Overcoming Ethnocentrism

A major barrier that impedes growth in multicultural, multiracial churches is known as “ethnocentrism,” 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 judge and measure all other cultures. Many times this tendency is cloaked under the attitude that “they don’t do it like us.” Pastors and leaders in multi-cultural and multi-racial churches will constantly battle in this area. However, the more you talk about the problems of ethnocentrism, the more your members will attempt to delete it from their attitudes.

What’s wrong with being ethnocentric? The answer is simple: it dishonors God because God is the creator of us all.

We become ethnocentric in many ways. First, we accept the stereotypes given to us because of our racial or cultural group. Time and time again, people are victims of stereotyping. Second, we avoid contact with people of other cultural or racial groups. Third, we allow pride to rule our lives. I once heard a preacher say that the key cause of pride is in the middle of the word pride. What is in the middle of the word pride? The letter “I.” Finally, many of us have a psychological need to look down on other people. This is part of the fall of humanity. I am thankful, however, that there are ways we can overcome ethnocentrism.

In order to overcome ethnocentrism, we must first recognize that all of us have the tendency to be ethnocentric. Next, we must repent of the sin of pride. Third, we should resolve to cultivate a friendship with at least one person of a different racial or cultural group. Fourth, we should resist efforts on the part of people in our cultural group to put down or perpetuate negative stereotypes (through jokes and snide remarks) of another cultural group. Lastly, we overcome ethnocentrism by realizing that we have an opportunity to exert a positive Christian influence in building bridges between cultural groups.

It is time for Christians to get our act together. We can make a positive influence on the world in which we live if we combat ethnocentrism effectively. Christians in the book of Acts certainly had their act together. According to Acts, Christianity reaches several racial and ethnic groups, which supports the claim that God embraces multicultural, multiracial ministry. For example, Philip preaches to an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:35) and baptizes him (Acts 8:38). Additionally, Peter preaches to Cornelius, a Gentile soldier. Peter says, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28).

Acts reveals the Jews at the church in Antioch delivering their message to the Greeks (Acts 11:20). Names and homelands point to cultural and racial diversity among the leadership at the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1). Moreover, the Holy Spirit leads this multicultural, multiracial body of leaders to commission the Apostle Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:3). Afterward, Paul and Barnabas proclaim the gospel to a diverse group of people on an island (Acts 13:4). Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Assyrians, and Persians colonized this island.

This post originally appeared in There’s More Than One Color in the Pew: A Handbook for Multicultural, Multiracial Churches by Tony Mathews.

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