I recently had a short but provocative twitter conversation with Ukumbwa Sauti, M.Ed. who is a professor of cultural media studies, and is trained in Indigenous African Spiritual Technologies in the Dagara tradition. The conversation centered on the perceived cultural imperialism of Christian Missions. This is by no means a new concept, and the tendency towards being colonial in Missions still exists. I would have to say the my North American brethren are far more prone to making little North Americans then Making Disciples of Jesus. In my work on the mission field in Ecuador, I have worked among the Shuara and Quichua Indians, and the Mestizos (the mixed indigenous). I have also worked in the midst of countless sub-cultures in the Cloud Forest Region and beyond. I have also worked among the Navajo people in the United States. I can honestly say that I have never, in my desire to bring Christ to these people have sought to simultaneously change their culture. One could argue that bringing Christ into a culture is to change its culture, and if that be the case, then I am guilty. A question which should follow logically then, is, can we bring Christ to a people, a culture, without contaminating that culture?
The Kingdom of God is a culture. If we bring the good news of that Kingdom into a culture that does not have it, will forever have an effect. Ukumbwa asked, “why does the christian missionary initiative seek to popularize/generalize its own creation story above others? It is an honest and poignant question which every missionary should ask themselves. As best as I could respond on twitter, I said, “because Christians believe that Christ commands them so. It is a necessary component of the Christian faith.”
He then asked me if the command to do so was a sufficient reason to “ negate other peoples’ creation stories and cultures?” It is never my intention to negate another’s story or culture, but I suppose by default that it does happen when bringing the culture of the Kingdom of God to others.
If coercion is preferred over persuasion, then Ukumbwa has some valid points, but simply introducing another story into a different culture does not negate their story. It offers a different set of propositions. Every narrative by nature of being a narrative contains propositions. What the receiving culture does with those propositions remains their choice. I wanted to invite my friends and Ukumbwa to engage this topic head on.
Is it possible to introduce Christ into a culture without changing that culture? Does a Christian need to be concerned about effectively changing a culture with a foreign message? Is contaminating a culture with the gospel a valid accusation?
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