The Point of No Return

This is my third post discussing a five stage continuum of growing cross-cultural competence that Mark DeYmaz describes in his book, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic ChurchHe calls this third stage “Cultural Awareness”.

Cultural Awareness occurs when a person recognises and accepts cultural distinctives. To reach this point one crosses a tipping point away from the previous stage of Cultural Blindness. Once a person accepts that culture runs much deeper than the skin and actually makes up a large part of a persons identity they can no longer deny that cultural differences exist.

Churches positioned in the stage of Cultural Awareness will find themselves talking about their diversity. They will also take steps to address obvious cultural issues such as providing sign language interpretation for deaf members. Decorations and art around the church building may reflect racial diversity. Signs and announcements may be printed in multiple languages. The church might even provide English as a Second Language classes.

DeYmaz describes how Mosaic church has hung flags in their worship area to “communicate no only our awareness but also our appreciation for the individuals and nations represented in our body at any given time.” (104) This makes a public statement that other nationalities and cultures are wanted and welcome at the church.

My observation of this stage is that churches and individuals willingly make adjustments to accommodate differences they observe with people of another race or culture.

This stage cannot be the final destination on the journey of cultural awareness. Although it has crossed a tipping point it still deals mostly with surface issues and observed needs. At this stage understanding intangible cultural values is not a priority.

Although a church service might be bilingual, the attitude toward time and punctuality may still reflect the values of the majority group. A casual attitude toward punctuality on the part of the minority may be generally regarded as disrespectful and rude.

Cultural Awareness does not necessarily lead one to seek understanding of other cultures. The word “awareness” is key to this definition. People recognise differences, but probably can’t explain the differences or the heart issues and values of the other culture. At this stage a person might acknowledge the fact that racial discrimination occurs, but not sit down with a man or woman of colour and ask them to describe the feelings that come with being discriminated against.

If your church is at a place of Cultural Awareness, celebrate that perspective! This is the starting point for a positive dialogue. From this point growth is possible without requiring a new worldview. But don’t sit back as though this is the destination.

Encourage your church to explore cultural issues. Take the first step yourself. Whether your part of a majority or minority, take some time to sit down with someone and compare cultural notes. Find someone you trust and ask them questions you’re nervous to ask publicly.

Don’t think you’ve arrived because you can list those differences.

Make an effort to understand the reason for differences.

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