Immigration, culture, and Christ
Should Christians value ‘cultural purity’?
Published: 3 March 2012 (GMT+10)
How should the Christian view ‘cultural purity’?
Susan J., U.K, wrote in response to the article, Is Christianity for ‘whites only’?:
Excellent article; but why did God create nations to separate us? Also, in the UK, we have many immigrants. This is changing our culture through intermarrying and many indigenous people leave certain areas or emigrate; immigrants then move in. This country is in very great danger I’m afraid; we are a hated nation now.
Dr Carl Wieland replies:
Dear Mrs. J./ Dear Susan,
Many thanks for your comments and your query about this article. Actually, there is a very recent book from CMI which directly deals with these sort of issues (or at least the principles behind them, using many different countries and situations as examples). For example, it deals squarely with that formation of nations in the Acts 17:26 passage (which I think is relevant to your ‘creating nations’ query). But it does so in the context of the history and background of apartheid in southern Africa, in which that issue was raised by many Christian Afrikaners.
The book is called One Human Family: The Bible, science, race and culture. The very things you raise, culture and lack of immigrant assimilation and so on, were issues that for me were important to incorporate in any book on the subject. (Plus much, much more.) I firmly reject ‘political correctness’ in the process, including ‘Christianized’ versions of it.
I honestly think you will be fascinated by its fresh approach. OK, I’m biased cos’ I wrote it . But seriously, we are seeing incredible responses from it. In fact, I am absolutely convinced from what you write that it will go directly to your queries, and that you will find it both “fascinating and compelling” (to quote Philip Bell, CMI-UK CEO, who is highly averse to hyperbole or marketing spin). So sure, in fact, that if after reading it, you think I have overstated the case, I will personally fund from here the equivalent amount of value in any other resources from our website, sent to you postfree.
I would also be most grateful if you could let me know, too, in due course, your reactions when finished. I will of course be very glad to respond to any followup questions you may have after that.
Kind regards in Christ,
Flickr: Patrick George
Lita Cosner, the other author of the article, replies further:
I see Dr Wieland has already responded, but I thought I’d chime in with a few thoughts as well.
It was definitely part of God’s plan that humans should spread to populate the entire earth, and Babel was a judgment on the early post-Flood civilization’s refusal to do so. For a long time, language and geography were barriers between cultures, and in a time when people were not often exposed to different customs, etc, cosmetic differences in traditions and dress made people of other cultures seem much more alien than they do today.
A lot of people in the US have similar worries about immigration as those you’ve stated about the UK. But cultures have always absorbed influences from outside. For instance, in your own country, the Romans conquered the Celtic peoples nearly 2,000 years ago—Germanic and French people also made their mark on your culture and language. As the British Empire spread, tea came from India and China, just to name one substantial influence on English culture. And the museums in England are famous partly for acquiring and preserving the treasures of other cultures which might otherwise have been lost or ruined.
One short paragraph cannot come close to covering the rich variety of influences that have made English culture what it is today—my few examples will undoubtedly be very simplistic. I could say the same sort of thing about America—we have a combination of English, German, French, and Spanish which primarily makes up what one thinks of as the prototypical ‘American’ culture. Many are threatened by the influx of Middle Eastern immigration to the United States. But I think as Christians, we have to approach the issue of culture in a slightly different way.
As Christians, we should primarily ask “Is this aspect of this culture something that glorifies Christ, denies Christ, or is it something that is neutral?” Christianity itself came out of the Middle East, and Palestinian Christians have some wonderful cultural expressions of their faith. Of course, the Muslim religion is anti-Christian, and in political climates where Christians have a say in such things, we can speak out against politically correct silence about the human rights abuses, etc, of Islam. Other things, such as types of food or clothing styles, are morally neutral and can be good or bad depending on the context.
If we are dedicated to simply preserving a ‘pure culture’ (without recognizing that almost without exception, different Western cultures are ‘mongrels’ that have a multitude of different influences), we will inevitably begin to view the people within other cultures as undesirable. We should rather desire a Christian culture, and view the contributions of various geographical regions as healthy diversity as long as it glorifies Christ.
It’s interesting that you note that the UK is becoming a hated nation—many in the US feel that about our country, as well. However, whenever I’ve travelled overseas, I’ve found that, regardless of what foreigners may feel about America as a nation, they don’t hate individual Americans indiscriminately. Both the UK and the US are still desirable countries for immigration1, which shows that people can’t hate us too much.
- One Human Family goes into the background detail about why certain countries are where even their most ardent critics would want to raise their children. Return to text.
The natural outcome of multiculturalism is the homogenization of a people. Does anyone think that the wonderful variety of people groups and their cultures are not something to value and preserve? If we have a policy of unbridled mixing of peoples, it is inevitable that many identifiable people-groups will vanish. This may be a secondary consideration in God's grand scheme, since all these different ways of life will disappear when Christ comes, but is this wonderful variety of skin colour, language and culture we have today not something worth preserving?
