This is my second post discussing a five stage continuum of growing cross-cultural competence that Mark DeYmaz describes in his book, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church. He calls his second stage “Cultural Blindness”.
While stage one actively promotes destruction of other cultures, stage two takes a much more subtle approach. While stage one should never be valued within a church, many churches seem to pursue stage two as a desirable goal.
DeYmaz provides the following definition of cultural blindness:
“[an attitude that] fosters an assumption that people are all basically alike, so what works with members of one culture should work with all other cultures.”
The cunning danger of cultural blindness is that this attitude feeds off words like “equality”. Those who adopt this definition of equality don’t realise that that they actually dehumanise all people. They devalue the unique experiences and values of diverse cultural, ethnic, racial groups and fit them all into a single “human” mold. Strangely that single mold often looks like the person or group making the statement.
I have personally witnessed the pursuit of cultural blindness when I have suggested to churches that they should celebrate the racial diversity among their members. In reply I have heard back statements such as:
- We don’t want to make a big deal of it, we’re not that different from other churches. (This is a false statement.)
- When I see people I don’t see colour, I just see people.
- We’re all Christians, let’s focus on what we have in common.
I’m thankful that the congregation I currently serve does celebrate Harmony Sunday each year.
If we say we see people, but not colour then we’re really not seeing people. If you tell me you know me well and you love me, but you want to ignore the fact that I’m an Australian then you’re ignoring a large part of who I am. You’re ignoring the way I pronounce words, the words I use, the sports that I value most, summers at the beach, a love of lamb meat. Instead, you project on me your likes and dislikes on the basis that we’re both human.
I’m not just being critical of others. I still remember saying to a good friend something like, “I think cultural differences are a crock for people who can’t be bothered to be polite or decent.”
Yep, that was me.
Then I lived with some international friends who had several conversations about whether or not they could balance to squat on a raised toilet as they were accustomed to squatting on the lower toilets in their home country.
A person might say they don’t see colour, but there’s a good chance they’ll see footprints on the toilet seat and not be happy about it!
It’s much healthier to recognise and discuss cultural distinctions than pretend they don’t exist while complaining or fighting about them.
Then there’s those Christians who quote verses like 1 Corinthians 12:13 “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” They then use this to argue for a Christian culture subsumes other human cultures.
I was once invited by an African-American family to participate in the funeral of a loved one. I spoke with the minister of the church hosting the funeral and sought clarification on what the various elements of the service were. Some of them were new to me but apparently familiar to this African-American community. Rather than give me an explanation he laughed at my question and said something like, “We’re all Christians so just speak the word.”
That wasn’t very helpful and made me feel a bit stupid.
Yes, Christians have an enormous amount in common with one another. In fact, it’s the presence of the Spirit of God within in us that motivates us to overcome our cultural differences to work together and honour God as a unified body. But the worship at a Chinese church is never going to look like a worship service at a predominantly black church. That difference is culture.
While it’s tempting to pretend that racial and ethnic differences are only skin deep, it’s crucial for church leaders to encourage our members to pursue understanding, not ignorance.