Missiology: Urban Mission Part 8 – Addressing Cultural Heterogeneity

Over the next few days I will be posting some thoughts on an issue facing the future of the church, namely the explosion of urban populations. I will start by taking a look at some of the issues brought up by the urban explosion, and I will conclude by reflecting upon how the Gospel addresses these issues.

Today we will look look at how the Church might begin to address issues brought about by cultural heterogeneity.

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V-Mission Action: Confronting Poverty and Cultural Heterogeneity

           B-Cultural Heterogeneity

            Earlier we noted that cities are a place of diversity, and that this diversity often has two results: 1) “super-tribalization” and/or 2) conflict between different groups. The church must address cultural diversity and bring healing between different groups so that diversity will not result in super-tribalization or conflict.

How will the church bring healing so that conflict may be avoided? First we must recognize that cultural conflicts (whether that be conflict between people of different ethnicities, cultures, religions, or socio economic standings) are usually rooted in injustice.[1] Thus the church must work to correct power imbalances that are based on differences in culture. Cultural conflicts are also based on a lack of knowledge. It is hard to hate someone when they are your friend. When people harbor hateful feelings toward any cultural group, it is usually because they do not truly know someone from that cultural group. In other words their knowledge of the other group is limited to stereotypes. “Social stereotypes are often used in media and we learn many of our stereotypes from the media.”[2] Breaking down stereotypes will involve creating opportunities for exposure to different cultures. By creating these opportunities and teaching on what God has to say about cultures and conflict, churches in urban settings will begin to break down conflict between these groups.

The church must also discourage super-tribalization, especially in churches. How will the church accomplish this? First, the church must play its prophetic role in pointing out the incorrect notion that there is such a thing as a normative culture. This will be especially important in American urban settings. The American church must dispel the notion that Western culture is the “standard” culture, and that all cultures within the United States should try to assimilate themselves into mainstream “American” culture[3]. The church must come to understand and teach that diversity rooted in unity under God was God’s intention all along.[4] If we as a church truly understand and believe these ideas, we cannot help but work on deconstructing super-tribalization and constructing authentic diversity within the Church.

Second, the church must work towards creating multi-cultural churches; “whenever possible churches should pursue cultural boundary crossing with neighbors and intercultural life within their congregations.”[5] Naturally there will be issues when one is trying to form a multi-cultural church. Many of these issues will be based on conflicting expectations and diversity in practice and method. The first step in overcoming these hurdles will be stepping back and recognizing one’s own cultural assumptions. Our expectations are culturally based, thus by stepping back and recognizing our own cultural assumptions, we will be in a better position to address these conflicting expectations. Also by naming our cultural assumptions, we will realize that our practices and methods are not normative. If we realize that they our methods and practices are not normative we will be able to let go of them when necessary.

In addressing both conflict and super-tribalization, the church must be a light to the world. It must show the world that the church is a “new humanity created by Christ-not broken humanity cowed and fractured by racism or division or castes.”[6] We must strive embrace the diversity we find in cities, while simultaneously rooting our diversity in our union with Christ. We must remember Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28-29, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you are one in Christ Jesus.”


[1] Stassen and Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 390.

[2] William B. Gudykunst, Bridging Differences: Effective Intergroup Communication, (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publication, 2004), 118.

[3] Jehu J. Hanciles, Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration, and the Transformation of the West (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2008), 235.

[4] Arthur Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 52.

[5] Branson and Martinez, Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities, 89.

[6] Conn and Ortiz, Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God, 317.

 

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