I don't think that the diversity of cultures is always so self-evidently a good thing. Some diversity is evil, like religious diversity where some people worship Jesus, some people worship Allah, etc—the Bible teaches that in the perfect New Heavens and Earth there won't be any religious pluralism—everyone will worship Jesus. Along the same lines, cultural practices like slavery, foot-binding, honor killings, and so on (there are many cultural practices so gruesome that we couldn't print them on a family friendly website!) are examples of 'bad diversity'
There is some diversity that is good and much of it just shows how artistic and creative human beings were created to be. Musical styles, architecture, cuisine, literature, and so on are examples of that. I would argue that the diversity among individual humans would ensure that this sort of diversity persists.
As far as whether diversity of people groups should persist, I think that diversity in and of itself isn't something to be attacked or preserved over and above the well-being and desires of the people in those cultures.
For more discussion of these sorts of topics, I recommend One Human Family.
May I respectfully suggest that your response to Susan’s question is one-sided? For example you mention tea coming from India and China, and other things such as food or clothing styles that are morally neutral, and so on. This is not the problem that Susan (and I) is concerned about. The very real issue is the importation of potentially harmful cultures and false gods into our homes.
Our Lord Jesus Christ commanded all believers to go and make disciples of all nations. Christians are also commanded: If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching [the gospel of Jesus Christ], do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.
I personally believe the principle behind this commandment, would equally apply to our villages, towns, cities and even our nations.
Basil Bryan (Hobart).
Thanks for writing in with these comments. As I noted in the article, the primary question the Christian should ask about something coming from another culture is “Does this glorify Christ, deny Christ, or is this morally neutral?” Surely this consideration would rule out bringing harmful things or false gods into practice in the name of cultural pluralism.
Yes, we are commanded to go make disciples of all nations, but we aren’t commanded to homogenize the culture. And I fully support John’s command to ‘the chosen lady and her children’, but I think it’s very important to understand its context, so that we can obey the spirit of the command today. John’s epistles are written at a time when false teachers are going around teaching that Jesus wasn’t really human, that he only appeared to be a flesh-and-blood person—in reality He was all spirit, they said. Their heresy would turn into full-blown Gnosticism in a few generations, but it’s not quite there yet. To add insult to injury, they were using John’s own statements in his Gospel to support this heresy. So John writes to combat the heresy.
Some (including myself) think that “the chosen lady” John is addressing is the church in that city, and “her children” are its members. Others think that it is an actual lady, perhaps a patroness of the church, and her literal children. If it is the former, John is commanding the church not to receive these heretics, don’t give them food, money, or lodging, and don’t let them address the congregation with their errors. If it is the latter, John is commanding the lady not to give patronage to any of the false teachers or to extend hospitality.
The principle behind this command applies specifically to Christians giving aid and comfort to heretics. The modern-day application might be more along the lines of an evangelical refusing to share the stage with, for example, a Unitarian, or a church refusing to have such a person as a guest speaker. It doesn’t forbid having an unbeliever over for dinner (which could surely be a good door to evangelism).
But what it doesn’t refer to at all is shunning people from other cultures.
Human beings, in personality and cultural expression, all retain some element of our being made in the image of God. All human beings are also fallen and sinful. All human beings--because God made them this way--have a wide variety of personality types. (Even in our redeemed state, God gives different believers different spiritual gifts.)(We also know that God loves variety because of the many land-water-air varieties on various (bird, reptile, mammal, etc.) themes of lifeforms that God created.)
Cultures are the summative expressionns of the cultural/personality components of the individuals in the societies having those cultures. As a result, all cultures: (1) retain some element of our being made in the image of God, (2) have contamination fromm the fall, and (3) have many components that are neither better nor worse, just different.
With respect to the first two aspects (having lived away from my home culture for many years), I have found it helpful to ask, "With respect to my biblically generated moral grid, where does my host culture do better than my home culture?" and "Where do they do worse?"
Being motivated by the love of Christ--who took the initiative to seek and save the lost--we are eager to share the Good News with any immmigrants (from any culture) who come to us.
We don't know that the monolingual people prior to the Flood had diversified into different societies and cultures. It is possible (in light of God's love of variety--including in human personalities and giftedness).
We do know that the culture-generating mechanism post-Babel was a lesser-of-two-evils judmement that blocked the development of a one-world-government very hostile both to God and to true believers (John Piper). Yet God can and does bring beauty out of ashes, even through this less than perfect mechanism for culture diversification. It might be, as someone has suggested, that the treasures of the nations brought into the New Jersusalem may be the best expressions of various human cultures.