Friday, November 13, 2009

Culture Clash

I would like to share part of a story from another blogger known as Stacy From Louisville. It's been quite awhile since she's posted anything, but perhaps she's been called to do other things. So I'll set the stage for this small part of the story. On one of Stacy's blog posts she was talking about a guest speaker who had come to the college she was attending. He was a lifelong missionary who had been serving in a secluded area of Africa. Here's the rest:

When he and his wife first began their ministry in Africa a large portion of their financial support came from one particular church. He frequently sent that congregation letters to update them on how his work was progressing. On one occasion he sent several photos. The women of the church were horrified to see the women of that tribe were naked from the waist up. In response to the ungodly, offensive nature of the native women the church banded together to collect t-shirts for each one. The shirts were then sent to the missionary - as a surprise - for those impoverished women.

Several weeks later the missionary sent another letter to the church. In it he enclosed a photo. He relayed that the women were overjoyed with the colorful t-shirts. So much so, they CUT SPECIAL HOLES IN THEM SO THEY COULD WEAR THEM AND STILL FEED THEIR CHILDREN. The picture showed a large group of smiling African women wearing new t-shirts - with the front cut out.

I think I just about died laughing when I read that story. But this story also brings up a good question. Was it wrong for the African women to be naked from the waist up, or was it wrong for the women of the church to think it was wrong? Perhaps in that culture in that secluded area of Africa it is just the norm for women to walk around topless, no problem. Of course here in America if that happened it would cause car accidents, arrests, and just a lot of other problems. But that's our culture, not theirs.

What's wrong in one part of the world may not be wrong in another part of the world. That's kind of how I view the idea of sin. I think when most people hear the word "sin" they automatically think sin is always about bad things or things that are wrong. I think sin is more about what separates us from God rather than what's bad or wrong. What may be a sin to one person may not be a sin to another. In Romans 14 Paul uses food and drink as an example:

It's high time that you welcome all people weak in the faith without debating and disputing their opinions. Here's the issue: One person believes that nothing's off the menu; he'll eat any food put before him with no concern whether or not it has been associated with a pagan ceremony. But here's another believer-we'll call him the weaker-who eats only vegetables because the meat is tainted through contact with an idol. If you are an eater of all things, do not be condescending to your vegetarian brother or sister. In turn, those who abstain from certain foods on religious principles should not judge your brothers and sisters who eat meat-if God has accepted them, you have no reason to reject them.
vs. 1-3

In light of this, we must resolve never to judge others and never to place an obstacle or impediment in their path that could cause them to trip and fall. Personally I have been completely convinced that in Jesus, our Lord, no object in and of itself is unclean, but if my fellow believers are convinced that something is unclean, then it is unclean to them. If the food you eat harms your brother, then you have failed to love him. Do not let what you eat tear down your brother; after all, the Liberating King laid down his life for him. Do not allow people to slander something you find to be good because the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking. When God reigns, the order of the day is redeeming justice, true peace, and joy made possible by the Holy Spirit. You see, those who serve the Liberating King in this way will be welcomed into the whole acceptance of God and valued by all men. Join us, and pursue a life that creates peace and builds up our brothers and sisters.
vs. 12-20

I think a good example would be something like this: Alcohol in and of itself is not unclean or bad or wrong. The abuse of alcohol is where the problem lies. So even though you may be a responsible drinker, it would not be wise to have even a sip of it if you are around someone who may be a recovering alcoholic. Here's one more thing from Romans 14:

It is right for you to abstain from certain meats and wine (or anything else for that matter) if it prevents your brother from falling in his faith. Hold on to what you believe about these issues, but keep them between you and God. A happy man does not judge himself by the lifestyle he endorses. But a man who decides for himself what to eat is condemned because he is not living by his faith. Any action not consistent with faith is sin.
vs. 21-23

The word sin is a term used in archery. The sin is basically the measurement between the bullseye and where the arrow lands on the target. If the arrow hits the bullseye, there is no sin. So another way to describe sin is to "miss the mark".

But back to cultural differences. I was reading an article in the July/August 2008 issue of Relevant magazine. The article is called "God Bless the Broken Road" by Christine Stanley. The article talks about how missionaries have been doing some good work in Nagaland, which is in north-eastern India. It's great that they've gone there and helped to change lives and share the life and teaching of Jesus with them, but something else happened as well. The Naga were introduced to Western culture.

Like I said, it's great that missionaries were going there to share Christ's love, but the influence of Western culture is erasing their identity. Here is a snippet from the article:

The Naga, an indigenous peopl of Indo-Mongoloid decent thought to have migrated to their current territory more than 500 years ago, have, in just three generations, undergone a rapid religious transformation that's inspired the majority of Nagaland's 2 million people to dedicate their lives to Chirst.
The conversion has proven positive on a number of social levels for these hill tribes, but change didn't come without severe and ultimately detrimental impacts to the very way Nagas understand themselves, their history and their future. In fact, their cultural transformation has been so marked that many Naga believe with certainty that in 10 or so years, the traditions of this culture will cease to exist.

Here are a few quotes from the article that came from some of the Naga people themselves:

The younger generation will lose our identity. We've totally forgotten the traditions of our culture.

We should keep our identity. I highly object to these changes. You see my tattoos? Any man should have these tattoos-they make you handsome. But now, my son thinks not. He has said no to them, and that is his choice.

The missionaries came and we jumped from one life to the next without the journey between, and that's dangerous. So now we have a Bible in our hands but no land or tradition, it pains me.

At first we could not differentiate between culture and faith. We thought that all things our forefathers used were evil-traditional song and dance, ethical values. All these things we disregarded with the introduction of Christianity, and many of these items were destroyed.

We don't just blame Christianity, but also modernity-[Western] lifestyle, dress, music. It was all coming together at the same time, and we could not differentiate, and that was the problem.

I wouldn't put the blame on Christianity as a whole. But there seems to be an American brand of Christianity here in the US and it's that kind of Christianity that so many times is presented to the people of foreign lands. I think the American brand of Christianity may be to blame for trying to convert the world to an American version of Christianity. I reject American Christianity and I embrace a world-wide Christianity. One that works with and through the cultures and traditions of people all over the world. Christianity doesn't look exactly the same all over the world.

So if you happen to go to a foreign land on a mission trip, learn about the culture of the people you are going to see. And it's not wrong to teach them about your own culture, it just shouldn't be forced on anyone. Well, that's all I've got for this one. Comments and other insights are always welcome. I want this blog to start conversations. I want to know what others think, I'm not always happy with just my thoughts and opinions. What are yours?

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