Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Does Ethnicity or Gender Really Matter?

Does Ethnicity or Gender Really Matter?

Often in discussions with well-meaning Evangelicals this author is asked why it should matter that one belongs to a particular ethnicity or that one is a female. In the words of Rodney King, the clichéd expression is “can’t we just all get along?” Or to be more scripturally grounded, the citation is made of the Galatian passage, “There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one 'man' in Christ Jesus.” Honestly, I must confess that I am prone to be intolerant of such individuals. There seems to be a clear misunderstanding of both Scripture and cultural significance.

My favorite Scripture in which there is the juxtaposition of both gender and race is found in the narrative of the Samaritan woman in John 4. This woman felt it important to bring to the rabbi’s attention that she was female and a Samaritan. It mattered to her! If it didn’t or shouldn’t, Jesus surely would have corrected her interpretation of her circumstance in life. But he didn’t. Maybe it’s because she was in touch with the negative connotations attached to those two positions in life.

The encounter between Jesus and the woman only became redemptive because he was neither color blind or insensitive to the historical biases against women.

Culture must never be devalued because of our yearning for unity, uniformity, or even reconciliation. Too often I hear that we should remove cultural specifications from our ecclesiastical language. This is a shortsighted plea in light of the fact that the inequality and injustice in today’s world would demonstrate that our best efforts are obscured by paternalism and benevolence.

The only viable solution for the cultural polarity and marginalization in church and society is a mutual acceptance of the differences with which God has made us. The God who created 300,000 species of beetles is the same God who created multitudinous cultures.

It may well be that those who become obsessed with the passion for a merged multicultural expression in worship are correct in their hopeful and futuristic outlook. However, the stark reality is that the sociological conditions in which we do ministry are descriptive rather than prescriptive. In the midst of these realities the scriptures showed how the followers of God not only coped with diversity, but also made extraordinary contributions by demonstrating the importance of diversity. The rich mosaic of people is acknowledged and celebrated in light of the universal message of God’s salvation objective.

Let us never forget that every congregation, people, and individual has a culture, even though it might not be aware of it. A church’s culture consists of such things as its traditions, heroes, expectations, norms, stories, rituals, symbols, reward systems, and values.

The culture neutrality of experiential religion is an ambitious goal, yet fraught with many challenges.

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