By Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief
Over the past century, humans have learned to treat one another as equals. We ask forgiveness from groups of people whom we have treated as less than equal. European nations that had sought to exploit their colonization of Africa came to believe that Africa belongs to Africans and withdrew. They have now sought forgiveness for this entire unfortunate conquest.
Natural disasters, occurring all over the globe, have triggered a hardwired compassionate impulse in the brain to aid those in distress. We now know about these events as they are happening. We see the horror and feel the pain. We identify with the population trying to cope with tragic loss.
We seem more open at this stage of humanity’s development than ever in the past. Wherever man’s inhumanity occurs, we are much more disgusted, angry and moved to action than in the past. We suffer with places like Somalia and cringe at the thought of children dying from starvation. We empathize with them.
Now is the time for courageous action in revealing our Christian love. The accident of birth location should not be the determining factor of life and death.
Interestingly, however, birth place seems to be a determining factor in faith choices. This raises a genuine riddle for evangelicals seeking to carry out Christ’s “Great Commission” while dealing with people who have for generations developed values based on different belief systems.
The last words of Jesus recorded in each of the three synoptic gospels commissioned Jesus’ 11 apostles to undertake specific tasks. The directions in these gospels seem highly cognitive, with little warmth or feeling that could make the instructions spiritual; they seem more like orders and regulations. Basically, the apostles were directed to: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”
John, the fourth gospel writer, spoke none of this. Instead, he wrote of a spirtitual exchange between Peter and Jesus with Jesus repeating the same question three times to Peter. Peter, do you love me? Each time, Peter answered: Yes Lord, you know that I love you. Jesus replied each time urging him to feed and care for his sheep. Then, after hinting at the kind of martyred death that Peter risked, he said to Peter, Follow me—and he did. And so, Christ’s apostles were commissioned to go and make disciples, baptize them and teach them to obey. This they did at tremendous personal cost.
It was a very different world 2,000 years ago, but the problem of shifting belief systems of people from centuries’ old cultures have not changed.
What are these problems? A full answer would make a large book. But I’ll name them here.
1. It’s impossible to force anyone to change a personal belief system. It doesn’t work. It must be a free choice of the individual. Even then, some aspects of the prior belief system may remain.
2. We tend to equate the word “preach” to speech by one person to many listeners. Preaching to other belief systems must emphasize extensive non-verbal actions. One cannot teach “love” without “loving.” It happens in relationship.
3. We must recognize that trust and faith are the same word, and that trust is learned by watching a model.
4. Structural change is needed to alter command and control aspects to become more sensitive to cultural difference rather than reflecting the norms of one culture.
5. We must become far more knowledgeable of cultural differences and learn how to discover them in a sensitive manner.