As missionaries a large part of our training and ongoing conversation deals with whether or not we are being culturally appropriate. Sometimes this is an easy question, like when we get ready to go to a church service. In this culture there is a certain dress that is expected, especially for women. We can flout that required style, but then we lose our right to be heard (not our right to speak, but to be heard).
There are other times when being culturally appropriate is more difficult, like when you are invited to eat after church service, but you have a schedule to keep. This has been a difficult one these last few weeks since we have are in language school. We have to drive an hour and a half every Sunday night and be on time for dinner at language school, this is made more difficult since managing to leave church “on time” in a culture that centers around visiting and relationships is hard, if not impossible. Especially without being rude.
There are other times in which I am not sure that being culturally appropriate should overcome what we are here to do which is bear witness to the Kingdom of God coming to rest, more and more present on earth every day. There are times in which bearing witness to God’s Kingdom is not culturally appropriate…so what do we do?
I encountered one of those times this past Sunday. I preached on 1 John 4:19-21. It says, basically that God loves us so therefore we should love Him. It also says that to love Him who is unseen we must first show love to those around us that we can see. It is a good word from God! Kinda makes you want to say, “Word!” as if we were still in the 90s. Or was that 80s? It was said that the Good News of the Bible is not that we get to go to heaven, but that heaven is coming down to earth. However, for heaven to really show up on earth we have to learn how to love each other. So far so good right? Then the bomb dropped, I challenged everyone to find one way this week to show love to their family and to their neighbors. Still okay…until I suggested that for men to show love to their wives they should wash the dishes, or do the laundry, or take care of the kids for a day. You could have heard a pin drop, right before they all laughed out loud.
This was not a seditious message, but in all seriousness I probably just brought a little bit of the kingdom down to earth at the cost of my right to be heard. I crossed a big cultural line in order to try and show the kind of love that I feel like has continually gotten Christians in trouble over the years. Not the loving your wife part, but being willing to “lower” yourself in the eyes of your community in order to show love to someone else. Que footwashing Bible passage.
Somewhere in the world there is someone who can tell me if this was a good missionary move. They can weigh the pay off and tell me if I really picked the right time to throw my weight into a cultural battle that is currently taking place in Tanzania between the old customs and the new global world. For me though, there is never a time to pick the cultural over the gospel. Liz wears dresses to church because the respect she would lose outweighs the message she would be able to send of being a strong, independent women (especially since independence is not a Biblical message). However, I can’t help but push for women’s rights as being a kingdom value since the Bible says men are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, and I don’t think a free gift of grace equals slavery for the church as some people want to argue for women based on that same Bible passage.
I am sure some people are cheering on this message, but let me also ask you in closing. Are you willing to defy your culture in order to help others accept God’s Kingdom? Are you willing to give up your cultural values in order to take on the values of God’s kingdom? What are some kingdom of God values that your culture would find inappropriate?