Brethren are Challenged to Confront Self-Imposed Cultural Boundaries

Influenced by her Brethren upbringing, especially her grounding in the value of peacemaking, Darla K. Deardorff challenged church members to confront self-imposed barriers to multiculturalism in her speech to the Journal Association Luncheon during Annual Conference 2013.

Deardorff is executive director of the Association of International Administrators at Duke University and was a member of the study committee for the “Separate No More” paper passed by Annual Conference in 2007.

She tied together the Separate No More paper and the Annual Conference paper on biblical authority from 1983 with the famous Indian parable about the six blind men who encounter an elephant. Touching the elephant at six different places, they come away variously with statements that the elephant is like a wall, a snake, a spear, a tree trunk, a fan, and a rope.

“It’s only when they combine their impressions that they get the full picture,” she said. The same is true for the church. Only when the diversity of our full multicultural heritage is encountered and embraced are we fully the church.

Deardorff recalled how the study committee for the 2007 paper spent three years grappling with a single Bible verse, Revelation 7:9: “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” They used this verse as a springboard to study the teachings of Christ.

“We have a long way to go before we love our neighbors as ourselves,” she commented, reflecting on the learnings from that Bible study. The first step in the process of loving neighbor, she said, is learning to love ourselves by understanding who we are. This includes our role in our family, our confession of faith, along with matters of gender, age, geographic region, and citizenship. “We see the world through our cultural lenses.”

Loving our neighbor is the next step, but she added, “It’s easy to love those who look like us. How do we reach out to those who are not like us?”

Deardorff listed five barriers to loving our neighbors: putting people in categories, making assumptions about others, setting up expectations that don’t take diversity into account, filtering everything through our own identity, and refusing to step outside our comfort zone.

Noting that “all negative emotions are fear-based,” she reminded her listeners that Psalm 23:4 includes the affirmation, “I will not fear.” She offered five ideas for moving beyond cultural barriers: reaching out, pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone, approaching others with humility, seeking first to understand, and finally adapting together to each other which she identified as Christ’s way.

She concluded with a plea for transformation, “to more fully and lovingly complete Christ’s example,” and through reconciliation to be separated no more.

— Frank Ramirez is pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren and a member of the Annual Conference News Team.

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