This past Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I had the opportunity to take part in our Teaching Peacemaking Cross-Culturally training (the next offering of this training will be at the Peacemaker Conference in Orland0).
As I was preparing for this training, I was struck by a paragraph in our homework book, Duane Elmer’s book Cross-Cultural Connections; not only does it have good application to us as we contemplate stepping out to teach peacemaking around the world, but also to our everyday lives in whatever community/body the Lord has placed us in:
For many years, Sidney Harris wrote a widely syndicated editorial column for the Chicago Tribune. Among his penetrating insights, I remember one in particular. He stated that “every book that is ever published, every article ever written and every speech delivered should have the subtitle ‘How to Be More Like Me.’” His point: We all believe that our way is the right way, our beliefs are correct and our culture is superior. So whenever I write or speak, the subtle message that transcends my words is: “You would be wise to change your ways to be more like me” (page 22).
As a complement to that insight, I really appreciated the constant emphasis in the course, from the students and the instructors, on being humble and prayerful. This is especially true now that I have spent several years traveling the world and sharing peacemaking with people from a variety of cultures. We win people’s hearts and leave room for the Holy Spirit to speak to them through Scripture when we humbly present what we see in God’s Word about conflict resolution and relationships, without presuming to have all the answers or to know precisely how it will work itself out in a particular culture. As was said several times in class, Scripture in Christ through the Holy Spirit trumps human culture and tradition.
Two of the big challenges that we face when teaching peacemaking cross-culturally are these comments:
- “This is wonderful; it’s clearly biblical and so easy to understand. We will take everything Peacemaker Ministries has experienced in the United States and apply it directly to our church in __________” ….. OR,
- “That might work for you, but that’s just not how we do things in ____________.”
The interesting thing about both of these comments is that neither is entirely true or helpful, but they do have glimmers of the truth.
In response to the first comment, we agree: we have made a very diligent effort to keep them rigorously biblical. HOWEVER, we recognize that almost everything was written from the perspective of people who live in the United States. There might be ways of responding to conflict biblically in the United States that are ineffective or even offensive in other parts of the world. To “gently restore” a brother or sister who is caught in sin can legitimately look differently — not only from culture to culture, but also in our own individual lives! I don’t want to sound relativistic here, but I do want to be realistic, that often teaching peacemaking cross-culturally requires a certain degree of cultural acumen and even educating your audience about culture before they’re able to really apply what Ken Sande teaches in their ___________ culture.
The second statement is also fraught with cultural assumptions, the most dangerous of which is that culture trumps Scripture. What’s so interesting about this objection is that people in other cultures are implying that peacemaking must somehow be part of our culture here in the United States; the truth, however, is that peacemaking is always counter-cultural. It’s challenging in different ways and for different reasons in different parts of the world; but because of our fallen condition, humbling ourselves, confessing our sin and forgiving others is always going to be contrary to human nature. The only answer to this objection is to recognize that Scripture must trump culture; there may be ways that we can nuance the application of Scripture in a particular culture, but we remain committed to helping people find ways to experience the power of the Gospel in their relationships … and that is a powerful reality wherever God is at work, regardless of the culture and traditions.
One of our big goals in our global work at PM is to walk beside people as they internalize and spread culturally appropriate applications of peacemaking. For the most part, we’re sitting in an office in Montana; a great place, but not exactly the heart of contextualization! This actually works to our advantage, though, as it compels us to our knees, and also to find ways to equip other people to work out this contextualization from within a culture, rather than trying to tell them how to do it from our outsider’s perspective. It’s a tremendous privilege and blessing to partner with people around the world in this way …. and oh man do we have some amazing partners!
Going back to Elmer’s quote from Sidney Harris, this past weekend was a great reminder to me — the message that I take around the world and encourage others to take cannot be, “You would be wise to change your ways to be more like me.” Rather, I pray that our message is, “Let’s be wise and learn together how to change our ways to be more like Christ.”