Mark Lau Branson's Class Blog

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Churches, Cultures & Leadership – Pt II

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on May 5, 2011

The resources of cultural anthropology are helpful for those who want to increase their understanding of diverse cultures. We are all shaped by our social environments: the heritage of cultures, their approaches to identity and relationships and work, the diverse worldviews, and even how we perceive and think. When you consider a couple of these factors, what are you aware of concerning your own cultural formation in comparison with others whom you know?


30 Responses to “Churches, Cultures & Leadership – Pt II”

  1. Ciprian Boitor said

    As I reflected on the process of becoming aware of the differences in culture and experiences, there were several things that stuck out to me. I am very reluctant to face the fact that true change and dynamic community cannot gain depth without hard work. I have lived under the illusion that I can apply certain techniques to my work and that these will be effective in changing ministry. I am coming to recognize that this view is naïve and that I need to replace it with a more intentional pursuit of depth of community. This pursuit is complex but highly meaningful and scary. I know that my cultural formation has been shaped by the interplay between my Romanian and American backgrounds. I have identified with the European-American demographic and have not experienced much racism directed toward me even though I am a first generation immigrant. It is strange and unfair that people who have grown up in the U.S. for generations continue to experience racism directed towards them. I was able to reflect on the reading regarding the difficulties that people face due to systematic injustice. For every “success” story there are plenty of people who are intelligent and willing to work hard but don’t have the opportunities to move forward in life. It reminds of the stories I read in Takaki about the various immigrants that worked very hard and still encountered great difficulties.

    • Mark Lau Branson said

      Jason – Can you identify particular cultural traits from your Romanian heritage that seem to differ from “mainstream America?”Have you experienced any “jarring” differences of expectations – especially since many people would expect you to be “like us” because they don’t know you are an immigrant?

      • Ciprian Boitor said

        One jarring experience is that people have often mis-pronounced my name, but I have never been called Jason before 🙂 Just kidding. But it actually brings up a good point. It is the people that meet me for the first time that reflect on the difference in culture because they usually always ask about my name and where it comes from. People usually try to find common ground by saying that they know a Romanain friend or that they have been to Romania on a mission trip. Often they will talk about Ceaucescu or Nadia Comanici which are the two topics that Romania is best known for. Over the years I have found out more about my parents history and their experience of Romania and I have been able to share that with people in such conversations. For example, many of my friends have parent’s who crossed the border illegally to escape from Romania. My dad left Romania and ran the danger of getting shot, deported or imprisoned. It took two years for he and my mom to be reunited in the United States. I am able to share this stories and others from converations that I have had with my parents. As far as jarring differences, I think the biggest one has been a focus on frugality, hard work, and not engaging with the culture. My family very rarely went out to eat. My mom would always make food and make our lunches for school. We did not go to the movie theater until i was in junior high. My parents were careful to not buy on credit. My parents have never owned a new car, not because they couldn’t have afforded it with credt, but because they didn’t want to buy into the American culture of spending beyond one’s means. My parent’s decided to spend their moeny on vacations as a family instead of new cars. We went to Romania several times, Israel once and took many local trips. I think my mom worked hard to fight against some of the cultural norms.

    • I love when you say that you “need to replace it with a more intentional pursuit of depth of community.” I find this very true in my ministry. I truly believe that as a leader, being intentional is crucial to the success of ministry. I see very often ministries that have no idea what their purpose is and I am by no means saying they are having no impact, but I am saying that without intentionality you will not have as big of an impact. Ministries that have a very clear vision on what they are trying to accomplish, seem to be more effective of reaching more people all while still reaching the goal that was set out to accomplish.

      Since returning to the church I am currently at, overseeing student ministries, I have been very intentional on leading a team to cultivate a culture of ethnic diversity. An yes, we have seen the successes of being intentional, but just as you said, it is “highly meaningful and scary.” Highly meaningful when you begin to see your goals accomplished of allowing these students to see that even though their skin color might be different, they are still loved the same in the eyes of their Creator and they can worship Him together. Scary in the sense of that it is new territory. I had to take a ministry that was only white kids into a ministry that is longer “just white.”

      With all of this being said, what are your thoughts in the journey of being intentional? Have you found this “depth” you are looking for? I would love to hear a little bit more of where you currently help out in ministry and if you are seeing this “depth.”

  2. Jason Tom said

    As I reflected on my own cultural formation the first thing that comes to mind is the dynamic embodying both Asian and American values. As a third generation Chinese-American I have been formed at varying levels by different aspects of society. I have been taught both implicitly and explicitly to understand my identity as a part of community. As such, I was always taught to care for the whole over myself and that all of my actions were representative of the whole (often either my family and ethnicity). I was always taught to understand who I was as being a member of these two larger networks. In the same way, and a similar story was mentioned in the reading, of familial loyalty and closeness. In my own development into adulthood both my sisters and myself were expected to go to college as close to home as possible and to move back to the area after we graduated. I was taught to have a strong sense of family loyalty and duty and were expected to submit what I wanted to do with what my parents wanted for me. This became especially salient in comparison to those around me. I have been attending a historically Euro-American church which has become increasingly Asian-American in the time I’ve been there. With many of my friends of Euro-American backgrounds, part of their expectations of identity as adults was to become independent and self-reliant after college. This was starkly different from the experience of myself and many other Asian-Americans. In the same vein of concern for the whole, there was also an emphasis on peace and harmony in group dynamics. Because concern for the whole was placed upon concern for self, individual differences and issues were discouraged in fear that it would disrupt group cohesion. While one can clearly argue that this may not in fact be true cohesion and closeness if problems are ignored rather than addressed, there is something deeply communal to be affirmed about the values underlying it of trying to maintain group harmony even if there are issues with the means of doing so.

