EMBRACING CULTURAL DIVERSITY
Throughout history, relationships within diverse cultural settings have resulted in serious intercultural challenges..Though most of these have mainly resulted in strained relationships, in some instances they have resulted in mass genocide
Share the best intercultural joke you have heard about YOUR people.
HOW DO CULTURAL DIFFERENCES AFFECT RELATIONSHIPS?
Cultural differences, though a great human asset for experiencing variety of cultures, languages, and customs, has often been the very cause of differences in human
i. Majority cultures can become Dominating over others.
Majority cultures often think of their lives as morally neutral, and consider their cultural practices as the norm. They hold their language as the standard and their lifestyles to be the ideal. Majority communities therefore expect everybody to behave and live like them. Those who do not live as they expect are considered social misfits or backward. This is called ethnocentrism – the belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group.
Acts 15:1; 5
“Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved
.”5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”
ii. Majority cultures often expect recognition by others.
Majority or dominant cultures often believe they should be recognized and appreciated.
They may therefore take offence if ignored or not acknowledged
In Judges 12:1-3, though the Ephraimites had refused to join Jephthah in fighting the Ammonites, when the battle was won, they wanted to share in the glory. Likewise, big races, tribes, or communities often feel slighted when they are not appreciated or recognised in special gatherings, or major achievements, even when their role was insignificant.
iii. Minority cultures can become protectionist against others.
For fear of being dominated or overrun, minority cultures are often afraid of allowing others into their midst. Because of this, they may prevent others from joining, living, or settling among them. This is called xenophobia.
From Exodus 1:6-16, because of the fear of being dominated, the Egyptians planned to kill Hebrew children and reduce their population. Likewise, minority races, tribes, or social classes overly protect themselves against others, because of the fear of being dominated.
Cultural differences and attitudes can greatly undermine healthy relationships within a multi-cultural context. It calls upon every individual to consciously choose not to fall into the evil trap of majority or minority behaviour..
2. How can we Overcome Intercultural Challenges?
In order to overcome cultural biases and develop healthy intercultural relationships,
one needs to take into account several factors and realities.
i. Intercultural relationships demand a change of perspective.
Cultural socialization causes us to consciously or unconsciously view people through our cultural lenses. Hence, to have meaningful intercultural relationships, we need a deliberate change of heart and perspective.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
ii. Intercultural relationships require an attitude of humility.
To have and maintain healthy relationships across cultures, there must be a change of
attitude towards others. Jesus demonstrated this when He came to dwell among us
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
This means that as believers, our attitude towards people of other cultures must be
tempered with sober judgment and Christ-like humility.
iii. Intercultural relationships appreciate all people as equal.
Though we cannot eradicate cultural differences, as some have tried to do, we can embrace every person as different but equal before God.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
This means that we do not discriminate against others on the basis of race, tribe,
social status, gender, or any other social category.
iv. Intercultural relationships require personal determination.
To interact effectively and meaningfully with people of other cultures, one has to make up their minds to integrate with them. Such deliberate integration may mean trying to learn their language, eat their food, wear their dress, etc. From 1 Corinthians 9:20-23, It is clear that in his life and ministry, Paul made a deliberate choice to integrate with people of diverse cultures, status, and backgrounds. For the sake of Christ, he became all things to all men.
V. Cultural weaknesses must not be used to humiliate or profile others.
Almost every cultural group has weaknesses or behaviours unique to them. Sometimes others may use such weaknesses or behaviours against them.
This is called ethnic profiling.
In Judges 12:4-6, the Gileadites took advantage of the weakness of the Ephraimites in pronunciation to identify them and kill them.
vi. Cultural strengths should be utilised for common good.
It is evident the world over that God, in His own divine wisdom, has endowed different
nationalities, tribes, and communities with special characteristics, gifts, talents and
skills. Such special cultural strengths should be viewed as assets for all humanity and used for the benefit of all.
Paul used the analogy of the human body to illustrate this.
1 Corinthians 12:12-23
1 Corinthians 12:12-17
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body… whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free… 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many… 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?”
It is clear that God intended that our unique diversities should be utilised with the
appreciation that no one person, community, race, or tribe can be or have everything. The eye needs the ear, and the hands need the foot. So there should be no division
in the body, but its parts should have equal concern for each other and celebrate one
another (1 Cor. 12:25).
3. What must we Keep in Mind when Relating Across Cultures?
To have healthy intercultural relationships, there are several truths and realities that
we must always be alive to.
i. Cultural heritage is nothing to be proud of.
Sometimes, as privileged communities or families, we can become overly obsessed
with our special heritage or social status. It is important to note that these do not count before God.
“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6. as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.“
Paul did not consider his cultural, tribal, or religious heritage as anything to boast about. Instead he focused on his eternal heritage in Christ.
ii. Every person’s culture is determined by God.
No one chose where to be born or which family, race, or tribe to belong to. Our national, cultural, or tribal backgrounds are ultimately a result of God’s divine design.
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”
This means that we should not look down on or demean other people’s cultural heritage or social status.
iii. Intercultural hypocrisy should be challenged.
Whenever we see intercultural distortions, biases, or discrimination happening around
us we should be bold enough to speak out against them.
In Galatians 2:11-14
When Paul saw Peter’s hypocrisy and discriminative behaviour , he rebuked him
openly. We should likewise not entertain such behaviour around us.
iv. Unity in diversity attracts God’s blessing.
When people live in unity, they will not only achieve much, but they will also experience God’s special favour
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! …3 For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”
Developing healthy intercultural relations requires a deliberate change of attitude and a determination to treat all people as equal. Deliberate efforts should be made to understand and appropriately embrace the practices of other cultures with a view to enhancing cultural integration. Demeaning anyone on grounds of his cultural background is in essence mocking God who, in his own wisdom, made us equal but different!