The balkanization of the United States

When the Soviet Union was collapsing in the last 1980s, I read an article in The Atlantic about a region I’d never heard of: the Balkans. In that article, the writer told a tale I found fantastic and almost unbelievable. His contention was that during the Cold War, it was good for the U.S. and the Soviet Union to be the big gorillas in Europe. It kept this Balkan region from exploding.

His prediction: With the demise of the Soviet Union and the restructuring of Europe as it scrambled to regain footing in hopeful democracies the Balkans would actually blow up. They would return to their age-old tribalism and genocide would incur.

That is precisely what happened and by the early 90s we all knew about Serbs and Croats and genocide and Croatia and Kosovo and more. It was an age-old tribal war that had manifested in 1914 with a seemingly “meaningless” assassination in Sarajevo that led to World War I.

Balkanization has become a term used to describe our tribalism. We only want “our people” around us. It’s not about race, necessarily, in the U.S. It’s about ideology. We all want our “safe spaces” and “echo chambers.” We want to hang around people who think like us.

“Subsequent research has shown that we live in increasingly economically and politically segregated communities right down to the city block. The two major political parties have sorted themselves along similar lines: as the Republican Party becomes disproportionately older, white, rural, male, and Christian, the Democratic Party is increasingly young, nonwhite, urban, female, and nonreligious.” (The Coddling of the American Mind, p. 130)

In the social media age, what was thought would “bring us together” has only pulled us apart. It is far easier today to collect around you the echo chamber you want on social media. We can physically isolate ourselves from people with whom we disagree. We can also “unfriend” them electronically. It’s a comfortable space… and it’s going to boil over and explode.

We don’t want disagreement. We want conformity. We want 100 percent affirmation of OUR view and any dissent is treated with utter contempt.

We are Balkanized. What’s worse: we aren’t minding it at all. When we get involved in some sort of action, often it’s not because of a love FOR something but a HATRED for the other side! Elections are won on hatred and fear and anger. Millions of dollars are poured into campaigns that will divide people, not unite them.

This is the vicious cycle we find ourselves. Worse, it’s effecting the American Church. We want to worship with people who think more like us politically than every before. (We call it “theological” but that is foolishness.) We’re Balkanizing the Church when we need to be the place where the unity is CHRIST, not our political leanings.

This is the place we find ourselves currently and we need to be in a struggle to move ourselves away from this mentality.

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