    Additionally, as my parents came from immigrant families there was an underlying narrative of survival and sacrifice for the family in the midst of economic uncertainty. This, in tandem with the idea of American individualism and the ability of one to work hard and “pull oneself up by their own bootstraps” has created a dynamic that’s both Asian and American in terms of the expectation to succeed academically and with career.

    • Justin Beck said

      Jason thanks for sharing your story about your experience as an Asian-American. I was struck by the tension you have lived in with placing the whole ahead of the self. The American culture seems to be teaching us the opposite, that we should take care of our needs and then we can try to take care of the communal needs. I have been heavily influenced by this individualistic mindset, but have been slowly working my way towards a more balanced life. I believe that the community comes before the individual, but I do not believe we need to sacrifice our uniqueness in order to be apart of the community. I know you are not saying this, but I think we can lean heavily upon the communal side of things or heavily upon the individual side, but I am suggesting that we should have a balance between the two.

      The community and context we are apart of often shapes who we are as individuals. Therefore, each individual within the community has a unique place and each person should be celebrated for the gifts they bring to the community. However, we as a community need to be careful not to place one individual over another, there needs to be a sense of equality in communal dynamics. My hope would be that each person within a community has a voice and feels empowered to share their opinion and use their gifts for the greater good of the community. I am not sure how we can foster this type of community, but I do believe that we need to have a balanced community where both the group and individual are recognized.

    • Ian B. said

      What an interesting post! It is amazing how starkly different your experience was from much of white American society. While I don’t think most of us in the United States will deny the importance of family identity, I think we tend to see independence from our family as an important step in adult development. Most Euro-Americans seem to consider it a badge of shame to move back in with the parents after finishing college. Your Chinese-American perspective was very interesting in light of this trend.

      I think it is important at some point to acknowledge what aspects we can share from our diverse cultural perspectives. Maybe I read this wrong, but I think you are saying that the immigrant mentality fits nicely with individualism and the supposed American work ethic. It was interesting to see diversity and similarity reflected in the post.

  3. Justin Beck said

    The concept of our worldviews being shaped by multiple layers of geographic location, economics, politics, and religion as presented by Branson resonates with me. I often spend time trying to understand other cultures, but I neglect understanding my own worldview. However, Branson and Martinez have challenged me to think about my own culture and worldview in order that I might better relate to those of different cultural backgrounds. I would agree that it is important to understand ourselves before we can relate to other worldviews.
    My worldview has been shaped by the context I was raised in. I was born into a middle class family in rural Michigan. My parents both worked full time jobs and provided everything I needed. I never feared not having enough. My dad enjoyed talking politics and thouroughly supported the Democratic agenda. Our family attended a Lutheran Church up until I was 10 years old and then my dad pulled us out of church. I didn’t find out why until later on in life. All I remember was not having to get dressed up any more on Sunday mornings, so I wasn’t to disappointed. My parents instilled in me from a young age, the importance of hard work and morality. They taught me that hard work leads to success and being a good person will get you far in life. Also, my parents highly valued family. They considered blood to be thicker than water. I was around my extended family constantly when I was growing up. All of these things have shaped my worldview.
    My worldview is centered around the American value system. If you work hard, you will succeed was instilled in me from a young age. This worldview has been deconstructed as I have learned about and interacted with people of other cultures. I have heard stories of Latino Americans working extremely hard and still living in poverty. The hard work they are doing does not seem to be leading to success. I know for my parents their hard work led them to being successful, but I am finding this is not always the case. The “American Dream” is not a reality for all of those who work hard. My parents instilled this work hard mentality into me, but they also highly valued family, which could be seen as contradictory. Often times people will try to succeed at any cost, even if that means sacrificing family values. The importance of family that was engrained into me from a young age has helped me in my relationships with other cultures. It seems to me that many cultures outside of the American culture, highly value family. The Asian culture highly values family bonds and from my perspective seems to be deeply committed to one another. The reflection upon my worldview has helped me to understand myself better, while at the same time it has helped me to better relate to those of different cultures. I have a lot of learning to do about how my worldview has been shaped, but I am encouraged by the progress, I have made over the last couple years. The work can be difficult, but is worth the challenge.

  4. T Hopkins said

    Martinez writes about defining social relationships, spending time explaining that Euro-Americans look down on cultural phenomena not native to themselves because of ethnocentric views and assumptions. He puts cultures into two broad categories: egalitarian and hierarchical. The former is marked by assumptions of equality amongst people, mobility in status, informal communication, lack of obligation to superficial reciprocity, confrontational approaches to problems, personal relationships, and a need to be liked. The latter is marked by the opposite. Perhaps because Martinez works in America, he unapologetically frames the discussion largely from the non-majority culture (what a misleading misnomer!) perspective. In fact, Martinez explains that white (let’s not play with terms) culture fails to handle other cultures because it holds to individualism, relationalism, and antistructuralism. These broad generalizations are essentially partisan rhetoric.

