America-centric

April 25, 2013 

I think many of us have a condition. In fact, I know we have it, it’s just that we are not aware of it. Don’t worry; it doesn’t require medical treatment. But it is a condition that damages sight, or I should say, affects the way we see the world. Ill call this condition being American-centric. Over the past several years, I have become more aware of this condition, my inclination to see the world only through American culture.

However, as Christ-followers, I believe we need to counteract this predisposition to see the world only from our culture. Ethnocentrism is actually very common. It’s the tendency to see and judge the world, other cultures, and people through the lens of our own culture. For most people it does not turn into prejudice or racism. But in subtle ways, it causes us to evaluate the world based on what we have seen in our own culture. We all have a picture in our minds of what the world should look like. So we have pre-conceived perceptions that comes out in our thoughts, words and actions.

The problem comes when we try to project our cultural views on others. It may be judging others that don’t look like us. Sometimes, even with good intention, we walk into a situation and immediately think the “outsiders” should be more like us. We think they need our knowledge, our stature, our material possessions, or maybe our spiritual maturity. Its dangerous because in doing so, we are making values statements based on what we have grown up valuing, and not considering what may be different or appropriate in another culture. We are assuming that our way of life is the best.

For example, if we see someone with different clothes, we may think they are “less fortunate”. Or if we see a family without a TV, we think they are “primitive”. Or we talk to someone who speaks another language or has an accent and we think they are “less educated”. If we see people living in huts, walking around with hand made clothes our first reaction is often “if only they had what I do”.

Here is another example. Americans value timeliness. On the other hand, Africans value relationships much higher than we do. Let me interject that neither one nor the other is inherently right or wrong. It’s just that they are different. But when the two values are competing it can be difficult to navigate.  If we are at someone’s house and have a meeting after, we will be prompt to leave the house and make the meeting. But in Africa, it would be rude not to sit down, have a drink with the family and not leave until you have spent enough time together, even if there is a pending meeting. Do you see the difference in values?

When it comes to ministry and sharing the Gospel, especially internationally, we have to learn to leave out our cultural bias. When we push our culture onto others, we are burdening the Gospel and weighing it down with excess. Lets keep it simple. Paul said in I Corinthians, “when I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom but on Gods power”. Therefore lets not dilute and coat His message with our cultural bias.

In my next few blogs, I will address how we can counteract American-Centric behavior.

What do you think?