The Losing Side

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

Church boards have limited time and energy after addressing staffing, budgets, buildings, schedules, and the semi-regular concerns coming from members.  However, congregational leaders do have the opportunity, upon occasion, to change the categories of conversation within a faith community.  This election year may present one such opportunity.

To encourage a move toward changing the conversation, we offer this recent data point from Pew Research.

Just a quarter of Americans right now feel like their side is ‘winning’ on the issues that matter to them.

And that means, yep, the rest of us—more than 70 percent—feel like we are losing on the issues that matter to us.

Finally, something that unites us across party lines!

In a real sense, though, we are all losing.  We are losing to tribalism itself.

Tribalism is the human tendency to seek out and connect with like-minded people who share common interests, habits, or beliefs.  Of course, this is not a bad thing, as long as it is tempered by curiosity about, openness to, and healthy interaction with those who are not like-minded.  Unfortunately, tribalism eats curiosity for breakfast, to borrow from Peter Drucker. 


Sharon Brous, the founding and senior rabbi of Ikar, a Jewish community based in Los Angeles, describes the phenomenon well:

One of the great casualties of tribalism is curiosity. And when we are no longer curious, when we don’t try to imagine or understand what another person is thinking or feeling or where her pain comes from, our hearts begin to narrow. We become less compassionate and more entrenched in our own worldviews. Trauma exacerbates this trend. It reinforces an instinct to turn away from one another, rather than make ourselves even more vulnerable.

 In our present moment, it feels like forces are seeking to drive wedges into every area of community life, dividing us along the lines of “like/dislike” and, yes, “win/lose.”  The result, as the Pew study suggests, is that everyone feels like they are losing.

What does it mean to gather as a congregation, if most people (regardless of their politics) are walking into church feeling like they are on the losing side and resenting, implicitly or explicitly, “the other side?”  These vexing challenges are stressing church boards and driving pastors to exhaustion.

What would it take, in your setting, to move your diverse congregation away from a win-lose way of thinking, toward a curiosity that builds community?

One text to anchor that movement comes from Paul’s writing in Romans:

For we do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,

    and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

 So then, each one of us will be held accountable.

Romans 14:7-12

Another text might be the essay by Rabbi Brous, where she suggests a way forward out of the tribalism that suffocates curiosity:

Buried deep within the Mishnah, a Jewish legal compendium from around the third century, is an ancient practice reflecting a deep understanding of the human psyche and spirit: When your heart is broken, when the specter of death visits your family, when you feel lost and alone and inclined to retreat, you show up. You entrust your pain to the community.

To have any person or group ‘entrust their pain to the community’ is going to require intentional nurture and leadership.  As a church board, can you imagine any better gift to provide your faith community today?



Do you, personally, feel like you are on the winning or losing side in politics in this moment?


Why do you think that so few people feel like they are on the winning side in politics right now?


How does the sense of losing show up in the mindsets of people around you? How does it show up in the life of your church?


How does Romans 14 reframe the question of winning and losing? What is the losing side in Paul’s formulation?


Why does Paul end this passage with a reminder that all will be held accountable?  What does it mean to be “held accountable”?  How would keeping our accountability in view help us stop judging and despising those who are aligned against us?


What would it mean to entrust the societal pain we are feeling to our faith communities? What would need to change for that to happen? What can your church board do to help make that change now?

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