    Why does Martinez nowhere allow for evaluation to take place? His description of other cultures’ understandings of the way people interact and the larger culture’s obligations to its people is helpful in demonstrating the kinds of difficulties and misunderstandings that can be had in intercultural relationships. However, intercultural is no more freeing than interpersonal. We should all seek understanding and accept that there are differences, such as when one friend expects that the other returns a favor, whereas the other sees the favor as an act of goodwill which, though reflective of the true friendship between them, does not require repayment. Martinez dresses this issue up in terms of obligation to reciprocity as a cultural understanding. But is it any different simply because it’s cultural? Should we treat it differently? Should we give all cultural differences a pass as being “all equally valid”?

    I would argue that we are not primarily obligated to endorse all cultural norms. We are obligated to not burden people with rules or to offend their consciences, but when these two criteria are met, we are also obligated to bring people into a more full understanding of God and the Word, and this does not require the affirmation of cultures. Consider Martinez’ comments on people as a function of their roles. He suggests that, while white churches think pastors should be selected based on their capacity, other cultures would rather select someone based on their seniority in the community. Martinez fails to note any of Scripture’s instructions regarding how elders are to be selected, written notably to the young Timothy, and consisting primarily of the man’s character and ability. One culture is right, the other is wrong. Or, to make things less offensive, one idea is right, the other is wrong. If there is any discussion to be had, it is not about whether some one or some culture disagrees, but whether Scripture disagrees. What Martinez should include here is ideas about how to bring cultures into alignment with God’s revealed will. Not all things are neutral.

    Consider also Martinez’ comments about dealing with problems. Does Paul endorse a model that fits nicely with the cultural norm of indirect problem solving for the sake of saving face? Paul confronted Peter to his face, and admonishes Timothy that elders are not above rebuke! And what drives the problem solving procedure? The desire to appeal to some culture which doesn’t like shame (not that anyone likes shame)? Or the desire to see the problem truly fixed? It would have been useful for Martinez to not present such a predictably “enlightened academic” approach to this subject and instead to focus on where culture meets reality, what that looks like according to Scripture, and what to do about it. Certainly raising awareness of differences and difficulties is valuable. But how are we to deal with people who insist on a culture more than the Word? What about churches where the congregation believes, because of its culture, that confronting a pastor is sinful? That a young person is out of line if they have an opinion? That it is sinful to try to stop gossip and slander, because their culture tells them that you should shut your mouth and not try to solve the problem – just roll with it and avoid making a fuss? These are issues that Martinez fails to address, and what is the point of writing about how to deal with diversity if you never actually explain how to deal with diversity? My own experiences in other cultures are screaming for biblical guidance in this area.

    (I wrote this using the general blog instructions before the instructions for this assignment were posted, so I hope it overlaps at least a bit with the more specific instructions for this post.)

    • Mark Lau Branson said

      Why dismiss something as ‘partisan rhetoric’ instead of dealing with the substance. You tend to take certain sentences or paragraphs as if they are not part of a book — Martinez frequently refers to the evaluative and leadership frameworks from the first section. The book is explicit there that these issues need to be brought into a discipleship process with scripture and the theological resources we inherit. Even in the chapters you cite, see this, “The call of the gospel is toward becoming one body, a people redeemed by the Lamb, finding their identity and purpose in relationship to God and others. Our individualistic concept of self and of self in relationship to others will be constantly challenged by the biblical call of living in unity in the midst of our diversities.” (169) Juan and I are very aware that our proposals are in the context of important counter voices — but we think we have done a close a fair read of others.

      • T Hopkins said

        Martinez presents things from only one perspective — the failure of white culture to manage relations with other cultures. That certainly seems partisan to me. As for the substance, I addressed his comments as a whole by noting his lack of connecting his cultural observations with any practical reality or absolute standard, and more specifically with his failure on a couple points where he seems to take things out of the realm of biblical practice so that he can present them as neutral cultural differences. If I missed the context of his comments, it was unintentional. Martinez’ own exploration of the idea of “becoming one body” seems to be lacking in some areas.

  5. Hyukwoo shin said

    I think the authors described the differences of cultural anthropology extremely well in various aspects. It was exciting to learn more about how language, social relations, individuality (individualism and collectivism), perception, thinking and communication can be different among Western and Asian cultures.
    However, there are several reasons I believe will make intercultural (religious) life more challenging and applying the practical theological cycle more difficult. First, I agree with the authors that individualism is such a strong trend dominating the US society affecting everyone regardless of their race, culture and religion.(chapter 7) Another reason why it becomes so extraordinarily complicated is that many immigrants like me were exposed to Asian, Europian and American culture at different stages in their personal life. In my case, I have adopted different things from all three cultures. I have more logic than analogic thinking from my German background but it was affected quite a lot by my Korean education. I have problems sometimes to interact with Koreans because of their extraordinarily complicated nuances in language and emotions. I was rebuked, mocked and reprimanded many times for not having Korean way of doing things but I am by any means not a westerner. Anyone would agree, I don’t look like or speak like one. It is still quite challenging for me to maintain a positive self-identity because of this instability from my mixed cultural background. There are many others like me in the US with multicultural background. There are clear differences reflecting the different sociopolitical environments of the Midwest, the east coast and the west coast of the U.S. I have attended four Korean-American churches in the last 15 years and every church was different. Even the Korean culture in each Korean-American churches can be affected significantly by different geographic locations. Dr. Martinez told a similar story on p133 (Chapter 6).

