UNDERSTANDING CULTURAL DIVERSITY
As the world becomes more and more global, human interactions across cultures is becoming a fact and reality of life.
More than ever before, today we are more likely to be living among or working with people that are different from us.
Thus we often despise people because of their race, tribe, language, customs, religion, or social status. How can we change this?
Why do you think we find it easy to despise a person or people simply because of their race, tribe, or social status?
1. WHERE DID WE ALL COME FROM?
To appreciate the similarities and differences of human beings, it is important to understand human origin. Several theories have attempted to shed light on where human beings came from.
Charles Darwin in his writing on the Origin of Species, proposed that all life developed from non-life.
Interestingly though, Darwin himself acknowledged the absurdity of his theory.
In appreciating the complexity of the human eye, Darwin conceded that,
“To suppose that the eye – with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration – could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”1
From creation came the first man and woman
The Bible gives a detailed account of how the whole universe came into being through God’s creation. At the end of this exercise, God made man.
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
“This is the written account of Adam’s line. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “man.”
ii. From one man came the whole of humanity
According to the Scriptures, the first man, Adam, was the father of all human beings.
“God blessed them [Adam and Eve] and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth.”
Luke, for example, was able to trace the genealogy of Joseph – the earthly father of Jesus – back to Adam.
Luke 3:23- 38
“Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melki… he son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch,the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Kenan, 38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”
It seems possible, therefore, to trace each of our ancestry back to the first man.
iii. From three men came all communities
As the human race developed, wickedness took root beyond God’s tolerance level.
Therefore, God destroyed the whole universe with a flood. Only Noah and his family were spared
“Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.”
“The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth.”
It is from Noah’s sons – Shem, Ham, and Japheth – that people began to be organised into communities and nations that spread across the earth. Some scholars have reasoned that this geographical distribution of the people may have been the precursor to the main races of the world.
It is clear from Scripture that all human beings, irrespective of tribe, race, or culture, share a common origin. We were all created by one God – Jehovah; born through one man – Adam and spread into communities through Noah’s sons – Shem, Ham and Japheth. This means that, in a broad sense, all human beings are brothers and sisters, with a common heritage. The Kiswahili language captures this well, for the word for Humans is Binadamu, which literally means Sons of Adam. And indeed, we are all sons of Adam.
2. How did Human Languages Come About?
Language is a critical aspect of culture. If we all share the same origin, how did we
acquire different languages?.
i. Human language was one and was a source of unity.
Originally, language was purely a medium of communication. All the people of the world could understand one another, and could work towards a common purpose.
Genesis 11:1; 6
1 “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech…
6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”
God acknowledged the power of a common language, the ease of communication, and unity of purpose.
ii. Due to rebellion, human language became a barrier.
When humanity attempted to establish itself as its own authority apart from God, God defused this by confusing their language and they could no longer understand one another.
“But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
Therefore, at Babel, God confused human language so it became an obstacle to universal communication.
iii. Diversity of language led to human scattering.
After God confused the language of the people, there was disintegration and dispersion of the people.
“So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel–because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”
Whenever language becomes a barrier to human relationships, people scatter and congregate around their language groups.
iv. At Pentecost God broke the language barrier
When the Holy Spirit came down upon the Disciples at the Upper Room, people gathered from different parts of the world but each could understand what was being said.
Acts 2:5- 11
“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs–we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
A common language can be a powerful tool of unity. Though language was originally meant to aid human relationships, because of rebellion against God, language became a barrier to a common bond. Confusion of language can derail even the most noble of human endeavours. Therefore, we must never allow our languages to be barriers to our common bond.
In what ways is language sometimes used to divide rather than unite people?
How can we overcome this?
3. How do Cultural Differences Affect Relationships?
Broadly, culture is the social programming that distinguishes members of one group from another.
i. Culture can influence perception of others.
How we view others is many times determined by our cultural differences. This can affect how we relate with people of other cultures.
“When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.”
It is clear that the Samaritan woman’s perspective of Jesus was influenced by her cultural programing. This affected her immediate response to Jesus.
ii. Culture can lead to superficial relationships
In an attempt to appear open to accepting people of other cultures, strong cultural feelings can lead to hypocritical behaviour among people of different cultures.
“Before certain men came from James, he [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.”
As long as he was alone, Peter appeared to embrace the Gentiles. But, when his fellow Jews arrived, he withdrew from the Gentiles, for fear of being accused of associating with the uncircumcised.
iii. Culture can lead to discrimination against others
Strong cultural associations will often lead to preferential treatment of people from our own communities.
“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.”
iv. Culture can breed hatred for others
Many times, cultural differences will influence our attitudes towards others. Such attitudes can lead to outright animosity against other communities.
“When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. 6 Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.“
Haman’s disagreement with Mordecai was extended to the hatred for all Mordecai’s people – the Jews.
4. WHAT DOES THE BIBLE TEACH ABOUT CULTURAL DIVERSITY?
Contrary to the prejudices born out of our cultural programing, the Bible displays a totally different view to cultural diversity.
i. People of all cultures are precious to God
As the Church grew, God began to bring Gentiles into the community of believers. When Peter was shown a vision of this, he could not accept it, for the Jews viewed the Gentiles as unclean. But Peter was rebuked by the Lord.
This means that we must not consider any person, or category of people, to be inferior or unacceptable in our eyes or before God.
ii. People of all social status are acceptable to Jesus
During His ministry on earth, Jesus reached out to and interacted with people of all categories without discrimination. For example, tax collectors were hated by society in general and the religious community in particular.
But Jesus deliberately chose to visit and eat at the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector, thereby breaking the social barrier.
iii. People of all cultures will be in heaven
When the Apostle John was shown a glimpse of the end of the age, he saw a diverse
multitude of people drawn from across the globe standing before God’s throne.
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
Hence, in God’s divine plan, all people of every nation and every tribe are His and he intends to gather all of them to Himself at the end of the age. Like a father who finds joy in gathering all his children and grandchildren during special occasions, our Heavenly Father will rejoice in bringing together all His children.
1. In your view, what is the greatest hindrance to intercultural integration?
2. How can it be overcome?
Despite the common prejudices we often hold against people of different cultures, all human beings share a common origin. Every one of us is valued by God as the handiwork of His creation. Christ died to save us all, and will ultimately gather all of us to live with Him in eternity. Is it not a high time we embraced everyone irrespective of their nation, race, tribe, status, gender, or language?
After all, we are all going to live together forever.
If you harbour hatred for other communities it is very likely that God would not allow you in his heaven, where he will gather people of all races of the earth.