Cultural Blindness

Kenya was an amazing experience. It was the third time in ten years I had the opportunity to help train Kenyan pastors. Lynn went with me this time, speaking twice to over 100 women, many of them pastor’s wives. We worked in the southern portion of the country, near the Kenyan border with Tanzania. The dominant tribe in this area is the Maasai.

Most of them live today as they have lived for centuries. This equates to mud huts with no water, no electricity, no sewer, and no sanitation. They dress as they have for generations; colorful fabric and beaded jewelry. Most of their men are shepherds (goats, sheep, and cows). Their women, in addition to raising the children, gather wood and secure water each day (from creeks and puddles).

In their villages and sprinkled throughout the land are small churches made from cinderblocks or panels of sheet metal. Their worship is exuberant. Sadly, however, their pastors are poorly trained (if trained at all). Their preaching reflects this and was the reason we were there and the 250 pastors and church leaders who came to the conference were hungry and appreciative. Some began walking at 5 am from their homes to be at the conference by 10 am (5 hours!). Then they would walk back home that evening and do it all over again the next day. Humbling, indeed, to grasp their desire to learn.

That said, over the week, we became aware of some troubling but accepted cultural practices. The three most concerning were pastors beating their wives, pastors married to multiple women, and the expectation that girls and women were to be circumcised. We left the third practice alone but spoke passionately against the first two. At one point, I stood up waving my arms back and forth, loudly imploring, “This must stop!” When translated, my words were greeted with a smattering of applause. Then a woman stood up and emotionally addressed the crowd, pleading these practices end.

Polygamy and spouse beating were culturally accepted. Despite their allegiance to Jesus, culture had trumped Scripture.

How does this happen? It happens the same way it does here. We develop cultural blindness. Surrounded and immersed in the culture, its practices and laws easily become ours.

Where has culture trumped Scripture for us? Perhaps I have only a few days to answer that before being swept up again by culture’s fast current. But coming back from a third-world nation causes one to ask questions regarding how we spend our resources, our seemingly incessant pursuit of pleasure, and our tendency to insulate our lives from other’s pains and struggles. Let’s just say observing people forage for food from a pile of garbage shakes one up a bit.

Biblical Christianity is counter-cultural; especially given the age in which we live. Jesus is seated on the throne. But I envision him standing up at times beseeching us, “This must stop!”

Scripture trumps culture. In what ways do we have it backward? Time for some introspection and hard questions.

Pastor Rich Hamlin

“Amending the Soil” Christian Education Conference

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