    It is important to know our cultural differences explained well in chapter 4-9. I agree with the authors how we can strive for a better intercultural life. First, we are the body of Christ according to Roman 12, 1 Corinthians 12 (p167). This might be the most decisive reason we can succeed in forming multicultural missional churches. Second, empathy works. The story of Rev Frank Jackson in Oakland after the LA riots in 1992 is an extraordinary example how we can march together to achieve intercultural peacemaking rather than violence. Third, this is my personal opinion. The majority-culture people in the US (chapter 6) need to take transforming initiative in breaking the dividing walls (chapter 4) and lead the way with the praxis-theory-praxis cycle that will most likely work best for them. The majority makes the difference.

    • Mark Lau Branson said

      Thanks for your perspectives — your own history gives you eyes to see things others miss. I wonder about leadership and your proposal that it needs to come from the majority culture. I am grateful when I see that – but it seems God often uses others — the oppressed, the marginalized, the poor, and the bi-cultural (think of Moses, Ruth, Daniel, Paul, Timothy). So Frank Jackson, an African American pastor, had convictions and courage in Oakland. Latino farm workers in southern California refused a union offer that excluded Japanese American workers. But I agree that majority persons have responsibilities for changing the environment.

    • Carl Amouzou said

      Hyukwoo, I really appreciate your perspectives. You give language and explanations to cultural experiences that I too have experienced but not fully processed. I relate to your feeling cultural instability and reproach that you experienced. I am torn about your proposal that leadership initiatives for culture bridging need to come from the dominant culture. On one hand I agree because in my experience more often than not it has been the dominant culture that has reinforced the walls that need to be torn down, and after a long period of rejection the hand of fellowship needs to be extended by the culture that has seemingly withdrawn it in the first place. But on the other hand sometimes it is the bridges need to be built by the minority culture because they can best see the areas where bridges can be built. In another class that I am in I was very intrigued by a classmates story of how her church, a Korean immigrant church, is actively developing a strategy to engage the wider and diverse cultures around them. She showed how her church was uniquely able to reach and be a bridge between other cultures besides her own. We are entering a very interesting time of history as cultures are more and more encroaching upon each other. My prayer is that we have more bridge builders than wall builders.

      • Jason Tom said

        Carl, I really appreciated agree with what you had to say about building bridges rather than walls. Hyukwoo, I also appreciate the perspectives you bring and want to comment on your thoughts about culture bridging coming from the dominant culture.

        What I’ve noticed in my own experiences of boundary crossing is that often the majority culture isn’t aware of the boundaries and the walls being built. I think I remember a quote from the book about how culture is a way a group envisions and lives out what it means to be human. Looking at that in light of a quote made previously in class that “people don’t resist change, they resist loss,” has been helpful for me in seeing what often underlies wall building. I think often from the perspective of majority culture, confrontation about a culture that is echoed back to them by the media society they live in becomes a commentary on how to be human. So even in contexts where people from the majority culture are attempting to be multi-ethnic there is still a felt sense of loss of how they know to be human when that culture is challenged. I think, then, what Carl was saying about bridging from the minority culture because they can best see the areas where bridges can be built becomes especially important. People from minority culture are very frequently needing to navigate between cultures and feel the tension of doing so, and I think when people from minority cultures can understand dominant culture as well as minority culture perspectives they are uniquely positioned to build bridges. In being able to point out the areas of bridge building while understanding that resistance may be due more to a fear of loss of how they understand their humanness rather than a resistance to minority cultural experiences, I believe, creates new possibilities. I’m thankful for those who, like the both of you, are able to articulate both minority experience as well as understanding majority culture in bridge building. Because much of bridge building from minorities necessitates an understanding and articulation of majority culture as well as the ability to speak into it with the perspective from outside while being able to know it and live within it well enough to speak to those within it.

    • This is a silly addition to this post, but I figured why not. A pastor friend of mine encouraged me recently to watch the TV series called “Friday Night Lights.” He said it was one of the best shows on TV in terms of values. So I did. This series is roughly four seasons deep now. I just finished episode 18 (which is in season two). This particular episode is about racial tension in the south, even in the “loved” sport of football. One of the main characters on the series with the nickname “Smash” is an African American running back on the team; one of the team leaders and stars. In this episode, one of the assistant coaches accidentally says something racist about “blacks” only being good at certain positions. This accident causes the “black” students to make a stand and not play football until a meaningful apology is given. Then comes the part I want to focus on. Getting closer to a crucial game to make the playoffs, the kid on the show that is known as the troubled, drunk kid approaches Smash and calls out for help saying, “You know we can’t do this on our own. You are the leader to this team. You can’t let what people say impact you as much as it has. We need you.”

      I loved this! I love that the “troubled, drunk, white trash kid” is the one reaching out to the “black” kid saying we can’t do this apart. We depend on each other. I believe this ties really well into what you are saying in your second point, “we can march together to achieve intercultural peacemaking rather than violence.”

      This episode shows we must march together, because together, we will be more successful. I believe this is the case with ethnic diversity. If we can do this together for the sake of the Kingdom, we will be more successful.

