To me, culture is an expression of humanity. What is beautiful. What you believe is important. What motivates us toward a common goal as a people group. It’s a shorthand to understanding a shared world of its countrymen. A wondrous experience for the visitor curiously peeking in. Culture unstained is a gift from God and a celebration of His creativity. But broken and bent, it can be a source of slavery for the masses that keep us separated and fearful of one another.
The United States of America is this strange experiment in which cultures from other lands are brought together and, presumably, afforded protection while pursuing acceptable livelihoods. On paper this sounds like a wonderful idea, but because man is involved, the implementation has been rocky at best. Whether it was zeal to achieve the American dream or hold on to past bias’, our culture developed its own poor attitudes and lines of reason to reflect the ideals of the land. And the Christian, as in any time and place in history, has had to work out what is good and right out of what’s around them.
Thankfully, in a lot of ways, the American culture does have elements of the Christian faith weaved within its tapestry. To work hard. Be true to oneself and to others. Love being the utmost. We may differ on how that gets worked out. At times, we’ve had to take a beat and examine our fruit and readjust. But even though we have not actualized our vision, a part of our culture deeply yearns for this to be true. And as American Christians, I think we take pride in that identity and want to be part of that process. But there is another side to this relationship that the Christian identity has with the American ideal that has led us away from the Gospel.
There is a dark side to the American culture and its ideals that Christians in this culture war against, if ever, down deep in our identity. Putting it simply, what the American culture tells us to pursue and how to perceive our world is a snare away from what is important by the standards of the Gospel. The American Dream is seductive. In its pursuit, we as American Christians have struggled between living out of sacrifice or our God-given right to reach for every opportunity to have for one’s self. Have a good career. Have a happy family. Be fulfilled. Be comfortable. This message is like a mist permeating the land. We see it, smell it, taste it. It’s within as well as without. We grew up in it and have known it for so long that its part of our belief system whether we are able to admit it or not.
In the midst of the Pursuit, we also struggle with what is worthy amongst ourselves. The sins of the past, be it race, gender, etc come with a history of attitudes and bias’ that color how we see each other. Most people groups have a caste system to establish a social hierarchy and America is no different. That same fog of perception based on social standing has always been a battle within the church. A congregation that makes its choices about how to best serve, reduced by the culture at large, has lost sight of the Gospel.
Let me be clear, this is not that any people group has complete say on Christian culture and its expression. I don’t see any evidence that God chose to reveal Himself to anyone based on their language, art, technology, etc from a cultural position. The problem lies in which cultural specific ideas and bias’ play any part in the administration of the Gospel in its totality.
The capacity for a church to be welcoming, offer aid, steward resources, or just spend time with someone outside their comfort zone should never be dictated based on what the surrounding culture deems acceptable. Deciding what time and energy should be given to connecting to another person should not be calculated against how much will be lost in pursuit of the American Dream. A life well-lived as a Christian should not be measured by human success towards American achievement.
We, as Christians living in America need to examine how relating to each other is affected by our culture. Our capacity to hear and to empathize unaffected by what we we’re told to believe growing up. In what our media and the pundits tell us is true. From parsing the message of the songs and movies we listen to. And sometimes in spite of what our brothers and sisters in Christ have come to believe outside of Christ. Does our treasure lie in what this country can afford us or the working out of Gospel truth?
Surrounding oneself in a monoculture stifles growth and the testing of your faith in so many ways. Culture should truly be experienced and welcomed. We learn facets about life and God that are available in one culture, but not in another. These are missed opportunities in growing in your faith and being stretched to love all walks of humanity. Having your eyes open so that you can have a choice to remain driven by your own cultural ideas or choose a different way of thinking. Only as the American Church becomes a whole body can we be effective participants to the heavenly nation.
Michael Muwanguzi works in IT in Louisville, Ky and attends church locally with his family and friends.