Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one’s ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one’s own.
This is one of the things I learned last Thursday when I sat in a friend’s Cultural Anthropology class at ATS. We talked how ethnocentrism must be avoided when we are working with people with a culture different from ours. We are being ethnocentric when we consider our cultural practices better, superior, or right, compared to a different practice another culture has. I am not referring to cultural dance or national costume, although yes we can also apply this here… But this awareness becomes very crucial when it comes to unwritten laws a culture has.
For example, a western culture would consider personal choice in who to marry as superior to the culture of arranged marriage in some Asian nations. But is it really better? If so, how come there is a higher rate of divorce in Western cultures? We always see other’s culture – especially those different from ours – through our cultural lenses. But the challenge for missionaries would be to humble themselves and consider, as he immerses in another’s culture, that his own might not exactly be superior because he was a product of acculturation and socialization just as much as these people, who probably think their culture is the one more superior to the foreigner’s.
Before I attended that Anthropology class, I had a meeting with P. Jerome and Tita Abel. Tita Abel shared how they would like to change the way the Boiler Room (Prayer Room) is designed, from its walls being filled with different areas or sectors in society to be prayed for, into a room whose walls will reflect different characters that God has. I believe they received this vision in Israel where they entered a prayer house where the atmosphere was so filled with worship and things that focused man’s prayer on the attributes of God rather than on the numerous concerns and supplications that we have, which is what our Boiler Room looks like right now. We will still have a prayer wall but it will be limited to one corner instead of all-encompassing. I am all for that change. I truly believe that that is one of the reason’s why we were given the harp-and-bowl model in the bible. It is our worship, our great image of God, which enables us to pray without ceasing. It is what fills our prayers with faith. It is what allows us to discern between soulish requests and spirit-filled intercession.
Going back to Ethnocentrism. It sounds simple but it is really very difficult to humble oneself especially if the other culture is soooo different from what we grew up in. But I remember our lecturer saying that no matter how different we are from Christians in another culture, there is always a common factor, and that is our faith and love for God.
As I write this, I am also reminded that heaven also has a different culture and it is the culture that we should all adapt. It is the Kingdom of God that we have been tasked to violently enforce here on earth. Against the culture of the Kingdom, all other cultures will be judged. We cannot afford to be ethnocentric! There is only one culture which we must esteem as superior than the rest, and that is heaven’s culture of love, humility, holiness and hunger. There is only ONE God. He alone deserves our worship. Inasmuch as our prayer room will soon be shifting from prayer-centric walls into a God-centric interior, I believe that as missionaries, we are tasked with to shift man’s ego-centrism into God-centrism. It’s not about us. All cultures are there to glorify God. And practices and norms (both ours and others’) must be held and checked against the Scripture. The word of God says that the whole earth is filled with the glory of the Lord. Our cultures must glorify God. Our prayers must glorify God.
If we want to be agents of change and transformation, we cannot afford to be self-centered. There is only ONE God. And it is HIS person, character and love that sets nations free. Selah.