Monday, April 18, 2005

Baptist Multiculturalism

I'm paying more attention to Christian colleges now that my daughter is graduating from High School. And one of the things I'm finding annoying with various Christian colleges is their newfound interest in "diversity." This got me to thinking about the Christian's roll in all this diversity folerol. (If there's no difference between a Christian college and MSU, I can save a ton of money on tuition.)

Adding context to my musings is my having recently read The Wisdom of Crowds. I've always believed that groupthink is a bad things. I think it's wise to think outside the box. And I encourage folks to take the blinders off. If you limit your perspective to a single eye-point, there's a lot of reality that you'll never see. The Christian has a commitment to truth and this requires him to make himself aware of those bits that are not directly in view.

Christianity started out with a bunch of Jewish fishermen in the ancient Middle East. Those guys weren't at all like me in terms of education, culture, and socio-economic class. Moreover, Christianity has found expression in all manner of different soils. You've got Christians in the third world, Eastern Europe, and the Far East. If you think I left out someplace, good, you're making my point. Christianity has been contexualized to several diverse cultures around the world and across two millenia.

The Christian needs to recognize that the world is filled with brothers and neighbors. Our brothers share a faith in Christ, and our neighbors need Christ. Christians are well advised to aggregate the diverse perspectives of our brothers. The more diverse their perspectives the better. Christ is imaged in all sorts of people who build communities of faith in all sorts of ways. If diversity consists of aggregations of other Christian communities perspectives, there's no question this is a Good Thing.

The question arises when we consider our neighbors and their perspectives? The Bible tells us that before he was the king of Israel, David lived among the Philistines and at that time, he picked up steel-making technology. Before that, there were no blacksmiths in Israel. After that, Israel knew how to forge steel weapons. This coincided with the ascendency of Israel as a regional power. Here, David demonstrates that aggregating the diverse perspective of the pagan Philistines proved most beneficial.

On the other hand, there are other bits of our neighbors' culture about which we really want to say "no thank you." The Bible describes the Canaanite culture as being depraved and singled out for destruction by God who gave their land to Israel. (And later removed the Israelites when their culture proved depraved, too.)

When the Christian encounters his neighbor with a different perspective, he has to evaluate that culture against the standard of the Bible. The pagan Canaanites saw no problem with infant sacrifices in a furnace-like idol of Molech. The Bible and common sense makes it clear that such behaviour is depraved.

Multiculturalism makes no moral judgements about different cultures, indicating rightness or wrongness is only meaningful within the context of that culture. Christianity contradicts that, saying that there's a God who stands outside all cultures and judges them according to the standard of his own character. God establishes a moral standard and judges us individually and corporately. The Christian has God's revelation in the Bible and in his own moral character that we can use to evaluate the morality of different cultures. There is a difference if a culture teaches that one should love one's neighbor--instead of eating one's neighbor.

Thus, the Christian when aggregating the diverse viewpoints of his neighbors, needs to filter those perspectives through the moral filter of the Bible. Like King David, we need to pick up those bits of truth that God has given our neighbors and use them effectively. If our neighbors hold to unscriptural ethical systems, we need to reject them like Israel rejected the wickedness of the Canaanites.

This business of evaluating cultures extends beyond our neighbors to our brothers. Just because we have mercy in Christ does not mean God has repealed human fallibility. Israel's culture became corrupt and God took them out of the land and into captivity in Babylon. The Christian has to put his own culture under the moral microscope. But how can I know what MY culture is like. If you want to know about water, don't ask the fish. Somehow, my Christian, Evangelical culture has to be weighed against Scripture.

This is where my brothers who live in different times and places can help me. Their perspectives can show me my blind spots. But when was the last time you heard an American pay attention to reproof from an Eastern European Christian? This is a good argument for Ecumenism, not that we can compromise our beliefs, but that we can compare and contrast our position with those of our brothers. We should be quick to listen to our brothers' critique and I'm sure we'll have little problem reciprocating.

1 comment:

robvs said...

This leads to the question: Should Christians try to shelter their children from worldly thought, thus theoretically reducing the chance that they become worldly themselves, or should they bring them up with a strong moral foundation so that when they are out in the world, they don't fall into worldly habits?

Many Christian Reformers (and others) tend to shelter their children, hopping that their faith is never challenged through temptation. This, to them, feels safe. I postulate that sheltering children is more dangerous (of course some amount of sheltering is necessary, depending upon age).

side note:I'm using the term "shelter" to refer to both environment as well as the realm of non-Christian ideas (ie: "don't question why you believe, just believe...")

Say that a child who is of collage age finds themselves out in the world. If they have only seen the world through rose-colored glasses, they will not have the tools to deal with some of the things that life throws at them. One thing is that they can unwittingly find themselves in physical danger because they don't know how "real" certain dangers are (I have an anecdote about driving down Wealthy Street near downtown GR on a Friday night). Another thing is that a sheltered child will have a hard time ministering (eg: explaining why they believe what they believe) to a curious friend or acquaintance. I could provide more examples, but I don't want to bore myself...

...Which brings me to my point: If you want your child to build on their Christian foundation by hanging out with people that are similar to themselves while "easing" them into the world, send them to a Christian collage. If you are confident that your child has a strong moral/Christian foundation and you want them to learn to deal with people that a have totally different "world view", send them to a public collage. Remember, it is very different to be taught about the world than to actually experience it.