Archive for the ‘cultural sensitivity’ Category

What Would a Cultural Relativist Do?

September 10, 2009

When Wesleyan missionaries arrived in Fiji in 1835 they found a society “in which infanticide, human sacrifice and cannibalism were endemic”…in 1868 out of a population of 120,000 almost 106,000 were reported to be in regular attendance at public worship.

Brain Stanley, Bible and the Flag, Apollos, 1990, p.112

Presumably this ‘cultural imperialism’ was a terrible thing and the natives should have been left to engage in their ‘infanticide, human sacrifice and cannibalism’

What Would a Cultural Relativist Do? Time to make a few WWCRD bracelets?

(it is an illusion) that indigenous cultures prior to the missionary impact were in a condition of static perfection. This mythical view is itself a peculiarly arrogant form of cultural imperialism, founded on the notion that non-Western societies knew nothing of change or innovation until brought into contact with the modernizing West. On the contrary, almost all cultures exist in a state of perpetual flux, and represent an amalgam of diverse and often contradictory influences. The choice confronting  indigenous cultures has not ben between change and no change, but between a number of possible directions of change, som evidently more beneficial than others.

ibid., pp.170-171

The Gospel preserves indigenous culture

September 10, 2009

When we take the measure of Christian missionary involvement in translation work, we discover a new frontier of the modern world. More than 1,800 languages have been employed in translating the Scriptures. In many significant cases, these languages received their first breath of life from Christian interest. This is true whether we are speaking of Calvin and the birth of modern French, Luther and German, Tyndale and English, Robert de Nobili or William Carey and the Indian vernaculars, Miles Brunson and Assamese, Johannes Christaller and Akan in Ghana, Moffat and Sichuana in Botswana, Ajayi Crowther and Yoruba in Nigeria, and Krapf and Swahili in East Africa, to take a random list from many examples. A glance at the world map shows that the spread of Christian renewal overlaps significantly with the development of the vernacular. There is scarcely a language or culture of any significance that does not have some portion of Christian materials available in translation.

It is important to spell out what is the particular, specific Christian understanding of culture in the context of other world religions. It is clear that in their different ways Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism have a different status for culture, or at any rate regard the culture of origin as the universal paradigm. In so far as Buddhism conceives an ultimate reality which transcends human words, culture is of transitory value. For Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism, the founding culture becomes itself the sacral mode of encountering ultimate reality. Consequently, Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit have become inseparable from the truth as seen by adherents of these religions. It follows from this that translating scriptures for canonical purposes in these religions is considered invalid, for the tones and sounds cannot be reproduced in other languages. Of these three religions, only Islam has emerged as a major missionary religion, with converts spread across innumerable cultural frontiers. It is, therefore, right to compare Christianity with Islam on this issue of translation. One fact is clear, namely, that the missionary success of Islam has never been fueled, or followed, by the translation of the sacred Qur’an for the purposes of salat, the prescribed five daily prayers. Since approximately 75% of the world’s 850 million Muslims are non-Arabic speaking, this implies a major downgrading of the mother tongues of these Muslims in the decisive acts of faith and devotion. For these non-Arab Muslims, Arabic is also the exclusive mode of religious orthodoxy.

Lamin Sanneh source

Not ‘My country right or wrong’

September 10, 2009

Hudson Taylor opposed British action in 1856 over the ship ‘Arrow’ and the British attack on Guangzhou.

Roger Steer, Hudson Taylor, p.128

The gospel is the rule that evaluates all cultures and societies – including one’s own. Relativism claims that all cultures are equal and Nationalism (nearly) claims one’s own culture is superior to others and is the judge of others. The gospel is the criterion that avoids both these errors.

Make known the ways of God not the white man

September 10, 2009

The customs of the colonised people, their traditions, their myths—above all, their myths—are the very sign of that poverty of spirit and of their constitutional depravity. That is why we must put the DDT which destroys parasites, the bearers of disease, on the same level as the Christian religion which wages war on embryonic heresies and instincts, and on evil as yet unborn. The recession of yellow fever and the advance of evangelisation form part of the same balance-sheet. But the triumphant communiqués from the missions are in fact a source of information concerning the implantation of foreign influences in the ore of the colonised people. I speak of the Christian religion, and no one need be astonished. The Church in the colonies is the white people’s Church, the foreigner’s Church. She does not call the native to God’s ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master, of the oppressor. And as we know, in this matter many are called but few chosen.

FRANTZ FANON, The Wretched of the Earth

Whilst this charge could be levelled in fairness at some missionaries, Fanon surely cannot be speaking of the likes of Hudson Taylor.

The missionary should heed Fanon’s warning, not to stay at home – for the native ‘myths’ he speaks of condemn men to eternal hell –  but to make known the ways of God and not ‘the white man, of the master’.

Mission – How not to

August 4, 2009

In 1513 Martin de Encisco read a short history of the world, the coming of Christ and the institution of the papacy, often in Latin, to South American Indians! If the Indians did not convert to Christianity, their lands were seized as they were seen to be wilful idolators.

Gavin D’Costa, Theology and Religious Pluralism

Colonialism and Mission

August 4, 2009

Onward Christian Soldiers! On to heathen lands! Prayer-books in your pockets! Rifles in your hands! Take the glorious tidings Where trade can be won Spread the peaceful gospel – With a Maxim gun.

(The 19th-century Liberal MP and radical journalist Henry Labouchere wrote this parody of the traditional triumphalist hymn.)”

Christians must distance themselves and the gospel from the claims of worldy empires – whether then or now.

Missions and Culture

August 3, 2009

There was a saying in China: ‘One more Christian, one less Chinese!’ as if the two were incompatible. The foreign nature of missions, especially prior to Hudson Taylor or George Stott was contributory to this.