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Monday, November 11, 2013

Cultural Exchange in the Multicultural Church

Please welcome guest blogger, John Farmer who is on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Guilford College. He, his wife, and daughter live in Greensboro, NC. You can follow him here.

What is the line between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation? I’ve felt that tension many times when trying to explain my love for Mexican or Thai food. Am I truly appreciating those cultures? Am I borrowing from those cultures ethically? Or am I appropriating their cultures for my own enjoyment in a white context?

A few weeks ago, I shared an article for Friday Fruit that brought up these good questions in my mind and heart, most of which I don't have answers to. But it also didn't address one particular complexity, simply because it was written from a secular perspective: how should cultural exchange happen in the Church?

The Church is, by the good will and intentionality of God, multicultural. For the thousands of years between the call of Abram and the birth of Jesus, the narrative of Yahweh seemed to be monocultural – taking place in a specifically Jewish context. But we can’t miss the moments where Gentiles were critical participants in God’s movement. 

It all begins with God’spromise to Abram, Israel’s patriarch: “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” We must think of Rahab and Ruth, two non-Israelite women who would eventually show up in the genealogy of Jesus. We can’t overlook the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian from the days of Elijah and Elisha, respectively. Jesus used these two examples in his hometown to show God’s heart for those outside the Israel community, and was promptly driven to a cliff so they could throw him off it.

Jesus began to undo the misguided thinking that had arisen in Israel that God’s heart was solely for them, teaching in John 10: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” However much Jesus’ contemporaries missed the not-so-subtleties in these teachings, Pentecost made this reality boldly apparent: God cannot be contained within one cultural reality – God is multicultural. And so the Church, the Body of Christ, is multicultural.

We have struggled mightily to live into that vision in American churches. So on Sunday mornings, and throughout the week as well, most of us go off into our ethnically divided faith communities. We are the body of Christ, and yet all the eyes, the noses, the hands, and the feet worship separately with those who look just like them.

Our primary goal as Christians is to move towards Jesus, to become joined together with him, the Head of the Body. Our goal is to be joined together in his vision for the world, his mission to reconcile all people and all things to himself. That means we are mandated as Christians to move towards reconciliation, one with another – one flock, one Shepherd. 

Cultural exchange is a way we move towards knowing our brothers and sisters. And cultural exchange is a way that we move towards knowing our God, whose image can only be represented by a mosaic of many different cultures.

Cultural appropriation has shown up in churches because of selfishness. I’ve experienced way too many dramatic representations of kung fu movies, hip hop culture, and other cultural goods in the mostly white churches or ministries I have been a part of over the years. I have participated in them. I have acted them. Because we like to be entertained. 

But Jesus has called us not to self-entertainment at the cost of our neighbors but to laying down ourselves for the good of our neighbors. If we are ever to know how to do that well to those outside the Christian community, we had better learn how to do it with our brothers and sisters who share faith in Christ.

To love our brothers and sisters means to build trust in humility. It means to show an interest in the things they enjoy as part of their culture, allowing others to share as much as the trust we have built warrants. And it means being willing to share our own cultural goods in the context of that trusting community.

We must do this because of the vision of Revelation 7, where the multitude from nation, tribe, and language does not merely tolerate each other or get along. They do not merely say, “Those people do those things, and we will do these things.” They share their cultural diversity, saying one thing in many languages: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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