Thou Shalt Not Be Ethnocentric

In an environment where so much is new, there’s a lot of stuff to process. Each morning, I’ve been waking up very early (Korea Time), thinking about our experience here. After a while, I finally get up and write.

We’ve been sharing some observations and impressions about the culture here, including our challenges with the culture. We want to make something very clear as we continue to reflect on our experience with the Korean culture, particularly as we report on our challenges — we are not making judgments on the Korean culture. We are simply trying to share and process what we’re learning and discovering.

This morning, I woke up thinking about a word that I learned somewhere along the way: ethnocentric, which basically means being centered on one’s own ethnic group or culture, to the point of viewing other cultures/ethnic groups through one’s own culture/worldview.

Taken to an extreme, ethnocentricity leads one to believe that his or her own culture/ethnic group is superior to others. Because of that, ethnocentricity is perhaps one of the things at the root of racism (among all the other isms).

While the command, “Thou shalt not be ethnocentric,” does not appear in the Scriptures in those exact words, the concept is there, I believe. Jesus instructed his followers to …

go and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28.19).

The Greek word Matthew recorded for “nations” is ethnos, which is where the English word “ethnic” comes from. Jesus sent his church to build an international community of people from all ethnic groups and cultures because “God loved the world so much” (John 3.16).

It would be a real twist of the Scriptures to limit Jesus’ instruction, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” to those who are part of your own culture/ethnic group.

Overcoming ethnocentricity, though, may take discipline to intentionally be open-minded about other cultures/ethnic groups, and to not be so centered on your own world. In order to learn from others, we must be as objective as possible, because it is impossible to learn and be close-minded at the same time.

So, on that note, we want to encourage you to read all of our observations about the Korean culture as simply that, our observations. We trust that our observations will be an opportunity for others to learn about the Korean culture, not necessarily to make judgments about it.

So, for example, when we talk about how difficult it is for us to find stuff, our point is not to say that they’re system is dumb or that it doesn’t work or that it needs fixing or that it’s not as good as ours; we’re simply saying that it is hard for us to find stuff because we are used to another system. We could just as easily talk about the difficulty some communities in the US, and particularly in PA, have had relinquishing the old “rural route” system.

We must make the most of our opportunities to learn from other cultures. After all, those of us who are Christ-followers expect to spend eternity together. John’s vision of eternity includes this description …

I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. (Revelation 7.9)

Learning about other cultures can be a real opportunity to expand our world. If you believe that humankind is created in the image of God, then doesn’t it make sense that learning more about other people/cultures gives us a greater glimpse of God?

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