Australia faces many challenges at present. Economic. Political. Spiritual. Integrity. Globalization. Morality. Others? Which challenge concerns you the most?
One of the significant issues occupying my mind constantly concerns diversity engagement. I know this choice is different to the standard or common selections from the options above. However, diversity is a feature of Australian life, creating potential threats to social cohesion and unity. Numerous headline stories in recent weeks highlight the tensions present currently in society and the struggles to respectfully dialogue with opposing views. The Same Sex Marriage postal vote is causing animosity and igniting extreme acts to shut down the opposing side. The statues in Sydney vandalized over the debate concerning Australia Day have polarized the population. The constant reminder of the fear associated with terrorism threatens to paralyze. Use of the name of Jesus in playgrounds could be banned. The debate over the wearing the burqa is set to continue. As well as the call to abandon Father’s Day and replace with Special Person’s Day. These are just to name a few.
My concern is the potential damage and impact inflicted on social cohesion from such confrontations, and the lasting legacy. Numerous consequences arise. Bullying results in profound hurt, broken relationships, hatred and fear. Respect for the other suffers. The world of blame, rejection, confrontation and insult intensifies. Overzealous minority voices impact freedom of speech as they attempt to seek conformity for their perspective and silence the majority. Enclaves form.
The current Australian context should ignite Christ’s followers to theologically reflect and evaluate the nature of a godly response to handling all forms of diversity. Following Christ brings with it expectations, beliefs and values concerning the response. Paul’s reminder to not conform to the patterns of the world (Rom 12:1-2) comes to mind here. The response contributes to the discussion and communicates non-verbally to the world an alternative pathway for engaging diversity.
My own life journey with diversity commenced when born into an international marriage over 50 years ago. Ever since then I have lived and worked in at least 4 countries, travelled to over 20, parented a son with disability issues with my British born wife and struggled with ongoing generational issues within Christian organizations.
Therefore, I bring some encouragement from my own response to diversity and the intrinsic sources for motivation to manage the threats, fear and relationship challenges. Diversity becomes opportunities for me to learn, grow and deepen my walk with God. Three theologically grounded concepts guide my response for culturally appropriate relationships and cross-cultural servanthood.
Firstly, attitudes to diversity set the tone for behavior. Romans 15:7 where Paul encourages the Roman Christians to accept one another as Christ accepted them is crucial for me. Acceptance builds off an openness to difference and communicates esteem even when differences exist. The combative, selfish-driven and confrontational spirit subsides. The value is seen in Jesus’ treatment of the Samaritan woman (John 4). Elmer in his book, Cross-Cultural Servanthood (IVP, 2006) explores this further.
Secondly, culturally appropriate knowledge and skills deepen the message of acceptance in contexts of diversity. God crossed borders to engage humanity through the incarnation of Christ. Jesus’ example provides clues for intercultural engagement. David Livermore’s book, Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Multicultural World (Baker Books, 2009) proposes a model/tool to approach caring for the other and building bridges across cultural chasms. Cultural intelligence is the capacity to function effectively cross-culturally through 4 capabilities around motivation and perseverance (CQ Drive), knowledge (CQ Knowledge), strategic planning for intercultural encounters (CQ Strategy), and participation in speech and non-verbal acts (CQ Action). Having the skills and knowledge to respond assists the capacity to address diversity and understand the other.
Thirdly, God’s control of all things and activity in the world means functioning in the community and the margins without fear, even of difference. God empowers believers to cope and engage. Frost and Rice’s recent book, To Alter the World (IVP, 2017) encourages believers to consider embracing the role of midwives for God in place-crafting and dialogue.
May the manner in which we engage diversity reflect God’s heart and expectations, and implement the knowledge and skills available to us, especially when empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This post was contributed by David Turnbull. David is Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Studies at Tabor College of Higher Education and has a passion to see God’s people engage the nations with the good news of Christ in a just and culturally intelligent manner. His cross-cultural involvement has spanned over five decades and four continents (primarily Africa) in the areas of training, equipping and facilitating through local churches, mission agencies, Missions Interlink locally and nationally and the Lausanne Movement. He is currently working on his PhD in the area of cultural intelligence.