In some countries, people must identify their newborns at birth as either Muslim or Christian. These are the only two choices. This identity is literally carried around with the person and can often determine different privileges or drawbacks throughout their life. Combine this decision with the perceptions of shame culture, how difficult might you think it is to actually be told the truth?
Since arriving over two months ago, I was at first surprised at just how many identified Christians are here. It was as if everyone not observing Ramadan was Christian and everyone that seemed to be fasting were Muslim. This is when trust is important. Atheists or irreligious people cannot change their official religious status, thus statistically they are counted as followers of the religion they were born with.
Let’s flip the perspective: when someone new meets me, they usually assume I am a Christian within moments. That’s good news! Or is it? I would like to think it were good news because the Holy Spirit revealed this to them through my actions or some divine revelation. However, low and behold, it is usually because I am not a native speaker (yet) and so, a foreigner. As a foreigner in an Islamic region, you’re also most often identified as a Christian.
As a citizen from a culture that relishes independence, this system that identifies Christians by default is suspicious to me. The term nominal takes on a whole new meaning when the only thing Christian or Muslim is what’s professed on an ID, passed on by the father’s religion at birth. Many living absent from saving faith in Jesus Christ and yet still identifying as Christian.
As I narrow in on how this system does not “correctly” explain reality to me. I am learning to become more aware of the cultural influence I myself am using to perceive what is “correct.” This is important because I believe my attitude toward the culture can drastically effect one’s attitude towards the culture and people I am trying to live with and minister to.
I am recognizing another culture should not be judged by a different cultural understanding. I think it is a false understanding that American evangelical standards are the absolute standard. Not to say a given culture should not be judged by biblical standards. Except, I should not make the assumption that our standards are by definition equivalent with biblical standards. God’s creation is complex and so are man’s attempts, reflected in their cultures, to explain it. While serving cross-culturally, the goal is to love the host culture as Jesus Christ loves us.
Philippians 2:1-4 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Yours in Christ.