One of the things that is most troubling to me as I travel around the world is what has been called the tribalizing of Christians. By this I mean that there are so many Christians in so many countries who have absolutely no contact with, nor much concern for other Christians in other countries. Their identities and awareness are chiefly shaped and formed not by their character in Christ but by their cultural identity and preferences. And yet these 'other people' are our brothers and sisters in Christ. When a Christian places his love for his own ethnic group or national group above and before his love for Christ's people anywhere and everywhere he or she by definition has violated the very sense and spirit of what Paul was talking about when he said "in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile... but all are one in Christ" (Gal. 3.28). Just so, and we have been fighting the battle of the retribalizing of Christianity ever since. I saw a great cartoon the other day. It showed two Indians carrying a dead turkey on a stick between them and heading for a picnic table where three Puritans were sitting waiting. The first Indian said to the second " Look I know they have a great work ethic, but their illegal, they should go back where they came from and enter the country legally."
One of the many forms that this tribalizing tendency takes is cultural parochialism or elitism, the assumption that it ought to be obvious that our culture and cultural expression of Christianity is so clearly superior (and more blessed by God) than any other such form that the best way for the lost in other nations to become saved is to re-create them in our own cultural image. Never mind that our culture has the huge besetting sins of greed, various forms of idolatry, rampant sexual immorality, materialism and a host of other self-centered and selfish practices that in no way honor Christ and his self-giving love. And yet we take it as without question that we should want to preserve many of these aspects of a culture at the expense of life, limb, and sometimes even liberty and at the expense of our Christian commitments and obligations.
One of the things that can be done to change this sort of cultural myopia is spending time regularly in cultures different than our own, going on cross-cultural mission trips, learning a foreign language since it is the gateway into the life of another culture, and in general working on our xenophobic tendencies. What happens, after one gets over the cultural vertigo is one discovers that we all have a lot to learn from each other. In many ways, many other cultures have simpler, more healthy , less self centered lifestyles than most Americans have or aspire to. Learning to see the world through the eyes of others not like ourselves is learning to see the world with eyes like that of God himself, who as the Bible says is impartial and no respecter of persons (see Acts 10).
I must tell you that having had the privilege of teaching right around the world, we are all pretty much the same-- we are all created in God's image, but are now fallen, and are badly in need of redemption. And once brought to Christ, we all have a chance to blossom and be a blessing to others, to be servants of Christ manifesting all the fruit of the Spirit--- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control.
Let me just briefly tell you the story of my friend Issah, a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem. He was born and baptized in Bethlehem and today he is a world famous camera man who works the Middle East beat for major networks, including CBS. Everyone knows and loves Issah-- Jews, Palestinians, people from the West, people from the East. And its easy to see why-- he is such a kind and joyful person, just like his namesake-- for Issah is the Arabic name for Jesus. When he parks his car in Jerusalem or Bethlehem or anywhere pretty much in Israel, all he has to do is leave a piece of paper on the dashboard which says 'ISSAH' in Arabic and Hebrew and English, and people know to leave his car alone.
And yet despite all this Issah has troubles. He lives know in one of the few integrated neighborhoods in Jerusalem, where Jews and Palestinians try to make there own personal peace with one another. Yet there are days when Jewish children come to his house and taunt his children and tell them they will be killed, and don't belong in Israel. Never mind that his family has lived in the Holy Land since the Middle Ages or before. Of course this story could be reversed with Palestinians treating Israeli Jews this way as well. But you see my point. Despite it all, Issah is trying to live out the beatitude 'Blessed are the Peacemakers' not just pray for peace.
There were many nights during my last shoot in Israel for CBS where the whole film crew, Jews, Christians, and Palestinians would all go out together and have dinner. They ask me to pray for them all, and I did. For them all. Because God loves them all and wants them redeemed--- all of them. Being a world Christian you see not only means caring about Christians everywhere. It also means making a good faith effort to love even those whom you might normally regard as your enemies, because Jesus said to do so.
I would like to leave you with the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, one by Al Jarreau, just let you ponder them as you reflect on the question--- How does God view people different from you? Does he really love the world?
GOD'S GIFT TO THE WORLD
Is God's gift to the world.
Each one is God's gift to the world.
There are no extra people
In a mansion or a ghetto
Each heart and soul is counted
Though they're different from you
So look across the ocean
See those on distant corners
Or see one beside you
Look in their eyes and you will know it's true.
And all the lonely people
The first ones and the last ones
All the great and small ones
The ones that win and lose
All of the remembered
And the forgotten
From every single nation
Is God's gift to the world.
From the CD Tomorrow Today