Thursday, July 02, 2009

Ethnocentrism versus National Pride

4th of July is a big day for Americans. Not only is it a summertime holiday, it remains a day of pride for our country as we celebrate the birth of our nation. We remain proud of who we are as Americans and the things accomplished by this great nation we call home.

In my classes I spend a good amount of time on the subject on the curse of ethnocentrism in working with people of other cultures. Ethnocentrism is the attitude that one’s own culture is the best while looking down on other people in the process. The attitude that others are dirty, lazy, or stupid, has no place in the life of a Christian, yet it often creeps into our mind-set, especially during times of culture stress. Ethnocentrism has been around since the beginning of time and is a universal behavior with every people group I have worked with. I remind my students that, while it is okay to have national pride, when one begins to evaluate others by their own cultural standard, pride becomes destructive and counter-productive in sharing the Gospel.

In the late ‘70’s I was living in Kenya and being an American was not popular. We had just pulled out of Vietnam, Iran was in revolution, inflation was high, there were long lines for gasoline and we were in the grips of the Cold War. Our president at the time was on an apology tour reinforcing the feeling that everything American was evil and immoral. Thirty years later, history seems to be repeating itself. The question becomes, for me, is it possible to be proud of one’s country without being ethocentristic; can one humbly acknowledge our weaknesses without tearing down who we are as a people?

My favorite word, BALANCE, comes into play here. Recognize, first, that all cultures have their flaws. It’s as easy for me to look at what’s wrong with America as it is for me to see the imperfections of other cultures. Part of the work of Christ is that people and cultures be transformed into His image. It is not a matter of who is better but rather how the Gospel can make us better in our values, behavior and love for others. One does not need to go through a campaign or a forgiveness tour to acknowledge that indeed we, and all cultures, are sinners. I reject, however, the attitude that we can justify our miserable state by merely saying, “That’s just who we are, deal with it.” My culture, and the culture of those reading this post, must see our prison of disobedience through the eyes of our Creator. It’s indefensible to accept our moral failings, corporately as well as individually.

On the other hand, God, in His infinite wisdom, created cultures. It is through culture that He has used the best and worst of us to reveal Himself. Though I do not believe God favors America over other cultures, our history of faith, our Church, the core value that “all men are created equal,” has been used by God to reveal Himself to countless millions around the world. Without being ethnocentistic I can humbly be proud to be an American. That’s not a contradiction of terms…it is a balance approach that is always in tension, always something to work through.