around the middle class, the Midlands spawned the culture of Middle America and the Heartland, where…political opinion has been moderate, even apathetic.”
Greater Appalachia: “Founded in the early eighteenth century by wave upon wave of rough, bellicose settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, Northern England, and the Scottish Lowlands…Intensely suspicious of aristocrats and social reformers alike…Combative culture.”
Far West: “The colonization of much of the region was facilitated and directed by large corporations headquartered in distant [cities] or by the federal government…The region remains in a state of semi-dependency. Its political class tends to revile the federal government for interfering in its affairs…while still needing to receive federal largess.”
If this intrigues you, pick up a copy of the book, which has been updated with a new Afterword. You can read about the other eight “tribes.”
One of the things that I see happening that affects national/international ministries, or local ministries in a coast-to-coast association, is that when we engage with one another, we sometimes unknowingly speak the language of our “tribe,” which can result in misunderstanding or friction. Here are some examples where this plays out:
It’s not hard to see how “tribal” differences can be a source of irritation. At Citygate Network, we have to think about this when we select speakers for our conferences and events.
The advantage that followers of Jesus have is that He can (and must) be our translator. When something a cross-country colleague says sounds too harsh or too backward or we don’t understand the reasoning, we need to ask Him to help us process what we’re hearing. My prayer for Citygate Network is that we have a I Corinthians 1:10 mindset and that we “speak with one voice, and not allow [ourselves] to be split up into parties. All together [we] should be achieving a unity in thought and judgment” (J.B. Phillips New Testament).
Don’t forget to vote.