Before Doug and I were married, I worked as a coffee roaster for very dear friends and one way we used to amuse ourselves was to discuss what our “deal-breakers” would be in romantic relationships. It was always fascinating to have deeply held values or expectations revealed through the silly game.
I had an interesting conversation with a good friend yesterday where we discussed some of the very real challenges of being members of multicultural faith families. We each had stories to share of times when two different cultural groups ended up in conflict over something because of a “deal-breaker” issue they held deeply. And we talked about how fascinating it is to uncover what those deal-breakers are for each other. Too often things go unsaid, unexplained, and one group ends up feeling bitter or betrayed.
But the reality is, different people see the world very differently, and followers of Jesus are no exception. Certainly this political season makes that abundantly clear.
The challenge for those of us committed cross-culturally is to figure out how to both talk honestly with each other about these differences as well as learn to sometimes shut up and submit.
I know that for me, there are many things I am willing to shut up about. I may hold an opposing viewpoint or feel like a decision is a poor one, or simply think a different approach would be better, but for many things I can submit pretty easily. But I have discovered that, not surprising, I have some deal-breakers just as we all do. And when these beliefs or principles are stepped on, my reaction is very, very different.
My friend and I talked about how valuable it would be to tease out some of these cultural deal-breakers that can too easily become either land-mines or separating issues among us and talk about how to live together in the midst of these differences. Sometimes I fear we keep the multi-cultural discussion at a substantially surface level and choose cheap peace over deeper knowing and understanding and authentic commitment to one another.
I remember one multi-cultural church leader who share that differences in parenting philosophies was the recurring deal-breaker issue that kept resurfacing in their African-American/Anglo congregation.
Issues of pastoral authority and congregational respect for the pastor is another issue I have heard discussed, especially in congregations where democratically-minded Anglos are involved.
As leaders, it can be extremely challenging to navigate these waters. I have seen this kind of leadership exercised well and performed badly. I myself have led well and totally failed in this very arena. And as the homogeneous church landscape would suggest, it is easier for most to simply avoid the whole thing altogether.