Us and Them: Thoughts on Genesis

Read Pastor David’s thoughts on Us and Them and what the Bible says.
               Recently, I read a paper written by Princeton University professors, Chris Tokita and Corina Tarnita. The authors studied the activities of ant colonies and the behaviors that lead ants to polarize themselves into homogenous communities. Tokia and Tarnita identified a tendency of individual ants to become similar with those whom they interact. For example, some ants organized themselves by becoming nurses to the young, ensuring that the next generation was healthy. Other ants distinguished their activities as hunters, foraging for food to feed the entire colony. The more the nurses hung out with the nurses, the more behaviorally similar this group became to one another. The same dynamic held true of the hunters.
               However, when the two ant groups had to pull together for the benefit of the overall colony, such as finding a new location for a nest, it would be disastrous if a consensus couldn’t be reached. The researchers discovered that the two ant groups had to fight the tendency toward polarization and begin interacting with dissimilar individuals. As the nurses and hunters began networking with one another, the differences that previously had separated the two groups were erased.
               In reading the first twelve passages of Genesis this past week, I discovered a similar tendency for people to divide themselves into “us” and “them.” For example, though Cain and his brother shared the same bloodline, Cain made the conscious decision to separate himself permanently from Abel by violating the fifth commandment. Though murder is an extreme example of human polarization, the tendency of human beings to separate into divergent tribes has a longstanding history. Today we identify ourselves as either Democrats or Republicans, Progressives or Evangelicals, Environmentalists or Pro-business, and White people or black and brown people. But what will be the consequence for humanity if a consensus between these dissimilar groups cannot be reached? This is the question the present generation faces.
After the first eleven chapters of Genesis, God faced a comparable dilemma. Humanity was divided. So, God called Abram to the task of blessing and bringing the human race together again (Genesis 12:3). As the Church of Jesus Christ, we have been grafted into this calling. Our task is to fight against the inertia of social polarization. One of the strategies that Tokita and Tarnita discovered to be effective was for groups and individuals to consciously cross social dividing lines and simply talk with one another. Personally, I have found it necessary to deliberately seek out people who look and think differently than I do. The Interfaith Hospitality Network is a great way for individual Christians to move past the divisions of “us” and “them.” I welcome you to join me the week of February 2nd through the 9th as St. Paul Community welcomes families that find themselves in a season of transitional housing. My prayer for our church is that we might move beyond the typical behavior of an ant colony, so that we might become aunts and uncles to those without a home!
Grace and Peace,
Pastor David