Ethnocentrism in Evangelicalism

This post is inspired by a Russell Moore NYTimes article and its critique on Dianna E. Anderson’s “Faith and Feminism” blog. While Ms. Anderson addresses a number of issues, I’m going to focus on Evangelicalism’s ethnocentrism(the belief that one’s own culture makes the most sense and/or is superior to other cultures).
One thing Ms. Anderson addresses is a tendency for “multiethnic” churches to assimilate POC into whiteness; in other words, turn them into white people with dark skin. Many whites fail to recognize cultural differences between them and POC, and they fancy their churches multiethnic even if only a few POC wander in and the church makes no room for cultural differences. One way to explain this is to say that white people are accustomed to eating cake and POC to eating pie. Neither food is wrong. So, what’s wrong with having pie? Why does it always have to be cake?
This ethnocentrism also exists on a global scale. When Evangelicals talk about USA and/or Western civilization being Christian it often is an act of asserting cultural identity, perhaps even superiority. This implies that Christianity is a Western religion and thus causes missionary work to appear as cultural imperialism, especially when Christians proclaim the superiority of American and/or Western culture. This is supported by pointing to the best aspects of the West and the worst aspects of other cultures (thus committing the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy and Confirmation Bias).
However, according to the Bible, it is not to be this way. It is written in Acts 10:34-35, “God is no Respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him.” In Acts 15 the Holy Spirit revealed to the church that Gentiles do not have to enter the Jewish cultural mold. Furthermore, Eph. 2:14-15 says, “He is our Peace, Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in His flesh the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of Twain one new man, so making peace.” Similar to how some people in the early church who insisted everyone must fit into a Jewish cultural mold, so today there are people who insist Christians must fit into the suburban, white, American, Western, 1950’s cultural mold; just as in those days cultural diversity was affirmed, so today it must be affirmed.
Another passage I’m going to look at is the Tower of Babel. Many view the confusion of languages as judgment; however, it is never referred to as such in Scripture. It is said that language and culture are closely linked; and it’s said that learning a new language is learning a new way of thinking. It says about Babel, “The whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” (Gen. 11:1). That is, one culture, one way of looking at the world. By developing multiple languages God essentially broke the uniformity, so that people will all be looking at things from different perspectives, like the different facets of a diamond. When Jesus began His ministry He said, “No prophet is accepted in his own country”(Luke 4:24), meaning no nation, tribe, ethnic group, etc can solve its problems alone — we need outside voices.(This insight is borrowed from the late Fr. Joseph Donders.)
We must also realize MLK’s words: ” An individual has not begun to truly live until he rises above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” It’s become cliché to denounce selfishness and narcissism(and a popular slam against Millenials), but this almost always refers solely to individual narcissism. Erich Fromm mentions group narcissism, observing that while there can be social checks against individual narcissism there are almost never checks against group narcissism. In fact, going against group narcissism is likely to attract accusations of selfishness, as “it’s not about you” often means “it’s about our group”. This needs to stop! First of all, we need to recognize it is written, ” God so loved the world”(John 3:16). Second we need to, like St. Paul, adapt our message to a variety of cultures, as Jesus said, to not sew an unshrunk cloth onto an old garment(Mt 9:16). Third(and a bit controversially) we need to recognize that offense is the price of diversity (an insight from Irshad Manji). We can(and should) critique injustices in other cultures, but we should NOT be blind to those in our own! We need to stop attacking those who critique injustices in our own culture, to stop telling them to critique other societies instead and accusing them of treason. We need to transcend the Outgroup Homogeneity Effect, to recognize that even as not everyone in our own group is alike, so not everyone in other groups is alike. We can support the reformers in these communities. We also need to fight ALONGSIDE(not for) those who have been historically marginalized, to expand the table to give them a place. We need to be willing to offend ourselves, for that is the route to having both empathy and principles; in other words, to speaking the truth in love. I close with the words of 1 Cor. 12:4-6, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. There are diversities of operations, but the same God Who worketh all in all.”


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Christian, freethinker, believer, skeptic, seeker.

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