I spoke with an Australian Aboriginal leader last week who told me about a Tribal justice process used in some Aboriginal communities. When an offender has done wrong and is worthy of the censure of the community that person can choose to face a beating by the community. The person must stand in the centre of a group and be beaten, possibly to death, by others in the tribe.
Many times this form of ‘justice’ results in the death of the individual. Other times the person is permanently disabled, crippled or seriously affected by the severity of the beating. This is tribal justice. It is part of the tribal rules and regulations which developed over time to regulate behaviour in the group.
One line of thought about such rules is that they are somehow ideal, because they developed out of the journey of that group of people. Sentiment seems stirred in some quarters today, to elevate the local traditons of tribal groups around the world, to a place of worthy preservation. The imposition of western law or other rules and regulaions is contemptible to these people. On the other hand, just as there are good and bad ways to cook, grow crops, run a business, manage finances, drive a car, or whatever, there are good and bad rules and regulations. Just because something is ‘tribal’ does not make it good or bad.
In the early 1980’s, as pastor of a church in New Zealand, I was approached by a mother with grave concern about her daughter. She detected evidence of her daughter being sexually abused. She told me that in the tribal background of her husband there was a history of incest, as somehow an endorsed tribal behaviour. Obviously such a thing was not publicly acknowledged, but it was understood by the insiders. In the absence of evidence and in the face of the father’s denials the matter never went to prosecution.
Is such behaviour to be preserved as a tribal cultural icon? Is sexual abuse OK because it fits within Tribal Rules and Regulations? Absolutely not!
While tribal rules and regulations are the easiest for members of the tribe to subscribe to, since the people have been enculturated with those rules, the rules do not and should not be maintained when they perpetrate abuse or evil. Ah… but there’s the rub! How do you know what is ‘abuse’ or ‘evil’? Despite the popularity for obfuscation of such things, the answer is remarkably simple. We simply apply the ‘fear of God’. Since God is the ultimate authority we simply refer back to His holy rules and regulations and modify our own rules and regulations to be consistent with His.