World Conference 2023 is fresh in heart and mind. I still am savoring the deep blessings of being together in diverse, intercultural community, a treasure and gift of a small, connected, worldwide denomination.
A colleague was reflecting the other day on the amazing normality of having friends around the world. I am aware of this deep, rare blessing. I also believe it is a primary call and identity for Community of Christ as we continue to grow into a global movement committed to justice and peace for all creation at this critical moment for our worldwide family and planet.
In a time of decline in the West, how can the spiritually vibrant traditions of the global church bring new life and empowerment through the Holy Spirit? As we discern difficult topics like nonviolence, how can the perspectives of people from many nations who have experienced many types of conflict broaden and deepen our understanding? As we discern future church leadership, how can the qualities, styles, and competencies of leadership that vary by culture bring a more nuanced view of what is needed for the future of the church in a global context? As we address World Conference resolutions such as the climate emergency, how can we work across nations to initiate grassroots movements to dent the systemic causes of climate disruption?
Truly embracing our intercultural identity and potential as Community of Christ may be one of our greatest assets as we move with hope and faith into the future.
I have been learning more about “intercultural,” not just as a descriptor, but an invitation. It is different from multicultural, which refers to people from different cultures being in the same place. Intercultural is a theological, sociological, and anthropological term referring to the relations among cultures in a group or environment. How do people interact and how are they shaped in being together?
In an intercultural community, everyone is directly affected by the presence of cultural others. This should be a stimulus to every member (not just those from minority cultures) to accept the challenge of cross-cultural living in the sense that they commit themselves to living outside their own comfort zone. Each is gradually transformed and converted to a way of living that is somewhat new and somewhat familiar to each community member.
Being intercultural is much more than tokenism for the sake of perceived diversity. It is the willingness to be shaped and formed by our interactions with one another while releasing any explicit or implicit sense of cultural superiority. It is the belief that God is present and active in every context of the church, and that as we hear more from one another we get closer to the wholeness and largeness of God’s vision for us and the world. It stokes our curiosity and wonder. With a stance of deep humility, we listen for where the Holy Spirit is being revealed in the Sacred Other. We are stretched, deepened, formed, and transformed in these sacred encounters.
In an intercultural community, no single culture is perceived as normative or dominant. Every culture (including your own) is viewed as a carrier of wisdom, and all are asked to critically examine their own culture in light of what they hear and experience from others. Intercultural exchange is a gift to the church because it shakes us free of normative worldviews and understandings that often inhibit the gospel’s transformative power in our lives and communities.
We often get attached more to culture than to gospel and try to make the gospel fit. Intercultural exchange allows us to glimpse from and beyond our own cultures to receive the wisdom of others and become more open to attaching ourselves to Christ as the source and aim of our Christian life, faith, community, and mission. This is foundational for authentic disciple formation and can be a tremendous blessing to the worldwide church.
Some of the most formative experiences of my life have occurred in intercultural community within Community of Christ. Having our own cultural assumptions challenged by listening to the perspectives of others is one of the most significant ways we can become more fully open and available to the transforming Spirit within us. Intercultural exchange helps us truly become “a new creation.”
Doctrine and Covenants Section 164:5 reminds us:
…by taking on the life and mind of Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective. Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ, a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of God.
Intercultural community asks us to be conscious of the gifts of wisdom our cultures have to offer while being critically self-reflective of the ways that our cultures inhibit our growth as disciples of Jesus Christ who are called to kinship in the family of God beyond national, ethnic, and cultural boundaries.
As we reflect on World Conference 2023 and prepare to be together again in 2025, we have many important issues to reflect on and questions to discern. Consider the following questions as you ponder our call to continue to grow in Christ-like intercultural community:
- How are you shaped by the global perspective of Community of Christ?
- How does your culture empower your growing discipleship? How is your culture contrary to the transformative invitations of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
- How does being part of a worldwide movement contribute to your understanding of your own ministry context?
- How might your position on important issues be impacted by hearing the perspectives of siblings in Christ from other nations and cultures?
- Are you truly open to receiving the deep wisdom and ways of being that are resident in other cultures of the church? What might we learn and experience from each other that can deepen and enrich our own experience of ministry in this time of great change?
- How does the vision of the peaceable reign of God on Earth invite us into genuine intercultural community for the blessing of the world?
- How are you called to reach beyond your own context to build relationships of meaning and transformation with members of other nations, contexts, and cultures?