All posts by Bryan K. Galloway

Trainer, Researcher, & Consultant

Tricked by Culture . . .

Americans believe that being direct is the most efficient way to communicate. The phrases “tell it like it is” and “speak your mind” — express such a value. Being direct is often valued over “beating around the bush.” As a result, Americans are often assertive, open and direct about their thoughts and feelings. Not all cultures have this same value. In some cultures, the “normal” way to disagree or to say no is to say nothing.

The above descriptive cultural pattern paints a picture of who Americans are, whether right or wrong.  The study of cultural patterning a people has mixed opinion. It has the danger of creating and reinforcing concepts of “stereotypes”, and a false impression that another people and culture is identifiable by rigidly categorized symbols, behavior, thought processes, or value systems that are common to all.

In actuality, though, a huge number of variations often exist within geo-political boundaries. For instance, it would be foolish that people who live in Mississippi are just like people from New York.   Although they have some similarities, they are different.

Nevertheless, as long as caution is exercised, cultural patterning a people is a useful tool for analysis. In addition, it is a tool for learning, which gives insight into the kinds of differences that cross-cultural workers will encounter, and the adjustments they can make to deal with cross-cultural situations.

With the above in mind, cultural pattering a people helps:

  • Encourage identification of cultural themes and patterns.
  • Stimulate critical thinking in analyzing ethnographic data.
  • Motivate recording of similarities and differences among a people and within their specific cultural context.

Have you ever wondered what cultural patterns existed during the New Testament.? One cultural pattern was a collective bond whereby one would sacrifice all for the good of the group.  Acts clearly points out that the community of believers had all things in common.  Paul speak of the church as a body that collectively works toward helping, encouraging, and allowing it to function as a collective whole.

What makes things complicated, though, is the USA culture teaches people to do what is good for the self.  A lifestyle that portraits the total opposite of Biblical teaching, yet one that we often are tricked into believing and living.  As a result, we go to church, sit and allow the musician to entertain us, listen to the sermon, and then all go our separate ways for another six days until the next Sunday service.  In essence, culture tricks us into believing how we live is good and okay.   Romans 12:1-2 tell us to not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind.

Well, I have said enough.  Now, what should we do?

People Groups Formation

People groups throughout the world are on the move. This phenomenon is not. However, with ease of travel and the advancements in telecommunications, people can easily stay closely connected with people who speak their mother tongue, adhere to their religious preferences, and deem important the same socio-cultural values as themselves.  Leith Anderson asserts …

“A hundred years from now church historians will report that
immigrants were God’s gift to transform and revive the church in North America.”

Although these new immigrants no longer reside in their country of origin, they still retain their distinct people group identity yet at the same time learn how to function in their new home.  Others, though, gradually begin to no longer have their feet in two places and give the appearance of being assimilated into mainstream North American culture.

With the above in mind, what norms help us better understand how people groups are formed through a period of time.  In order to determine such situations, two premises are needful. First, culture is not constant; instead it is dynamic and always changing.  Missiologically, this implies that over time people groups do not remain the same.  Instead, they take new shape or even emerge into new peoples, all being dependent upon several norms that contribute to such changes occurring.  This leads to the second premise: that is, five norms contribute and determine people group formation. Those five norms include:

1. Ethnic Norms – Do a people derive their social identity from their ethnicity? A people’s ethnicity never fades away. However, how people view their ethnicity is never constant. Some people place high value in their ethnic background while others seldom think or even know their ethnic background.

For instance, my ethnic background is both Irish and American Choctaw Indian, yet I view myself as neither Irish nor American Indian.  I view myself more as Anglo-American.  It would be foolish missiologically and practically to label me as either Irish or as Choctaw.

2. Linguistic Norms – Do a people derive their social identity from language? External forces are dispossessing traditional peoples into linguistic assimilation and abandonment of mother tongues to more dominant people and cultures.  In other words, often when a minority people group resides among a majority people, their mother tongue is often abandoned after several generations and they only converse in the majority people group’s language.  Educational standards also impose linguistic assimilation.

As an example, many 2nd, 3rd and even beyond generational Korean and Chinese people speak English well and use English as their primary language in everyday conversations.  In such situations, they live within the ebb and flow linguistically of the Korean or Chinese culture.

