Fear, Love, and Cultural Christianity

by | Oct 15, 2020

Love over Fear

“Is what I’m thinking, saying or doing, building trust or undermining trust?”  This little phrase set to a catchy jingle was the core of my teaching in cross-cultural skills for a workshop with college students.  Years later, this simple phrase echoes in my mind when I encounter someone who holds different views than me. As a Christian, I understand God’s call on my life to be a bridge-builder across cultural divides so that more people would understand the goodness of Jesus and his kingdom.

It can be uncomfortable to step outside what is culturally comfortable and put ourselves in the shoes of people we label as “other.” Many Christians are even afraid that by choosing to learn more about a particular cultural issue they’re compromising their faith.

Choosing to learn about an area of culture doesn’t mean you have to abandon your beliefs. It means that you are willing to be a learner to better relate with lost people in a hurting world. Click To Tweet

In his book, “Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture,” British theologian Lesslie Newbigin writes, “In the attempt to be ‘relevant’ one may fall into syncretism, and in the effort to avoid syncretism one may become irrelevant.”  Relevance to better understand how the gospel intersects with culture is essential to demonstrating the love of Jesus to a culture that has grown increasingly skeptical of Christians. If we allow fear to prevent us from understanding prevailing cultural issues, we willfully choose an attitude that is contrary to what we see in scripture and modeled by Jesus.

We can trust the Holy Spirit to guide us in both learning to love people who hold different views and giving us discernment for how to engage. In Acts 17 we see Paul spending time with the Athenians observing their culture and values.  He listens to the ideas they debate in the Areopagus, the seat of philosophy and government and where they read their poets to better understand their desires. In Athens, altars to other gods, pagan practices, and philosophers surrounded Paul and were proponents of very different views on life than what he believed. Rather than fear that his own faith would be tainted, or disparage the Athenians for their beliefs and practices, Paul sees engaging in culture as a critical practice to help people to meet Jesus. Where others might call out sin, Paul found the common ground.

Though we are certainly living in divisive times we can choose to see cultural engagement as our call to help others experience the goodness of Jesus and his kingdom.  While the full weight of the challenging culture in which Paul preached might escape us, Christians today are are able to emulate his willingness to engage and love others in a challenging culture as well. Below I outline a few key attitudes that can help us step out of our Christian bubbles to better understand culture.

Kindness over Correction

Years ago Chick-Fil-A came under fire from LGBTQ groups for news about its owner’s endorsement of and funding for groups supporting traditional marriage. Shane Windmeyer, founder and Executive director of Campus Pride, an organization for LGBTQ students, had been rallying campus groups to protest Chick-Fil-A when he received a phone call from Chick-fil-A’s CEO, Dan Cathy.  Over the course of many months Dan and Shane built a relationship seeking to understand one another’s perspectives.

In an article he wrote for Huffington Post, Shane shared that “Dan, in his heart, is driven by his desire to minister to others and had to choose to continue our relationship throughout this controversy. He had to both hold to his beliefs and welcome me into them. He had to face the issue of respecting my viewpoints and life even while not being able to reconcile them with his belief system. He defined this to me as “the blessing of growth.” He expanded his world without abandoning it. I did, as well.”

We grow and expand our world when we choose a posture of kindness toward others rather than seeking to correct them. Click To Tweet

We grow and expand our world when we choose a posture of kindness toward others rather than seeking to correct them. Proverbs 16:23-24 says “from a wise mind comes wise speech; the words of the wise are persuasive. Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”  I find it as no surprise that the words “wise” and “kind” are within both of these verses. If we are to engage with people or businesses who hold different cultural beliefs, kindness goes a long way. The old adage rings true: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  In the workplace, this could look like taking the initiative to share a meal with someone who holds different views from you, speaking with your neighbors simply to get to know them beyond the views that the political signs in their yard represent.  It could look like modeling for your family how to speak respectfully about groups of people who hold different perspectives on cultural issues rather than denigrate them for their beliefs.

Get to know your neighbors beyond the views that the political signs in their yard represent. Click To Tweet

Understanding over Preconceptions

It takes time and intentionality to observe what is happening in culture beyond the doom and gloom of many news outlets. To become culturally aware we can ask: “What is Jesus trying to say to his church, to culture and to me in these particular events?” Personally, the increased racial tension in the U.S. spurred a group of my friends and I to begin reading the book, White Fragility, by Robin D’Angelo this past January.  Though I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to build cross-cultural friendships and have a greater insight into the racial history of the U.S., I knew that I needed to continue to understand the racial struggles happening across the country.  Though the book isn’t a Christian book I filtered what I read through the lens of scripture to understand how the sin of racism affects my life, our churches, and culture.  My own preconceptions were challenged reading about the experiences of women of color in the workplace and caused me to reflect on how I’ve inadvertently done things that have broken trust or have harmed relationships with colleagues who are from a different ethnic background than me.  Rather than simply declare that I’m “woke” because I’ve attended a few seminars on diversity, continuing to seek understanding has helped me develop greater empathy for people who have experienced the pain of racism and spurred me on to learning more.

To become culturally aware we can ask: “What is Jesus trying to say to his church, to culture and to me in these particular events?” Click To Tweet

Growth over Dogma

Leaders take the initiative to learn and grow.  Spending time reading or listening to books by people who have different perspectives than you on politics, sexuality, and race can enable you to build trust with colleagues, neighbors and family members. When we choose a mindset of growth it demonstrates that we are more interested in learning than voicing our own dogmatic opinions.  This in and of itself is a rare gift these divisive days. Choosing to learn about an area of culture doesn’t mean you have to abandon your beliefs.  It means that you are willing to be a learner to better relate with lost people in a hurting world. If you find yourself shaking your head, getting angry, or dismissing certain perspectives, ask yourself why.  Spend time in prayer for people or groups you might have labeled as “other.”  Find a group of people who are willing to learn with you and help you wade into areas of culture that you might naturally avoid as a Christian.

The Holy Spirit is able to guide our attitudes, actions, and words as we pray and discern how we can respond with empathy, love, and kindness to build trust with others who hold different beliefs.  Ultimately, we look to Jesus as the example of the one who crossed cultures to put on flesh and then chose to hang out with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors.  The same power in Jesus’ resurrection is available to us to bridge any divide and turn our hearts toward love instead of fear.

Photo of Jessica Leep Fick

Jessica Leep Fick

Jessica Leep Fick is a speaker, writer and author of Beautiful Feet: Unleashing Women to Everyday Witness. For the past 20 years she’s worked with churches and para-church organizations to help Christians authentically share Jesus. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and two sons and can be found kayaking in her free time.

Read More