  6. Renee Rector said

    My cultural perspective from childhood is almost completely Euro-American. I had little to no contact with people from other ethnicities until after I graduated from college. One of the primary issues that I recognized in myself is the concept of individualism and being able to make something of yourself if you work hard enough. The systemic problems that face many minority ethnicities were something that I was very skeptical of until recently. I even recognized that I heard success stories and used that to bolster my own thoughts without thinking that these stories are extremely rare and usually come with much added support form outside sources. Since moving to LA I am beginning to see the problems from a systematic perspective a little better. However, I still have quite a bit of reside of ‘God helps those who help themselves’. Perhaps this is because I have worked incredibly hard to get where I am and I don’t think people who aren’t willing to work should get benefits. Another aspect that struck me was certain peoples ties to family. While I love my family, I would NEVER give up pursuit of my own goals and desires for my calling for their sake. I can honestly say that there is no situation I can think of that would cause me to return to the midwest to be near them. It breaks my heart to hear stories of Latino’s who give up pursuit of an education to stay at home with their parents. I recently saw ‘Real Women Have Curves’ which is listed as one of the films to watch and was absolutely horrified at her family’s expectations for her to give up and education at Columbia to work in her sisters seamstress shop. She did manage to break away, but it still really bothered me that her parents would place that kind of pressure on her.

    • T Hopkins said

      I’m not sure what parts of the Midwest you’ve spent time in, but part of the denial of systematic injustice or neglect seems at times to come from experience with areas where the system really isn’t treating non-whites any differently than it’s treating whites. Being in part of the Midwest where the towns are small, everyone in the community is more or less middle class and has been in the area for decades or even generations, etc, it really doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, brown, Chinese, or Klingon.

      I think one of the difficult things for people coming from a Midwest background, especially in encountering Asian cultures, is understanding the dynamic of obligation and shame. The youth seem to think have a sense of self-sacrifice when it comes to their parents. The parents seem to feel the youth are obligated to live as they demand. So for Asian youth, the matter is not necessarily one of giving something up because of expectations, but giving something up because of love or sympathy. In the end, it ends up looking very much the same. And I think this is where counseling people in these other cultures becomes difficult. How do you even engage in critical conversation with someone when their culture and their love for their parents are involved and intermingled? If you question anything, you’re bound to upset them. How do you encourage Christian freedom in a culture that thinks its own rules trump all else, and where the person you’re concerned about is holding themselves under their parents’ burden because of love? Can you demand that they shouldn’t be burdened?

      As I mentioned in my post, I wonder how these conversations change between culture and personal relationships. For instance, is a beaten wife who stays with her abusive husband any different from a tortured child who willfully subjects him/herself to the burdens of worldly culture and selfish parents? If you have thoughts on the comparison between personal and cultural situations like this, and how that might inform our evaluation of how to approach ministry to other cultures, I’d be interested in hearing them.

  7. Pisey Sok said

    The chapters concerning cultural anthropology in Branson and Martinez demonstrated the complexity that goes into human and social interaction. The aspects of worldview, language, social gestures, understanding of personal and social identity, perception and thinking provide an intricate cultural grid used to define, assess, interpret, and interact with the world around us. The first interesting factor for me was the issue of language. I grew up in social context that spoke Khmer (Cambodian language), which has a formal and informal dynamic as well as relational dynamic of speaking up or speaking down. When I was learning English in grade school I discovered that it was respectful to address my teachers by their title and their last name. What was confusing was when I started interacting with my school friends and I heard them calling their parents by their first name! This surprised me. It got more awkward for me when my friend’s parents told me to call them by their first name. I did not know what to do because my parents would be disappointed knowing that I called someone’s parents by their first name. Even to this day, I still have a difficult time addressing professors, pastors, or my elders by their first name, particularly if they are in a higher social role. When I was visiting Cambodia, I don’t think that I addressed anyone by their first name or last name once. I remember on our taxi ride I saw a picture of the King of Cambodia on a billboard, and I turned to the taxi driver asked what “his” name was (the King’s name). The taxi driver stopped me in my words and said “You never address the King as ‘him’.” Clearly, he knew I was from America from the way I spoke. I was quite an embarrassing social moment for me, especially in Cambodian context.

    Furthermore, I grew up in a non-confrontational culture, so saving face was much more important direct confrontation. I did not realize how much this value shaped interaction with my wife. My wife is Caucasian and she often gets irritated when I try to solve problem by beating around the bush and not saying what I really what to say. For instance, in on sermon one of the pastors in our congregation made a joking remark about a Thai refugee camp which really offended me. I knew that the line was cross but I did not know how to appropriately address the situation. Being in Asian context, I did not want to cause shame or guilt for the pastor, I simply wanted them to know that what they said was inappropriate. After talking with my wife, she advised me to be direct about how I felt, but I was hesitant because I did not know what the outcome was going to be. I finally took my wife’s advice and pulled the pastor aside and shared my concern about what was said. Fortunately, the pastor was understanding and acknowledged his boundary crossing. I realize that in a church context addressing conflict can be quite a difficult task especially with all the cultural and power dynamics that exist. There were other times where indirect communication has led to greater misunderstanding. This raise a question does the Bible favor direct or indirect communication for dealing with conflict? Or is the issue cultural informed?

    Also, I grew up in a Buddhist context where the tradition is transmitted through an oral tradition. The framework is generally mythological and heavily on feeling and intuition. When I became a Christian, the Christianity that I was taught was very Western minded. The approach to Christianity that I learned early on was very systematic, categorical, logical, and analytical. I have since come to embrace more of the mystery of Christian and faith, then have all controlled. Although, I can remember when use to have dialogues with my father and Buddhist friends, we often spoke past each other because our orientation were different. Christianity seemed confusing and abstract to them. Perhaps, my systematic approach at the time was not helpful for my father, who understands his faith through a different narrative framework. What made our inter-faith dialogue most meaningful was hearing the narrative that shaped our respective worldviews. In sharing narratives (and not just systematic theology), my father and I was able to appreciate the differences in our faith traditions. Believe it or not, I realize that the Gospel narrative and the stories of Buddha had many overlapping narratives that helped to produce a more fruit conversation. My father gained a greater appreciation for Jesus, because Jesus was not a doctrine, but a person that he was able to relate to.

