Did I Participate in Cultural Genocide?

Thirty years ago while studying Theology,  and particulary later, on the cusp of going to serve in remote rainforest villages in French West Africa, i was repeadly told by university educated friends and professors.

“What right do you have go change peoples religion?”

“What right do you have to interfere with and change their culture?”

It was even hinted that my very chosen life activity- to serve among marginalized folks in the rainforests of Côte D’Ivoire – was probably participating in a form of cultural genocide. 

Mission work was certainly not cool. 

I’ve heard no such talk in the last fifteen years or so from universities, nor their graduates.

There is great meddling in other peoples and counties culture, politics, history, traditions and beliefs these days. Using media, education, and economic clout to enforce and propogate our beliefs and values on other nations, religions, and cultures. Is this also a participation in cultural genocide?

Massive changes in the conversation now. A total flip-flop.

I was reading about chess champion Anna Muzychuk refusal to go to Saudi Arabia in December, 2017 to defend her title because of the restrictions they wish to enforce on her as a woman, while in the country for the chess match.

“In a few days I am going to lose two World Champion titles – one by one. Just because I decided not to go to Saudi Arabia. Not to play by someone’s rules, not to wear abaya, not to be accompanied getting outside, and altogether not to feel myself a secondary creature. Exactly one year ago I won these two titles and was about the happiest person in the chess world but this time I feel really bad. I am ready to stand for my principles and skip the event, where in five days I was expected to earn more than I do in a dozen of events combined. All that is annoying, but the most upsetting thing is that almost nobody really cares. That is a really bitter feeling, still not the one to change my opinion and my principles. The same goes for my sister Mariya – and I am really happy that we share this point of view. And yes, for those few who care – we’ll be back!”
Anna Muzychuk- world class chess champion. 2017

I’ve heard no such talk in the last fifteen years from universities, nor their graduates about not changing culture. There is great meddling in other peoples counties, culture, traditions and beliefs these days. Is it a good thing now?

In fact, many of these friends and family that spoke to me like this 25-30 years ago are now volunteering in organizations that actively seek change in policy that inalterably changes other peoples culture, politics and religion in other countries.

What happened here?

We are waking up to our common humanity.

For the record, I’m pleased Anna is standing up for her freedom and equality. I am proud of Anna. It is her choice.

 Yet, i know that my wife and I both alter our dress, mannerisms, speach, greetings, and movements when we work in a predominantly muslim country, and it was the same in another predominantly animistic culture and region. We conduct ourselves in this way to build bridges of relatiobship with locals in our host countries so as to not erect needless barriers of communication or understanding between us and the local people. We are their guests.  

Certainly, some things restrict women deeply.  In my work we were trained to be culturally sensitive even if it restricts my freedom. To “be all things to all people.” We were never taught to simply refuse and say to hell with you guys. Some expats do. But it costs them many needlessly tense or lost relationships. 

Anna would have been going to defend a chess title for a week. Not to become welcomed into a community for long term to love them, and hopefully to be loved in return by neighbours. To us a shawl isn’t a big deal when in Rome. Might not like to wear it, nor appreciate it’s implications, but we want to be with these people, we chose to be with them. I suppose  we could have chosen, like Anna and just never have gone and missed out on a lifetime of service and beautiful relationships with people of different culture, religion, and sensibilities. 

Which is it? Can it be a little of both? 

My old university friends and professors did not understand how often, nor how deeply tradition, culture, politics, economics, and religion can severly marginalize, penalize, and minamilize the rights or voice of huge segmemts of people.We saw it every day.

Though i was accused of being the narrow one, it was folks like us, and many of my international peers, forgoing life and the monetarily successful route back home, us in the trenches over there, who saw injustice, tribalism, discrimination, and racism being hidden, protected even, behind these lofty concepts of culture and the lassiez faire, “What right do you have too….. ” We were giving up a lot of our personal freedom and western sensibilities to be adopted “over there”. Who’s inflexable? 

For the record. No one can make anyone change their religion, life path, behavior, politics, economics, nor culture. People only chose change when they see more love and more hope within these new choices. People will do what they wish, and only what they wish, with new information.

All i was doing was providing new information as a theologian back then. I taught love for all. Jesus said to love God, love your neighbour. Jesus said to love our enemies and pray for those who make our life hell. Do not return evil for evil but return good for evil.   Nothing more.

Locals made their own choices on whether their beliefs, traditions, politics, interaction, relationships, marriages or culture should change based on these Jesus concepts. Some did, most didn’t.

In 2011, a doctor in Charlottetown said something like this in a conversation. (I paraphrase)

“This talk about Culture was always just a form of bullshit. Culture is simply recient history; the history of the way people have acted and aligned up to today. People change their beliefs, views, habits and actions all the time.  Always have, always will. They should be permitted to do so, given opportunity to do so to better themselves and their society.”

I wanted to hug that man.

That is the point. My old university friends and professors had a tremendous lack of appreciation for how deeply so many aspects of tradition, culture, politics, economics, and religion often marginalized, penalized, and minamilized the rights of huge segmemts of people. Their needs to be change in the present to stop this.

Who is the evangelist now?

We all are,  it seems!

Spreading our values and beliefs.

The joke is. Each of us always have been.  (And we just shrug our shoulders)

It’s called community and communication. You can’t say a word or undertake even a single action without declaring our woldview, what we think “reality” is.  Our beliefs, presuppositions, values, and assumptions always come through in how we live and treat other people. We are all preachers of our ideologies, even without words.

I live and work with muslims. I respect many things about their community, values and beliefs. I even go out of my way to check my freedom, to not needlessly offend my muslim friends sensibilities. But I reject certain beliefs, practices, and relational traditions deeply. Same goes for my Christian community too, for I no longer accept things as handed to me. Even my economics and politics have changed too.

Some things simply needed to change.

Some things still need to change

Say hello to our new “cultures!”, we’ve  genocided the old ones with manipulation of media, politics, economic clout, law and religion.

In our “culture” we certainly put oursleves in the position to judge history (and everything else). Let’s see what we’ve been judged to have made of it when we are “history”. 

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