Posts tagged ethnocentric
A Series on Peter

No Favorites

We started this series with a vision of animals that Peter didn't quite understand. When the vision ends, Peter has a succession of rather uncomfortable situations. He first extends hospitality to Gentiles, and then starts traveling with them! Now in Acts 10:27, we find Peter standing in the middle of a room filled with Gentiles making clear how uncomfortable and unusual this experience is for him, "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile (Acts 10:28)." And yet, Peter recognizes that God has already revealed a portion of the vision to him, "But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean (Acts 10:28)."

So Peter is beginning to get it! But this sounds a lot like tempered tolerance, doesn't it? In the same sentence as declaring how wrong it is for him to hang out with these people, he is also stating that he shouldn't call them unclean or impure! It is tolerance from a distance, right? I promise not to call you unclean, but please don't challenge my practice of treating you like the unclean...   

But Cornelius is not dismayed.  He pushes forward by explaining that he was told to find Peter, and that all his family and friends are eagerly awaiting what God will say through Peter. Something about Cornelius's words strikes a cord within Peter. The first words out of Peters mouth are, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right." Perhaps it's Cornelius's obedience that moves Peter.  Or perhaps it's their courage to bring the Jews into their home. Or it could be that Peter recognizes the visitation that Cornelius describes. Whatever it is Peter is responding to, in this moment he moves beyond tolerance as he proclaims a paradigm shift, "God has no favorites." 

Suddenly all the dots connect. This is deeper than not calling the Gentiles unclean, this is about not believing the Gentiles are unclean. This is a revelation that Peter's cultural preferences suggest that God only loves one nation, when in fact God "accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right."

This is a common attribute of enthocentrism (I describe my own journey with being ethnocentric here), and truth be told, we all have to be careful not to equate our cultural preferences with God's cultural preferences! For surely He delights in the diversity with which we worship Him. While there is great value in analyzing our interpersonal ways of relating to one another, we can also use Peter's revelation to examine our church communities. If you were to look at the cultural practices of your church, would it suggest that God has favorites? Is there anyone who is being left out? Anyone considered unclean? Particularly the "nations" that are already in your congregation- gender, age, certain races, ethnicities or languages... Is there a population of people that God has invited you to fellowship with who is treated like the unclean or impure? 

Wouldn't it be amazing if our churches galvanized around the revelation that God indeed has no favorites! Imagine the creativity of our music and worship, the depth of our sermons, the voices we would value and all we would learn if only we moved beyond "gracing others with our presence" and instead truly believed that God accepts from every nation. What if we had the courage to challenge our own cultural preferences in order to express the depth and width of God's love for all? 


Hi, My Name Is Austin...

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well, it took me a long time to realize I had a problem. Not only was my ethnocentricity not a problem to me; I thought it was a wonderful way to define myself- as ethnocentric, proud of my heritage and comfortable in my skin. And I am. I love learning about African American history, about inventors and leaders and achievers. I love learning about my own African American history- where my family is from, the trials they endured, the successes they enjoyed, the stories they passed down from one generation to another. I'm in love with my heritage and all that my black body represents- struggle, strength, patience, hard-work, love. 

While all those things are good (and I have every intention of passing these stories on to my future children) when I was in college I had a significant revelation: I invested so much into my own culture that I had closed off any interest or opportunity to explore and understand the histories, cultures, and leaders of any other ethnic group. Though I never would have said it aloud, as I looked at my life, I realized that I was treating my culture as superior to anyone else's. I was only eating "my" soul food, listening to "my" gospel music, attending "my" black church, hanging out with "my" black friends (and the white ones who also loved "my" culture), I only dated black men, only hung posters with black folks represented and devoured books that exclusively discussed the importance of black leaders. My whole world revolved around being black. I was a Christian, and yet my world did not at all reflect the truth of God's love for every nation, tribe and tongue. If you looked at my life, you'd think God only loved black people and tolerated everyone else!

Now the whole truth is that I am still recovering. Sometimes I still get caught up in feeling the need to assert my culture when whiteness is normalized, retreating to the comfort of my culture, or racializing conversations. I don't think these are always bad things, but I have to be careful not to make blackness the center of my life. I have to be conscious about studying other cultures, other leaders, other issues in the world. I have to be purposeful about trying other foods, making new friends, investigating more and more and more. I have to follow through on promises I've made to myself, like learning to speak Spanish. I have to be disciplined until a multicultural life is completely normalized for me. I believe that is the life God has called me to; the closer I get, the more alive I feel. 

Hi, my name is Austin, and I am a recovering ethnocentrist.