    • Renee Rector said

      I really appreciated hearing your viewpoints on how the subjects addressed by Branson and Martinez fit into your experience in the Asian culture. Two things that stood out to me confirmed my personal suspicions. I, being Caucasian, have a strong penchant for formality in language. To this day I have a very difficult time referring to teachers on a first name basis, even if they are people I don’t know from a teacher/student perspective. Also, if I were to ever return as faculty to my undergraduate school, I don’t think I could refer to my former professors by their first name. Additionally, I also prefer to avoid conflict at all costs. I tend to brush things off and make things out to be much less offensive than they really are. I think this shows that the issues discussed may be more intricate than just intercultural communication, but are really interpersonal. I also think that we need to expect these differences between people and cultures and allow room for grace. If people are making an effort to learn, explore, and experience other cultures and perspectives, both sides should be understanding of the differences in perception and be generous in their interactions.

  8. Ian B. said

    The Branson/Martinez material on sociocultural perspectives offers some broad generalizations about European-American cultures that are surprisingly precise in my experience. For example, the chapter on social relations posits that Euro-Americans tend to assume social equality. Even in situations where power, education or influence are clearly distributed hierarchically, individual relationships are viewed as taking place between equals. As an American and doubly so as a Protestant in the democratized American Christian tradition, I have found myself to be inherently distrustful of anything that resembles explicit hierarchy in the faith community. In particular, I value leaders who downplay their advanced educational and ministerial credentials and identify with the regular folks of a congregation. I began to learn that my egalitarian view of social relations was culturally conditioned when I encountered African-American students as a small group leader. As they were more familiar with leaders with established authority, my informal style and self-deprecating humor was somewhat difficult for the to engage.

    Also, the material on worldviews and individuality was largely accurate to my Euro-American experience. Partially because my view of time is based on linearity and future-oriented progress and partially because I tend to value the achievement of the “heroic” individual, I have discovered that my identity has little to do with my immediate and ancestral family. In another Fuller course with a Korean student, I mentioned that I have no knowledge of my family history beyond my grandparents, and that I have no particular inclination to research my ancestry. He responded by noting that his family keeps a register of ancestors dating back to 500 years ago. His identity as a human and his perceived role in society was bound up in his identity as a member of a large revered family.

  9. Jason Sisk said

    The wide variety of world views and philosophical and religious beliefs used to confuse me. When I became a Christian (after reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity) at age 17 and began visiting different churches I was surprised that there were serious doctrinal disagreements between the denominations. I had been raised with the belief that all you had to do to know truth was to carefully examine evidence. I understood differences between worship styles–there is no argument that will help us discover aesthetic “truth”. But I assumed that there were diverse opinions about leadership, doctrine and ethics simply because no one had thought about these issues critically enough. And naturally, I concluded, once everyone did that they would discover that the United Methodist Church had all the correct opinions. Of course, this was the church that I chose to belong to.

    Well, I am glad that I matured in my Christian faith and was able to put away these “childish things”. These chapters in Branson and Martinez’s book helped me realize that I was interpreting Christianity through the lens of my own experience as a middle-class Caucasian American male who spoke only one language and had never really been the victim of oppression or injustice. I approached the world intellectually. I had few significant existential experiences that would help me see Jesus as anything more than the answer to all of the curious questions of life that I considered important. There were intellectual questions about a foundation for ethics, for the question of life after death and for the question of why religion just refused to go away, even in a scientific age like ours. Jesus was my answer to these questions, and I thought that anyone else who thought clearly would believe in him. I realize now that the world view that I had adopted uncritically was the Western scientific world view. There was one right answer for questions, answers are discovered intellectually and that my task was to help others adopt this same world view.

    I’m so grateful that I became aware of this shallow world view. There was no room for experience, no room for other cultures and no need to think of God’s incarnation outside of providing “information” on who God was. Martinez helped me realize that I had put so much faith in language and its precision and ability to talk about the “world out there”. I spent more time trying to be clear in my thinking and language than I did trying to understand who Jesus was. Similarly, I considered reason as our guide to all truth whether it be religious or scientific. Postmodernism has shown us how those in the dominant culture use the truths discovered by “reason” to condemn and oppress others. Reason has been used to justify terrible things and has been revealed as nothing but wish fulfillment in later generations.

    Other cultures that do not have this narrow world view probably have a richer view of Jesus and what it means for him to become flesh in their own context. I’m just discovering the incredible ways in which Jesus is somehow present in all of us and in all of our congregations, gently nudging us to listen to each other and to be a witness to him in ever new ways and contexts.

    • Pisey Sok said

      Much like you, Jason, my up bring in the Christian faith was from a Western individualistic and rationalistic framework. There was no room for ambiguity, paradox, or mystery in faith. There was answer for everything! The framework that came with the Christianity that I was taught early on seemed very militant on getting the answers right, because “truth” was a stake. Growing up in a Buddhist and Christian context, I realize that there was no trying to dialogue because their may be a fear of diluting the “Word” or having people misunderstand the Gospel. Though these are genuine concerns, I realize looking back that I missed a lot of opportunity to learn from others and hear their narratives about faith.

