Exodus 2:11-14, Acts 10:24-35
A major barrier that impedes growth and spread of the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in a multicultural, multi tribal multiethnic, multiracial and multigenerational church is known as “ethnocentrism.”
What is ethnocentrism?
(i) The dictionary of Anthropology: ethnocentrism is the “universal tendency to judge or interpret other cultures according to the criteria of one’s own culture.”1
(ii) International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences: ethnocentrism is an “attitude that one’s own way of life is to be preferred to all others.”2
(iii) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Sociology: ethnocentrism is “the practice of studying and making judgements about other societies in terms of one’s own cultural assumptions or bias…’’3
From all these definitions, it can be said that, ethnocentrism is the tendency to view the norms and values of one’s own culture as absolute and to use them as a standard against which to evaluate all other cultures.
It’s a widespread tendency for people to favour their own group over another. It’s a universal phenomenon that cut-across all facets of life: politics, religion, economy and even in the Church of Christ.
Ethnocentrism has many commonalities
~Prejudice: This is a negative attitude towards people of other group. Just like tribal sentiment, it is unfavourable view of other group of people.
~Racism: It’s the belief that one’s race, ethnic group, cultures etc is supreme and all others are innately inferior to them/theirs.
~Discrimination: Behaviour that puts other groups at disadvantage.
~Tribalism: Tribal consciousness and loyalty; especially exaltation of the tribe above other groups.
~Xenophobia: Dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries. It’s a crime against humanity. Forgetting that we are all created in God’s image.
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to view the norms and values of one’s own culture as absolute and to use them as a standard against which to evaluate all other cultures.
One of the most well known and most horrible example of ethnocentrism to ever occur was during the Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler decided that he hated the Jews, as well as some other groups of people, and had many innocent people slaughtered in concentration camps – HOLOCAUST. Others include:
- The 1990 to 1991 Gulf War.
- The 1994 genocide in Rwanda (Hutu & Tutsi).
- Instances of turmoil experienced in Yugoslavia and formal Soviet Union.
- Series of after-election ethnic conflicts experienced in Kenya.
- Boko Haram, Fulani Herdsman onslaught in Nigeria.
- Several tribal clash and genocide in Nigeria.
– Ethnocentrism is morally and logically incorrect.
– There is no place among God’s people for ethnocentric attitudes which leads to racism, discrimination etc. Such attitudes are contrary to the scripture and displeasing to God.
Jesus’ Approach to Ethnocentrism
§ Biblically, ethnocentrism is sin. All men and women are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).
§ Jesus did not lay down His life for a particular race of people “purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9).
§ Jesus is the Leveller – Galatians 3:28, Col. 3:11.
§ This levelling grace of Jesus is reflected in His life and teachings thus:
A. Those who accept Him are given power to become the sons and daughters of God.
B. Jesus’ manifesto in Israel. Lk 4:16-30.
Ø Many widows in Israel – Elijah
Ø Many lepers in Israel – Elisha
▶Jesus told a story of God passing over the ethnic Jews to bring a miraculous blessing to a foreigner, gentile people.
C. Faith in Jesus trumps ethnicity
(i) The healing of ten leper
(ii) The story of the good Samaritan.
(iii) The worship of the wise men from the East. (Matthew 2:1)
(iv) The healing of the Syrophoenicians woman’s daughter.
(v) The healing of the centurion’s servant.
D. Jesus commanded us to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34). Such command precludes any discrimination based on race or culture. Ethnocentrism, whether based on historical grudges or on the erroneous teachings of men, is wholly contrary to God’s word.
E. Jesus destroyed all barriers of race and ethnicity with His death on the cross.
F. Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations.
(Mark 16:15-18, Matthew 28:18-20).
Remember the first persecution of the Church in Acts 8. There is danger in sitting. Every church that refuse the Great Commission must receive a great persecution!!!
– We are called to become all things to all men, in order that we might win some for Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
– Whatever privileges are ours, we are called to lay them aside for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and bringing others into the exceeding excellence of knowing Him. (Phil.3:4-11).
How to Overcome Ethnocentric Tendency
Based on the study so far, the following suggestions will help us to overcome ethnocentric tendency taking a glimpse from Peter’s experience in Acts 10:24-35.
1. Recognize that all of us have the tendency to be ethnocentric. If Peter could why do you think you could not?
2. Be humble… “humility of the spirit’’ vs. 25-26.
3. You must walk in revelation … see the vision of God. vs11ff.
4. Always hear the voice of God vs19ff.
5. Every tribe, race and culture is clean and pure in creation vs28.
– Though we are many but one body in Christ.
Peter’s Discovery … vs34-35
– God does not show favouritism.
– He accepts from every nation/tribe/culture the ones who fear Him and does what is right.
– God does not restrict any nation or ethnicity from the offer of salvation.
6. Resist efforts on the part of your group that may want to promote racial sentiments.
7. See yourself as a bridge between cultural groups.
In Acts 15 (church-in-conference) held in Jerusalem and was presided over by the Apostles, Peter spoke as one of the pillars of Church in favour of the gentile Christians regarding the issue of circumcision.
Martin Luther King was pointing to this (ethnocentrism) in his most famous speech when he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation, where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
We must rise above colour, race, culture, tribe, but focus on faith in Christ that is the mark of the kingdom. We are not called to evaluate the cultures of others based on our own. We are called to evaluate all cultures based on the Word of God and seek to bring people into conformity to God’s word by the power of the Holy Spirit.
THE BIBLE SAYS
9”And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10 NIV). SHALOM.
1. Thomas Barfield, ed. The Dictionary of Anthropology (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1997).
2. David Bidney, “Culture”, in David Sills, ed. International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 3 (London: Macmillan Company and Free Press, 1968, 546
3. Gordon Marshall, ed., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Sociology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 58.
Author: Revd. Femi Rotimi
Youth & Outreach Minister
New Realm Baptist Church, Ojo-Lagos.
Image Credit: cccmucc.com