Cross cultural communication got practiced extensively at “God’s Mosaic of Culture,” the 2015 Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Conference that opened the General Conference Executive Committee’s annual meetings.
If you want to work well with people across all the different cultures in our church, you have to get out of your comfortable seat, mingle and talk and get to know those who are different from you the delegates were told. To mix the crowd, attendees were instructed to find someone from another country and introduce themselves, and that two were then to find another two to form a group of four. These small groups became the corps of the activities that took place over the two-day conference where small group discussions were the key. The conversation moved through consideration of the layers of culture, to how one acquires culture, different types of communication and communicators, logic systems, and on to conflict resolution.
In the consideration of logic systems, delegates were given generalizations that were acknowledged as over-simplifications, but were said to reflect certain cultures:
English was characterized as being linear, German was called dialetical—valuing a strong back and forth discussion of opposite opinions, French—digressionary with lengthy discussion of many related topics. Japanese was called circular-- having discussions around an issue without directly mentioning it. Bantu—illustrative--using proverbs, stories, metaphors, and other illustrative techniques to discuss the issue at hand. Mediterranean languages were described as pictorial with flowery images being used to paint a picture of the issue.
Even hidden dimensions of culture were explored in a conversation about worldviews—the pattern of assumptions a people holds about reality that determines what they think.
In the final section on conflict management sixteen different methods were explored in Biblical stories and texts showing that the Bible has more to say about conflict management than just the verses in Matthew 18 which prescribe going directly to the person with whom one is in conflict and discussing the issue.
Scriptural guidelines for building Christian Community were also shared, texts pointing to humility, acceptance, forgiveness, love, non-judgmental attitudes, unity, and a servant God.
The hymn “In Christ There is No East or West” served as the theme song for the conference. It was sung on Friday with the audience holding hands and raising them high in a sign of comradery.
President Ted N.C. Wilson closed the session with a few brief remarks. He noted that, “We have differences of opinion, including when we vote sometimes, but by God’s grace we come together afterward.”
One could wish that such a wonderful cross-cultural session would have been held long before the divisive vote in San Antonio on whether or not to allow divisions to make the decision on ordaining women. So many times our discussion of cross-cultural issues gets isolated to missions, with only token mention of the vast differences of culture within the church. We tend to have “Japanese” conversations that circle around the issue without ever mentioning it. Perhaps if we acknowledged the issues that are created by our multiple cultures, we could apply the principles of acceptance and non-judgmental attitudes to those inside as well as outside of the church.
Bonnie Dwyer is Editor of Spectrum Magazine.
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