19 February 2009

A Question of Culture... Or Not?

As I shared the other day, one of the most challenging and most interesting part of our lives here in Niger is learning how to relate to others who come from a cultural background totally different than the one in which we grew up. We step off the plane here to find that many of the rules that have worked so well all of our lives in relating to and with others all of the sudden don't work any more. We think we are communicating only to find out we haven't or that in fact we've inadvertently offended or completely lost face and didn't even have a clue. Some of those things are easy to fix... Don't use your left hand when giving someone something... Cover your head in church... You can hold hands with your same sex friends while out in public, but husbands and wives don't... Always take time to greet people, even when you are in a hurry... Don't look an older person directly in the eyes when addressing them... On-time is actually early...

That's a big part of the reason I started reading the book: Cross Cultural Conflict - Building Relationships for Effective Ministry by Duane Elmer. I'd mentioned the other day that I wanted to share a bit more from the book, a different look at a familiar Bible story but seen through a different cultural lens. Again, I'm quoting directly from the book.

"The following story raises questions about the difference between deception and a culturally acceptable strategy: The first chapter of exodus tells us that a new king 'who did not know Joseph' (vs. 8) came to power in Egypt. The king looked around the land and noticed that 'the Israelites have become much too numerous for us' (v. 9). A plan was crafted to decrease the Israelite population. Part of the plan involved two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who were instructed to kill each Hebrew boy at birth but allow the girl babies to live."

"The midwives feared God and 'did not do what the king of Egypt told them to do' (v. 17). Eventually the king called the two women in and asked them why they had been letting the male babies live. They responded, 'Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive' (v. 19)."

"In this brief story that sets the scene for Moses' birth, we have a serious conflict of interests and, in a larger sense, a conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The Hebrew midwives used several strategies in maganging this conflict: silence (they did not reply to the king's request), inaction (they did not do as he had commanded) and misdirection/diversion (they placed the blame elsewhere - on the Hebrew women who gave birth before they could arrive)."

"Western Christians are both pleased and troubled by this story. They would affirm the women for choosing not to obey the king because they feared God. Some are troubled, however, that the midwives remained silent before the king and did not 'speak the truth' of their convictions and tell him outright that they would not obey. Perhaps most troubling is the blatant, self-serving 'lie' the midwives told regarding the Hebrew women's delivering the children before they arrived."

"Adding to our confusion are the words immediately following, in which God reveals his commentary on the series of events: 'So God was kind to the midwies' (v. 20). God seems to have approved (at least he did not judge or condemn) the silence and the 'lie.' Perhaps these tactics were understood differently than we understand them and need to be further understood so we can see them as God does..."

"...Two-Thirds World people may use inaction, silence, misdirection and the indefinite third party as a means of handling conflict situations. to the Westerner such strategies may appear at times ethically questionalbe; but that may not necessarily be the case. we must understand what lying and deception are in that particular culture and weigh that against Scripture. The bible does not overtly condemn these indirect strategies; in several situations it seems to support their use."

"Bringing a cultural practice under the authority of Scripture is not Westerners' exclusive responsiblity. All of us are prone to interpret the Bible through our cultural lenses and to mingle our won cultural preferences with biblical teaching. Christians from various cultures would serve one another and the cause of biblical interpretation by joining in prayer and discussion on these matters." (pp. 129-130, 133)

Any thoughts on this? What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I am still thinking on this one. I'm not sure what to think!! :-) On the one hand, I don't want to be narrow minded and use my cultural understanding (albeit guided by the Holy Spirit) to read something into Scripture that ought not be there, but on the other hand, I don't want to discount the innerancy of Scripture based on a cultural lens. It is a tough one!


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