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On the Corner

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by Robert Docter – 

Most of the world’s trouble spots today seem fired by a ferocious and rigid religious judgmentalism. Even with our strong adherence to a military metaphor, however, the Army tends to be seen in many of these troubled areas more as a non-threatening peacemaker than an advocate of an ideology.

This does not mean the Army is problem free as it seeks to project its presence on the world’s stage. A significant adversary of an international Salvation Army is ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrics tend to see their own ethnic heritage as superior to others, and, when relating to members of other ethnic groups, they tend to impose their cultural values and ways of working on that group.

Every race and culture in the world is represented somewhere in this Army. This brings both great complexity and the potential for strength to the organization. Because we are more than a church, we are not limited simply to Western considerations in the expression of our Christian love. The expression of that love within the social Gospel of Christ is applicable within any culture.

It seems to me, the Army’s goal is to present the claims of Christ in a manner and at a time which provide the best opportunity for rational consideration and possible acceptance. This means we are not culture-bound in communicating Christ. It doesn’t have to be said or done within the parameters of Christian expression as embraced by Western culture. We are open to use material within indigenous cultures to communicate our message. Like the Christian church of the first few centuries, which identified major events on the Christian calendars with pagan celebrations and holidays, we can draw from local background and experience to communicate the meaning of Christian principles.

Because we are oriented more to living Christian love rather than to simply preaching Christian rules, the behavior of officers and soldiers around the world can focus on building helping relationships rather than on projecting a posture of judgmental superiority. That behavior sends home the message of Christ more powerfully than any set of words.

The same thing can happen here in the United States. Because our nation is beginning to embrace more a philosophy of cultural pluralism as opposed to a melting pot philosophy, we have opportunities throughout the nation to examine the dimensions of our ethnocentrism. Sometimes our thought patterns inhibit our ability to reveal our Christian love. When these thoughts have any roots in judgmental superiority we communicate unlove. With this unlove we may reveal in our explicit language and our implicit interaction attitudes of judgmentalism which I believe are decidedly non-Christian. Often, we don’t mean to do this. We fail to realize, however, that we are responsible for our ignorance.

Let’s look at some words in common usage. Take the term culturally deprived–or culturally disadvantaged. It is impossible to view these terms as being any other than judgmental. It assumes that one person’s culture is less than an other’s. Even the term minority, frequently used to describe nonwhite populations, has problems. While the word’s historical roots technically refer to a sub-group of a population making up less than 50 percent of the total, the meaning has strayed considerably.

For instance, 80 percent of the population of South Africa is non-white, yet this group is referred to as a “minority.” The term is also used to describe the poor, those with varying sexual preferences, the aged, or those commonly described as “handicapped.” It’s difficult to understand the use of the term “minority” without also confronting the term “oppression.” Oppression is a state of being in which a person is deprived of some basic human rights and dignity and feels powerless to do anything about it. The history of the Christian church does not free it from some connection with this word

What we do is so much more important than what we say. Christian love is culture-free and grants to everyone equal worth and dignity. When it’s revealed, it’s contagious.

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