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07-03-2021 — A Greater Understanding: Multicultural Christianity

On Saturday, July 3, an informative session titled “A Greater Understanding: Multicultural Christianity” was held. Darrel Lee opened the session with prayer, and then Catey Hinkle spoke about the purpose of the meeting. She said this would be the first of a three-part series, all with the goal of helping brothers and sisters in Christ to gain a greater understanding of each other’s experiences, so that they can better serve the Lord together.

The first two presenters of the session were Charles and Antonia Schleicher. Sister Antonia is the leader of the Apostolic Faith group in Bloomington, Indiana, and also a professor of Languages, Linguistics, and Culture, at Indiana University. Her husband, Brother Charles, is the pastor of the Madison, Wisconsin church, who has a PhD in Linguistics and works at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Sister Antonia began by explaining what culture is: “. . . that complex whole which includes knowledge belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (Taylor, 1920 [1871]:1). She brought out the importance of language and culture, since the same words can convey completely different messages in different cultures. As an example, she said the word “fat” is considered a positive descriptor in her native Yoruba culture, but she learned the hard way that "fat" is viewed as a negative in American culture! Sister Antonia also spoke about ethnicity, which refers to a group with a common ancestry who often share a common cultural and social experience as well. She pointed out that the concept of race is an unhelpful tool for learning because it is a social construct that has no connection to culture nor any biological significance. However, racism is unfortunately a reality.

Next, Brother Charles came forward to speak about the “Theology of Culture.” He used Acts 17:26 to remind the audience that all people of the world descended from Adam and Eve, and thus are biologically of the same human family. He also pointed out that the origin of cultural diversity can be found in the account of the fall of the Tower of Babel, when God changed people’s languages and caused them to separate into smaller groups, which developed into different ethnic groups and cultures. He used Romans 5:18-19 to show that the sin condition and its remedy are universal for all mankind, and then Galatians 3:26-28 to explain how people of all cultures can be united in Christ.

Sister Antonia presented the next segment, explaining that cultures share common fundamental values but often express them differently, and this can lead to cultural misunderstandings that are at times hurtful. She said that when a cultural conflict occurs, rather than assuming a negative motive, believers must find out why people do what they do. She also explained the importance of learning to distinguish between Biblical commands and cultural standards. She said holiness will unite believers even when culture does not, because holy people will tolerate other’s practices (as long as they do not violate Bible principles), will not be easily offended, and will forgive when an offense does occur. Brother Charles then spoke about the “Theology of Conflict Management,” using Matthew 18:15-17 to identify the clear steps prescribed in Scripture. In closing, Sister Antonia told the audience that “knowing is a form of caring.” She said the more we learn about another person’s cultural perspective, the better our fellowship will be, and we strive to learn about each other because we care.

Following the Schleichers' presentation, a segment titled “Mind the Metaphor” was presented by Mark Staller, the pastor of our church in Tehachapi, California. He has a PhD in Rhetoric and has been a professor for over thirty years, teaching courses such as “Intercultural Communications.” He said that illustrations, comparisons, and anecdotes are excellent teaching tools, but care must be exercised to make sure that they are appropriate for the audience. An illustration that goes over well with one group might actually be confusing or even offensive to another group. Brother Mark used fishing as an example, pointing out that the best fishermen will study the type of fish they want to catch, learning the best bait, time to go out, where to go, and so on. In a similar way, great teachers and preachers need to get to know their audiences to make sure their illustrations will be understood.

The final segment of the morning was a video sermon by Demetrius McElveen, a minister at our church in Washington, DC. He spoke about how many of Jesus’ teachings were countercultural in His era, such as loving our enemies and giving possessions to those who try to steal them. Brother Demetrius said that rather than following the practices of earthly parents, Jesus taught people to “be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45). He commented on how cultural conflict and fighting has existed throughout all of human history. However, he also pointed out that Cain and Abel had the same culture, ethnicity, race, and language—they seemed to have every reason to be able to live together peacefully, and yet Cain murdered Abel. Brother Demetrius said this indicates that murder, jealousy, and hatred do not result from externals, but from a condition of the heart. The sin condition affects people of all cultures, but through Christ anyone can be freed from the bondage of sin. He closed by saying that rather than focusing on the traditions of earthly ancestors, we ought to seek to pattern our lives after the ways of our Father which is in Heaven.

The session on Multicultural Christianity was truly informative and inspiring. We are already looking forward to the next “A Greater Understanding” session!

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