With the above two norms in mind, one could easily assume that people groups only find their encounter-worldviewunique social identity in Ethnic and Linguistic norms and once those two norms fade aware then the people have lost their distinct people identity.   However, that is not the case, three other norms impact people group formation leading to a people’s distinct identity requiring distinct contextualized church planting strategies.   Those three norms include …

3. Socio-Cultural Norms – Do a people derive their social identity from current cultural symbols within their particular context?  Examples of cultural symbols include food, clothing, housing, festivals, rites of passage, etc.

As an example, after on-site research among several Ryukyuan peoples of Japan, we discovered that these people, though they appeared to have ethno-linguistically assimilated with Japanese, actually they retained their distinctiveness through their socio-cultural festivities, feasts, rites of passage, and symbols. As such, these cultural symbols become the defining norms providing them with their distinct people group identity and requiring a completely different contextualized church planting strategy from the majority Japanese people group.

4. Religious Norms – Do a people derive their social identity from symbols in their religious beliefs? A few religious symbols include church, mosque, temple, etc. Also, included are symbols to aid worship and ritualistic practices (e.g. music, holy texts, sacred people, sacred objects, etc.).

As an example, Punjabi, though ethno-linguistically the same, are divided religiously into some adhering to Sikhism and others being Muslim thus requiring two distinct contextualized church planting strategies.

5. Geo-Political Norms – Do a people derive their social identity from nationalistic constructs? Geo-political norms include political (country) borders and physical landscape (mountains, rivers, etc), rural vs urban environments, etc. There are many examples of how North America regionally shapes how one socially relates to their environment and others in their surroundings.

To ascertain how the above five norms have impacted the many people groups in the North American context, it is needed to not make generalized or casual assumptions about who we encounter in our everyday activity.  We never know, unless we get to know those we encounter, how they see the world and who they most readily hang out with, which becomes the topic of my next post.

“Who is Our New Neighbor?”

Every year the US Census office conducts the American Community Survey.  Over the past 10 years there has been a sharp rise in foreign born populations migrating to the USA.

Predominantly located in the larger urban areas, these new arrivals to the USA come for a variety of reasons.  Some come as refuges, escaping harsh conditions or political regimes.  Others come to find a better life and live the American dream.  While others come for educational purposes.  No matter the reason, it is factual that the USA and its culture is changing.   We are quickly becoming multicultural.

I was in a church not long ago and someone remarked, “What are we going to do about all of these foreigners coming to America?”  I immediately spoke up and said,

Have we ever thought that God, in His providential timing, is bringing these many different peoples from many different cultures who speak many different language for a reason?  Maybe, He is bringing them this direction so that we can easily with no restricted access issues to deal with proclaim to them the words of Romans 10:13.

Paul says, “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13).  There is something beautiful about the word “whosoever”.  The beauty must be in its universality, its lack of exclusiveness. “Whosoever” is always used when describing God’s salvation.  John says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

Francis of Assisi once collapsed beside the road due to lack of nourishment. The two men who found him were wealthy and educated. They spoke in scholarly language of Latin. Not knowing that Francis would understand Latin, one said: “Just leave him here. He is worthless anyway.” To this Francis responded, “Call no man worthless for whom Christ died.” Men say certain people are of no value to the world and are but a burden on society, but God says “whosoever”.

One of the worst feelings in the whole world has to be the feeling of being excluded when we want to be included.  All of us have experienced exclusion. It happens everyday. (At school with youth, at work, everywhere.)  On the playground of any school or park there will be a child playing alone while others are playing together.  At any college you can find students who are dorm hermits, never leaving there room, who seem to have no friends and no involvement in any social activities.  All of us have felt like we should have been invited to some event when we were not.  Or, included in some committee when we were not.   And, etc., etc.

Sometimes I think we Christians are too prone to be like the rest of the world. We oftentimes exclude others when we should be including all.  The Bible in Colossians 3:11 says “there is no difference between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”  Salvation is for all mankind.  It is unique because of it’s comprehensive nature.  All people can have it.

It might very well be that God is bringing people to us so that as body of believers in Christ we not convert them to be all that Americans are but all that it means to be in Christ. Even more, it goes without saying that God is bringing people to us so that we can love our neighbors.