      Branson and Martinez describe the difference between sympathy and empathy that I found helpful in social interaction. Sympathy generally sharing feelings with those who share the same worldview, while empathy “requires the bracketing of our own perceptions and emotions in an effort to problematize and enter into the world of another” (199). I agree with Branson and Martinez that empathy is more constructive and helpful in cross-cultural relationships. In my interactions with others who did not share my worldview, I often got defensive when my beliefs were being questioned or attacked. Yet in the same way, I tried to belittle other worldviews by inflating mine through reason or scientific inquiry or apologetics. I guess I realized that for me, Jesus got lost in all of the discussion. When pushed came to shove it all came to down to the issue of power. I really did not want to understand the other’s point of view or have empathy, I just wanted to be right, because to not be “right” meant that my insecurities would show.

      • Jason Sisk said

        Pisey, I wonder if a lot of times we get upset when our worldview and not necessarily our belief in Jesus is being attacked. I often pay more attention to the philosophical assumptions that dialog partners are making than their actual statements about Jesus. It sounds like you’ve had similar experiences. One area where this is especially troubling for Christian Education is when we are trying to share information about Jesus with someone from a different world view. Will they recognize this Jesus? What if the Jesus we present doesn’t translate well outside our own world view?

  10. Carl Amouzou said

    Growing up in Vancouver Canada, which is a very multi-ethnic city, I was constantly interacting with people of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. I grew on the beginning of a major demographic shift in the Greater Vancouver Regional District. Vancouver went from being visibly people of European decent to being visible multi-ethnic, mainly various Asians, Indians, and people from the middle east. When I was in elementary school it was predominately mono-ethnic, people of European descent, but by the time I got to Jr. High School it was hard to establish a visible majority. Even though Vancouver was ethnically diverse, I noticed that culturally it was not. The dominant culture was that of the dominant ethnic group, European descent. The churches were no different that I grew up in. While I do not necessarily think that is a negative thing, it is simply the reality of my formation. This cultural hegemony was a public outworking, but behind the scenes you had the opportunity to see others cultures. You saw how children from various cultures publicly exuded the dominant culture, while within their homes and churches by extension exuded a different culture. My own cultural up bringing though was different than the people I grew up with in some ways and very similar in others. My father, who is Togolese (West African), was absent for the most part in my cultural formation, but I have noticed that certain cultural traits were still learned by me. I notice that when I am around older people who are culturally African I relate to them in a particular cultural fashion that is relatively quite foreign to me in my normal interactions. My mother, who is of European descent, was my primary cultural shaper. But growing up around so many different cultures I notice that I am usually very conscious of another’s culture and thus find it fairly easy to navigate between cultural lines without feeling like a total outsider, on the other hand though because of the way that I grew up I sometimes feel that I do not have a dominant culture, which makes trying to pinpoint areas of cultural comfort rather ambiguous.

    • Hyukwoo shin said

      Carl, I appreciate your perspectives too. It looks like you have a more balanced cultural experience than me. I believe that you are an excellent bridge builder already. I saw that you have empathy which is huge asset for good interaction with others in a multicultural environment. One of the reasons why majority-culture people have to take leadership is mentioned in your own blog. The minority groups are taught the dominant culture they live in. There is no doubt that the (school education system has a decisive influence how you think and act on all aspects in your life. I strongly believe genuine success happens when the leaderships of the dominant culture changes. It does not mean that minority-culture people supposed to be excluded from leadership roles. We need to acknowledge that the majority-culture leader’s transforming initiative will have a major impact on the dominant culture which is extremely important for success of the the minority group’s bridge building efforts too.
      I read a little bit about the Azusa Street revival in Cherly Sanders’s book I mentioned to you. The Azusa street revival was interracial(crosscultural) at the beginning but eventually the majority-culture people separated themselves from the movement which then lost strength and faded.I think this shows the challenge we face as bridge builders from a minority group. We can take successful transforming initiatives but there is no lasting success without the continuous commitment from the majority-culture people.

  11. The chapter in Branson/Martinez on Perception and Thinking has been something I have thought about for years but never have I seen it articulated in this fashion. Each one of us comes from different backgrounds culturally and geographically. Each one of us in this class has drastic differences on how we were raised.

    This is going to be the same in every environment that we are placed. People process things differently. That is how we were created. But what I would like to focus on is the ability to be transparent. I have learned from the readings this quarter, and from working in ministry, that being transparent as a leader is crucial. What do I mean by this? I mean that we must be transparent to ourselves and transparent to the people we lead.

    If we are not transparent with ourselves, how are we going to grow? As a leader, you must always be willing to learn. Leaders that stop learning will eventually stop leading. But as leaders, we must be transparent with our perceptions. We must understand our heritage and current context to the point of understanding why we are making each and every decision. If we cannot process why we make the decisions we do, the data we process, might very well be organized in a place it should not and in return cause us to make poor decisions.

    If we are not transparent to the people we lead, how can they trust us? We must be authentic while empowering them to lead as well. As a leader, we must understand we are not better than the people we lead. We must allow them to speak into the ministry because they might perceive things different than us, which might bring more to the table. I cannot count the amount of times I have allowed others to lead areas of my ministry and in the end, they did better than I could have ever dreamed of doing.

    So regardless of what area we serve, bible study we teach, or ministry we lead, we must be willing to be transparent. People sense, perceive, and think differently, and it is through this diversity that we are able to have an effective impact for the Kingdom.

