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Culturism- How We Discriminate Based on Culture

Scott Moore

by Scott Moore, Main Contributor

When we look into the eyes of other individuals, we are supposed to see fellow image bearers. Like us, they are created in the image of God, with knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. We are supposed to see people with intrinsic dignity, liberty, and worth sown into the very fabric of their being. And we are to treat them accordingly, with love, respect and honor.  Though there is diversity among humanity, there is an unavoidable unity that distinguishes us from animals. We are together special. We are together human.

Tragically, however, we have fallen from this wonderful, relational estate. After the fall, there became a deep bend inside of every one of us that actively suppresses the truths stated above. Instead of loving our neighbor, we have an unnatural desire to demean, discriminate and devalue them. There are wicked values, motives, and efforts in our lives that continually attempt to make all others less-than-human. The pages of human history are plagued with the terrors of enmity, racism, and segregation. Rather than glorifying the Name of the Lord on the earth by treating his image bearers with love, we strive to make a name for ourselves by stripping the image from the bearer.

From Racism to Culturism

I live in the South where we call the most common manifestation of this activity racism. Racism, according to Webster, is a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. A racist, in other words, is a person who allows race to eclipse image. Racists cling to certain points of diversity, such as skin color and ethnicity, and make those things the most significant points of unity. Those who have the same skin color are the true image bearers, while those who look different are not.

As racism becomes more and more taboo in our day (especially among those who claim some sort of decent morality), the act of demeaning, discriminating and devaluing others is taking on a new, less-obvious, form. I call it culturism.  Like a racist, a culturist (one who practices culturism) is one who allows culture to eclipse image. A culturist, either passively or actively, chooses to keep other cultures out of his or her life.

This “phenomenon” was brought to my attention by a good friend at a church planter’s conference.  While the discussions were focused on the problems we face while planting racially diverse churches, he suggested that race was becoming less and less the issue.  He proposed that culture, not race, is the main issue. It is not uncommon these days to have multiple friends who span the racial spectrum.  What is more uncommon are significant relationships that span the cultural spectrum.

I have been thinking about what he said ever since.

Race Is Sometimes Easier to See Past Than Culture

I grew up playing basketball.  I was told at an early age that if I wanted to be any good at all, I’d have to play at the park with the “black boys.”  So, rather pragmatically, I took the advice. Therefore, doing life among those who are racially different than I am has never been a huge problem for me.  Some of my best friends are, and have always been, black.

But recently I have noticed something.  While, I’ve never considered myself a racist, I am finding that I am a culturist.  My black friends are easy to befriend.  They like the same things I like.  They live (for the most part) like I live.  They have the same manners, time values, and social ethics as I do.  The same things that inconvenience me, inconvenience them; and because of this, we have an unspoken rule not to inconvenience one another.  Most, if not all, of my non-white friends read, learn, work, speak, and schedule their lives like I do.  While they (racially) look different, they are (culturally) the same.  Therefore, it is easy to love and befriend them.  Their culture qualifies them as lovable and worthy of my friendship.

But what about those who don’t work, learn, speak, schedule, or do life like me?  What about those who are different than I am?  What about those who are culturally categorized as needy, inconvenient, rude, dirty, awkward, socially unacceptable, or dangerous? What about the thugs who have dropped out of high school, are unemployed and are always late? What about the ex-con who struggles to find work, shelter, and reliable transportation? What about the people whose problems have no immediate, pragmatic solution?

How Christ Overcomes Culturism

These questions reveal the destructive nature of culturism. It keeps us from following the commandments of Christ. The very people that Christ calls us to love – orphans, widows, immigrants, impoverished and impaired – are, because of different providential circumstances, forced to do life very differently than those of us who are not parentless, spouseless, nationless, moneyless, or crippled. These people have very different concerns, values, and personalities.  They are, in many significant ways, culturally different.

For most of us, these marginalized peoples are the cultural antithesis what we are used to. Loving them demands that we lose control. The cords of love would undoubtedly drag us into the areas of their unfamiliar world. There, we have no rights, no financial say-so, no temporal management, and no voice as to how much suffering we are to bear. And so we practice culturism.

And here lies the irony. Being created (like us) in the image of God, they bring glory to our Creator; albeit from different perspectives – perspectives that we would never see if we were to stay in our own cultural climate. Because of this, the good Samaritan, the blind man, the widow, and the orphaned children, are cultural commodities of the Christian life. Without them, Christianity loses its distinct and robust color. We must love and embrace those who are different than we are. For when our love reaches across cultural lines, we show, with our lives, the power of the Spirit, the work of Christ, and the will of our Father in heaven. In short, we show we are Christians by our scandalous, cross-cultural, love.

2 thoughts on “Culturism- How We Discriminate Based on Culture

  1. Scott Moore

    While there are points you make that I agree with, there are a few where I would have to respectfully disagree.

    Individuals with personalities do not make a individual cultures; but when a group of individuals, as a community, have personalities, values, etc. that are common, we could easily say that that the particular group has its own personality – its own culture.

    In this respect, saying an individual (such as one of your family members) has a culture, is problematic. Culture, by definition, is communal – or, not individual. Culture makes reference to many individuals who share common characteristics that in one way or another are different from other groups of individuals.

    I would also have to say that differing values and concerns most certainly contribute to the formation of culture – Christian or not. One of the ironies and problems with culturism is that it is practiced by Christians among and against other Christians. When different cultures within Christendom come together in love, Christ is greatly glorified. Conversely, when different cultures within Christendom hate, ignore or discriminate against one another, he is not.

    This whole culturism thing is more than conceptual for me. It is personal. It exists in my life.

    I am a white, middle-class, male planting a church in an all African American impoverished neighborhood. Even though many of the people I minister to are professing Christians, I consider my work cross-cultural ministry. I believe it would be irresponsible, unloving and naive to treat it otherwise. Not only do I see the cultural differences, I feel them. Pastorally, I have to address them before they become damaging.

    On religious expression in culture – I could not agree more with the good man HVT.

  2. Charles Scherer

    Scott, you write, “The very people that Christ calls us to love – orphans, widows, immigrants, impoverished and impaired – are, because of different providential circumstances, forced to do life very differently than those of us who are not parentless, spouseless, nationless, moneyless, or crippled. These people have very different concerns, values, and personalities.” If these individuals are Christians then regardless of how their “concerns, values and personalities” differ from mine they are part of a Christian culture. The level to which their concerns and values differ from mine do not rise to the point of being different a different culture. Unless you are going to completely redefine what culture is. Having a differet personality does not indicate a different culture. If it did then there would be eight different cultures in my house since my wife and I and my children all have different personalities. The differing “concerns and values” do not necessarily mean a different culture but they can when they are due to differing religious convictions. Cultures are not equal. There is a Muslim culture, there is an atheistic culture and there is such a thing as a Christian culture. Those are real cultural differences which ought not to be ignored. “A people’s religion comes to expression in its culture, and Christians can be satisfied with nothing less than a Christian organization of society.”
    -Henry Van Til

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