Christianity and Cultural Superiority

My husband and I often find it difficult to fit in with any particular church here in America. Frankly, we just can’t accept that a particular European Reformation-era-inspired culture is the only holy and acceptable way to live as a Christian, nor that liberal Westernized Christianity is any better. Even when I was myself wearing cape dresses and “coffee filter” headcoverings and hoping to marry a farmer, it struck me as odd one day to see a photo of “converted” African girls wearing full Beachy Amish garb.


Josiah told me he was astounded once, even though he was a child, to note the hypocrisy of missionaries who complained unceasingly about a particularly primitive Ethiopian tribe and the immodesty of their clothing (strategically placed bits of animal hide)….while wearing short-shorts and tank tops (strategically placed bits of industrially woven textiles). It is true that modesty is an important part of a God-glorifying life, but those primitive peoples would be far better off adopting Ethiopian cultural dress, which is very modest, than your average Western clothing.

This kind of cultural superiority happens along the whole spectrum of Western Christianity, from liberals who join with Planned Parenthood in showering condoms on the “ignorant natives” (because God knows there are enough poor brown babies in the world already) to conservatives who believe that even the most modest of cultural clothing must be replaced with one particular, unchanging, uniform mode of dress.

The same goes for music. Neither contemporary Christian music nor four-part hymns (both of which I love) are uniquely holy or superior to the voices of worship raised in Hindi or Zulu. Acapella singing is beautiful and I love it. Piano-accompanied hymns are lovely. But I simply cannot see anything unholy about acapella hymns in South African style as opposed to European style. Or hymns accompanied by finger-piano rather than the ivory keys. Or clapping, for that matter. Or not clapping.

It is sad to me to see a desire to require all cultures to conform to a Western standard, rather than a desire for all peoples to live holy lives according to Biblical standards. Where there is a clear Biblical mandate, believers of every nation must obey. And sometimes that means going against cultural norms. But where there isn’t, why should they not take what is good in their culture and use it for the glory of God?

Many Indian women wear salwar kameez which are extremely modest and cover their heads for prayer and worship. Many liberal Christians would like to see them dress in jeans and t-shirts and leave the covering all together (in the name of liberation). Some more conservative Christians would like them to exchange their modest cultural attire for a particular uniform which is lovely, but as far as I can see, not any more modest or holy.

To tell the truth, Western culture has its own problems. We have nothing to brag about. In fact, there are believers in other countries who look at us and think we need missionaries to pay us a visit. The bottom line makes me sound like a liberal: Diversity is good. I don’t mean it the way we usually hear it. I don’t mean that morals and values are flexible and feelings-based or that anything is acceptable. But God created in us differences. He has blessed us in different ways.

We each have a different part to play in the body of Christ, and we each have something different to offer. The ear is nothing without the hand. Even the toenail is not a useless part of the body. And who’s to say who is really the toenail? Are we in the West so certain that we are among the “higher order” in the body of Christ that we want to confirm every other culture to our image?