    • Jason Sisk said

      Jeff, thank you for your thoughtful post. You’re right–we must be transparent if we are to grow. We don’t always recognize our own presuppositions and prejudices until an event or a brave person challenges us. In our context these brave people seem to be more and more uncommon because our culture doesn’t value transparency and vulnerability. It values rigidity and certainty. The windows that we are given in our culture to examine our own world view seem to be provided most often by films. Maybe filmmakers have been more aware of unmet needs in our culture than Christians.

      • Amen. I am glad you guys are starting to recognize. It is difficult to empathize and relate to the many different experiences the many different peoples of this land experience. Even as an African American male who has experienced a lot of pain and hardship in the midst of a good upbringing and doing what is right. I have still been faced with different instances of racism, discrimination, and insults which leave an innocent man mentally, physically and emotionally scarred. Also I am still looked upon with contempt by Euro-Americans and sometimes African American Americans or other races who believe they have suffered more and think because they believe their pain is so great that all should suffer as greatly as them. This makes matters worse, because reconciliation can never be had for these individuals who seem to sulk in their own grief and sorrow making the situation worse for themselves and those who try to help even if they are of the same race; Not realizing that in order for things to get better you gotta work for it. The road is long and hard but at least now the opportunity is available. Go for it and God Bless!

  12. Part II: SocioCultural Perspectives, of Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martinez’s book Churches, Cultures, & Leadership which includes Chapters 4-9 both begins and ends with direction, instruction and interpretation of cultures and their interpretations, responses, and perceptions to life events and circumstances based on theories by Jurgen Habermas; a German philosopher, who writes of lifeworlds, world concepts, communicative competence and the understanding that culture is basically understood in the midst of a context within a larger social strata that includes economics, the marketplace, the structures of a nation such as capitalism, and even globalization. (98)

    The following chapters seem to expand on these ideas of Lifeworlds and world concepts and how cultures view life different. From Euro-American, to African-American, to Asian American, cultures view circumstances, situations, and solutions differently.

    Chapter 5: Language, Gestures and Powers and Chapter 6: Defining Social Relations expands on communication differences and deals a lot with egalitarian issues between persons of different churches and experiences of cultures, persons and churches crossing over into territories where traditions and communication is interpreted differently. Informal versus formal communication between peers and professors, clergy, and laypersons, etc. is discussed. Hierarchical systems of identification of persons in relationships versus egalitarian systems and the different techniques used by professors and pastors to communicate with students, church members, etc in different situations (in the classroom or during the opening of a new housing development) is dealt with. The chapters deals with how merely different communication practices, and the meaning behind words in different cultures (ie, Spanish) can effect relations in regard to cross-overs of different cultures; not to mention the barrier of understanding the non-native language of the person crossing-over. The interpretation of Biblical text in one culture is perceived totally differently by persons in different social, economic, cultural, and geographical location and contexts. If Spanish interpretation of the gospel is seen so differently in perspective by an immigrant farm worker in Mexico, than from the middle class working white male in the United States, imagine the difference between interpretation and meaning of original text the Bible was written in ancient Mesopotamia and its translation to English in America today. What masses of information and meaning are we missing in our interpretation and translation of scripture that we follow as law today that was integral to the writing of the scripture in the first place?

    Chpater 7: Self Perception and Individuality deals a lot with how American culture sees self as a collection of individuals while cultures of many other countries see self as a collection of a corporate body putting individual needs aside for the purpose of completing a task. This task may be care of family, friends, farming, marketing or mere survival and provision. However, this difference in interpretation of self from culture to culture definitely makes a difference in understanding of tasks associated and communicated by the church from culture to culture and how it effects those crossing over to complete a task of assistance for another culture who may or may not be receptive to its offerings of assistance due to feelings of obligatory repayment or owing something to another person or even the church. Chapter 7 also deals with topics of the Lone Ranger mentality and issues of consumerism where cultures not native to America or even those native to America may feel pressured to live a standard of life that is representative of self wealth, success and achievement at the expense of others who are giving and have more and needless detachment/estrangment of ones own family. In essence American culture says to its people, let go of your roots, follow what you see on TV, forsake your family, and friends, just get that car, house, and dog and you will be happy; even if you have to forget all of who you are and know of self, history, family, and culture. Don’t worry Euro-America will help you do it.

    Chapter 8: Perception and Thinking, Starts to deal more with the cognitive aspects of a person and how these affect the perception, interpretation and understanding of events in relation to culture. Mental activities such as Sensing, Perceiving, and Thinking are all brought up as capacities of the left and right brain hemispheres that may have one race consider the events of the Rodney King beating and the L.A. Riots differently. (171-173)

    Chapter 9:Intercultural Communication starts out with a discussion amongst African American and Euro-American Church members distinctly different reactions to the O.J. Simpson trial. One race celebrates the not guilty verdict of the trial because it represents a change of circumstances that has historically been dis-favorable to African Americans in relation to crimes against white accusers. The drastically different reaction from Euro-Americans is sorrow that a black man could get away with the murder of a white woman when all the evidence points to him. He is guilty is what they say. Even if it does look like a set up, someone must hang for the death of a white woman and why not a black man who historically has been the scapegoat for such crimes against whites. Misplaced hatred is what Juan called it. The chapter follows up with more theories of Habermas and his theories on Communicative competence, Manifestations of Crisis, and the Social Dynamics of emotions, sympathy, empathy, power and gratitude all which effect race relations and how different peoples of different cultures respond differently to different situations which may evoke self experience, empathy and the call to be lenient or caring emotionally in certain situations versus ignorant, or clueless as is usually the case in homogeneous congregations and groups.(192-208)

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