Yesterday I read Barbara Kingsolver’s essay A Fist in the Eye of God, in which she talks about the incredible diversity present in nature. The longer a crop has been grown in a country the greater the diversity of seed types that can be found. So a huge number of wheat strains exist in Ethiopia and the strength of the wheat crop has always depended on this diversity and local adaptability of the seed. Or at least that was true until globalization and the advent of agribusiness started pushing farmers to grow only a few seed types. And of course many of us are concerned that the loss of diversity not only means the loss of thousands of years of genetic adaptation, it also means increasing vulnerability to diseases. When all seeds work the same our food supply is not stronger it is weaker.
I think I enjoyed this essay because it dovetailed beautifully with my major assignment for the week. Much of my time has been spent working on a liturgy for our upcoming Seed Sampler on ethnic identity and the expression of Christian faith. As I have researched expressions of Christian faith in different cultures I have been intrigued by the incredibly rich and diverse ways in which Christians give voice to their beliefs. Tragically many of us think that our way of expressing faith is the only right way. We are not only closed to the richly diverse expressions we see in other cultures, we are even closed to the diversity of expressions we see in other denominations.
In Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity, edited by Craig Ott and Harold Netland, we are reminded that “Christianity is increasingly at home in many cultures and will not be imprisoned by a single culture.” God loves diversity not just in nature but in the way that we express our faith too. Christianity has become a world religion not because everyone worships God in the same way, but because everyone worships the same God in their own culturally specific way. “Christianity is a world religion because it is a local religion”. The wonder of Christianity is that it is adaptable to any culture. It is at its strongest not when we all think and worship in the same way but when we all bring the diversity of our cultural expressions of faith and worship God together in unity and respect.
The early missionaries to Australia believed that they needed to teach Australian aboriginals how to wear Western clothes and follow Western rules of etiquette before they could become Christians. How much they missed out on because they could only see Christianity through their own cultural eyes.
I have learned so much from sisters and brothers in Africa, Asia and Latin America about what it means to be a follower of Christ. We live in an exciting time for Christianity when God’s promise to Abraham that all the people of the earth would be blessed through him is coming to pass. The church is growing in Africa, Asia and Latin America and theological voices are also growing that express views of faith that come not from Western perspectives but from African, Asian and Latin American perspectives.
I don’t think that we will fully understand who God is until we learn to appreciate how others who are very different from us live out their faith. The question is are we wiling and able to accept the challenge? Let me know what you think.