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Two Tribes: thinking theologically about ‘us’ and ‘them’

Rev Professor Drew Gibson

Rev Professor Drew Gibson

Two Tribes: thinking theologically about ‘us’ and ‘them’

Last week I watched two locally produced videos. One was by ‘Poleglass Resident‘ and the other was by the Northern Ireland national football teams.

Both videos were about communities coming together and celebrating what we are together, yet both divided viewers into us and them; those who identified with the community that made the video (‘us-uns’) and those who saw it as a video from ‘them-uns’. Sad, but, as we all know, true.

Biblically, we can talk about ‘us-uns’ in two ways. First, we are all special creatures, made by God, in his image, we all are ‘us-uns’. We share the common dignity of being human, despite all the many differences that distinguish us as individuals and groups. None of us is any less worthy of respect than anyone else. When we look at our neighbours as them-uns, we express our alienation from God by allowing it to fracture what God has made in his Trinitarian image: variegated but united.

But we are also all us-uns in that we are all fallen. We are the victims of living in a world that is distorted from God’s original design. But we are more than victims, we are sinful, that is, we are all intrinsically orientated away from God, who ought to be at the centre of our lives and, as a result of this, we naturally live separated from him. None of us is any better than anyone else. We could say that, from God’s point of view, we are all them-uns, that is, we are all separated from him and instinctively hostile to him.

These are difficult days for every nation under heaven, and, as fallen us-uns and we have been catapulted into a unity-in-fallenness that none of us could have foreseen. We recognise that the death of a granny, uncle, sister or son is just as painful for those we normally think of as them-uns as it is for us-uns. We must also recognise that our actions can have a profound impact on others because the coronavirus and the Covid-19 illness know no them-uns and us-uns. 

Governments and all sorts of community groups are working very hard to promote selfless commitment to the welfare of all. In Northern Ireland, we are being strongly and, I think, largely successfully, being urged to think of everyone in our local communities, in the Province, on the island, in the nation, as part of us-uns. But, while unity is dominating the thinking of most, it is almost inevitable that, if competition for finite resources becomes an issue, then we will divide. Let us work and pray that this evil day will be avoided. 

But we can think of us-uns and them-uns in a second way and, this time, there is some legitimacy in the distinction. The Christian church is the expression on earth of that group of people whom God has chosen to lift out of our alienation and bring into a loving relationship with himself. From God’s point of view these are his us-uns. The Bible knows no distinction within the people of God, the church, between any who are God’s special us-uns and others who are God’s second rate us-uns. But also, the Bible is perfectly clear that the church is to live this unity in such a way that those outside see how we live as us-uns and want to join us. May we, as the church, model for the whole community, what it means to live as one people, across all barriers. May we share our lives with each other across denominational, social, ethnic and all other boundaries. May we also reach out with the love of Christ so that everyone might see that God’s us-uns are different from all other us-uns because we welcome with open hands and hearts all them-uns to share what God has given to us for their good and his glory.


Photo by Juhasz Imre from Pexels


Rev Professor Drew Gibson

Written By

Rev Professor Drew Gibson

Academic career and qualifications

BSc in Physics, BD, MTh, PhD (all QUB)


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