Monday, June 23, 2008

When Culture and Christ Conflict

How do you help change something in a culture that has persisted for hundreds of years? I’m reminded of the saying, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Perhaps changing anything in a third world country will take time.
We spent several days with a group of 45 Kenyan pastors and wives during our trip to Africa this past month and I believe we took a few bites of the elephant of the Kenyan culture.
You see even though most Kenyans call themselves Christians they still hold to some cultural practices that run counter to the values of a follower of Christ.
The Kenyan Christian’s faith is very conservative and leans to be very legalistic. There is a very hierarchical system of leadership with the pastor doing most of the ministering. The most obvious difference is the way the men treat the women in their culture. It is considered demeaning for a man to walk side by side with his wife. The men sit on one side of the church with the women on the other side. In one church in which I preached, the children sat in the middle with rows separating the men from the children and the children from the women. There is little love or respect in marriages where a Christian pastor could easily have more than one wife. It is culturally acceptable to beat your wife. Women are relegated to child bearing and doing most of the work.
During our time with the pastors we emphasized the need for the church to change and for men and women to be involved in ministry, using their spiritual gifts. In the small discussion groups we were able to share and talk about what the Bible says about love and respect between husband and wife. We used Ephesians 5 as we shared about the men’s responsibility to love the wife as Christ loved the church and what needed to change in their culture for the men to love their wives. The men were actually very open and honest about how their culture teaches the males to look down upon women. For instance the pastors explained that a man in their culture would never say he is sorry or ask for forgiveness from his wife because it would lower him to her level. We pointed to scripture and the words of Jesus to point out that Jesus requires us to lower ourselves by asking for forgiveness and forgiving others when we are wrong. We were able to share that when culture conflicts with the moral standards of Jesus and the Bible, a choice must be made. A true believer yields to scripture and does not conform to the world’s view. By the end of the conference we sensed a real desire from many of the men to change their ways. The younger men seemed to be more willing to make the change but there were some older pastors who accepted the need to change.
It was ironic that Jeff preached the same message Sunday but only as it applies to our culture in the U.S. Our conflicts may not seem as obvious as the Kenyan’s. But they are there just the same. We can point fingers at how ungodly the Kenyan Christians may be with their views on women but we have our issues also. Let us all seek to follow the way of Christ when we are given the choice between the morality of the Bible and that of the world.

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