To read Acceptance, Part I, click here...
Trouble in the Church
Differences in the the various churches Rome and Corinth had the effect of making sides...fellow believers were either 'in' or they were 'out' (I Cor. 1:11-13). Paul labelled these differences as 'disputable matters', or gray areas that should not break fellowship (Romans 14:1)...we should not look down on anyone who believes a bit differently about these 'disputable matters'...and Paul goes on to point out that an accepting Christian should value others so highly that they would rather sacrifice a personal preference or even a right than risk losing the relationship or cause another to have a problem (I Cor. 8:13).
To Accept is to Bless
In the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, to bless someone was a way to communicate acceptance. In fact, the word 'blessing' means 'to highly value someone or something'. Blessing can be viewed in relationships in the following way...God blesses people, people bless each other, and people bless God. In a multicultural world, the church is called to 'bless the nations' by valuing persons and cultures in their uniqueness. God calls us to demonstrate to the world the high value and worth God has placed on each person...and not only each person, but also each family, ethnicity, tribe, tongue and nation.
Dignity: The Sacred Endowment
God created humans in his image...people bear God's image. God has shared something unique and of himself with every single person on the face of this earth...God desires that we see his face when we look into the face of another...no one is insignificant...no one is worthless...life has meaning and each of us has meaning and importance because God's own imprint is upon our humanity. Therefore, it is our responsibility to see others as God sees them...treat them as he would treat them...name them as he names them...either we treat them with the respect and dignity that God has given them or we profane God's image in that other person by treating them with less value...
Factors Limiting our Acceptance of Others
1) Language - in cross-cultural situations, language limits our ability to verbally communicate acceptance to others...and to make no effort to learn or use another's language is, in itself, a form of rejection. People don't separate themselves from the language they use because it is how we define ourselves and how we make meaning out of life...to not know my language equates not knowing me....for short-term missionaries, it is important to make an effort to learn some greetings and a farewell in order to communicate that they value others...
2) Impatience - impatience limits acceptance of others...we often like to see things happen more quickly than they do...and in many parts of the world, waiting is a nonissue and an integral part of life...meetings don't start 'on time', roads are bad, lines are long, traffic backed up...for a Westerner, all of the waiting can be very frustrating because it is not what we are accustomed to...it is important to find ways to deal with life's frustrations or these frustrations will affect our ability to value and celebrate people...the author points out that if impatience is a problem for you in your home culture, then you will definitely have your patience tested in a cross-cultural situation...he goes on to suggest a few ways to cope...without having strategies to cope with the frustrations, he points out that negative emotions will build and people will sense rejection from you, which can have the effect of damaging your ministry...
a) become a people watcher - it can be both intriguing and informational
-after observing people, try to name the values you see them living out
b) carry reading material
c) take Scripture memory cards with you
d) start a conversation with someone who does not appear to be too busy
e) do light aerobics or stretching exercises if possible
3) Ethnocentrism - defined as "the tendency of every person to believe that their own cultural values and traditions are superior to those of other cultures". Ethnocentrism can be an unconscious hindrance in communicating acceptance...and the more the other culture is different than mine, the more I am inclined to make unfavorable judgments. Ethnocentrism exists in every culture, but the author points out that perhaps Americans reveal their ethnocentrism more quickly and assertively because they are more direct and forthright with their thoughts and opinions...perhaps for this reason many people from other cultures perceive Americans to be arrogant and controlling...Americans are usually quick to identify a problem, offer a solution and then get on with fixing it...what is seen as virtues in the American culture can be perceived as aggressive and paternalistic in other, making them feel inferior, weak, defective or disrespected...as a result making the good we intend not be seen as 'good' and the blessing we try to give from acceptance not felt.
One of the typical American responses is to ask "Why didn't they tell us? They should say something if we aren't doing it right." Many times, people from other cultures are 'saying something' loudly and clearly for their culture...we Americans just can't hear them because of our cultural tradition of speaking more openly and directly. People from other cultures may use nonverbal communication or tell stories to communicate their attitude or opinion on a matter...it is important to learn how people from the local culture communicate so that you can gain insight into their culture and grow in sensitivity and understanding.
4) Category Width - we all have categories by which we organize the world, make decisions and avoid confusion...these categories help us distinguish between things, such as trucks and chipmunks, telephones and golf balls, people and light bulbs...we name everything around us and those names become the categories by which we think...a person with wider categories can accept a broader range of items in a category and a person with narrower categories would rather create a new category than expand an existing one.
In a cross-cultural situation, the person with wider categories might put more things in the "cultural differences" category wheras a person with more narrow categories might not be inclined to stretch the existing categories and instead put many of the differences into the 'wrong' category...the person with narrow categories has tighter definitions of 'right', 'wrong' and 'different'...this can cause a lot of conflict between missionaries themselves and between missionaries and nationals...
Both types of people have wonderful strengths...however, the author points out that people with more narrow categories has some tendencies that could hinder relationships because "they tend to be more ethnocentric, more reactionary and seek less information before forming judgments". People with wider categories tend to look for more information before making judgments and are more likely to put cultural differences into a 'neutral' category before placing it into the 'wrong' category...it is important, then, for some of us to use more caution before making a judgment just so that we can avoid acting or thinking in ways that would be unfair to local people.
5) Dogmatism - refers to "the degree of rigidity with which we hold our beliefs, our cultural traditions, our personal perferences"...the person that holds very firmly to their own beliefs and traditions tends to see differences as things that are wrong and inferior and that need to be corrected...such a person lacks "openness in communication because of rigid boundaries of belief or practice...in a culture." Some things require dogmatism, it's true, especially when we have confidence in the Bible...but we should not be dogmatic about all things...it is important to recognize that there is a subtle tendency in all of us to believe that all of my cultural traditions and beliefs are best and that can cause us to slide into judging others from the perspective of our own culture and our own personal and theological views...
Acceptance over Evaluation
The author points out that social research indicates that the most frequent response that Americans make to a situation is to evaluate what they just saw or heard as 'right' or 'wrong', 'good' or 'bad'...usually the standard for such a judgment is how similar or dissimilar it is to me and my beliefs...we often use ourselves as the norm by which to measure others...if they measure up, we can accept them, but if not, we try to change them (one form of rejection) or distance ourselves from them (another form of rejection).
It's a good idea to monitor our thoughts and words to see how often we use evaluative language with those around us...the author throws out a few examples: "I like or dislike; I approve or disapprove; I am drawn toward or shun; this is right or wrong; it's acceptable or unacceptable, cool or uncool, nice or mean, attractive or unfavorable." Rather than defaulting to evaluative thoughts and words, it is good to try to affirm, describe, inquire or express empathy instead...
The author uses a quote by anthropologists Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin Mayers speaking of the cross-cultural context: "One of the biggest problems...is that we often insist that others think and judge in the same way we do. We do not accept one another in love, but rather we try to remake those around us into our own image."
That inclination to remake others in our own image is called 'cultural cloning'...people end up looking more like us than like Christ...but the acceptance of people in their own cultural traditions helps us move from cultural cloning to discipling into the image of Christ...true servanthood means helping people look more like Christ, not more like us...