What is more powerful than cultural differences? Do you recall the parable of the two sons that are asked by their father to do something? One refuses but then goes and does it anyway. The other says he will but does not. I’ll wager that everyone reading this concludes that the son who does what was asked even though he said ‘no’ initially was the better son. I read once about a group of people in another land, in another culture, who heard this parable and were of the view that the son who said ‘no’ should have been stoned regardless of his subsequent obedience; saying no to his father was such a serious expression of disrespect that it could not be tolerated. That someone would say he would do something but not do it was regarded as commonplace.
Another example of cultural difference is what we call nepotism. We take it for granted that persons with hiring authority in organizations, except small family operations, cannot hire their relatives. In other places, such a prohibition would baffle people. The reaction would be something like, What!? Why can’t I hire my brother and my other relatives? I know them! Why would I hire anyone else?
Recent items in the news tell us about tribal councils in other places meeting and deliberating and stoning to death a young girl for the offense of being raped by her father.
We’ve see these things here too. A few months ago there was a news item about a teenager being beaten to death in a church basement here by the pastor and other leaders of the church because he was not sufficiently repentant about some offense.
The interesting, and frightening, thing about these events is that they are not committed by people who think they are doing anything wrong. Quite the contrary; they sincerely and devoutly believe that what they are doing is not only right, but mandated by a higher law to which they have to answer.
The challenge of confronting and correction such ways of thinking is gigantic. Is Christianity up to the task? We speak so many different messages, I fear it is hard for the un- and other churched to get the message of love, forgiveness, and the other fruits of the spirit. Some hear preached only the wrathful God of the Old Testament. It can make one long for the monolithic church of the Middle Ages but only for a few seconds until one remembers the horrors wrought by inquisitions and crusades and suppression of thought. When the church becomes politically powerful, the most unsavory of those with a will to power gravitate to it and to its leadership ranks.
Where am I going with this? I’m not really sure, but I think it is just to say again that the task before us in overcoming fear, superstition, and ignorance is great and will always be before us. Every generation is a new frontier. We who proclaim a loving God must not lose heart or lose strength but must be steadfast in spreading the commandment that we are to love one another as we love ourselves.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 17-May-2016.