‘It is a truth universally acknowledged’. So begins a well-known British novel but here’s the question: Is it possible to have universally acknowledged truth in societies where there are a multitude of different cultures and where people have different beliefs? To put it simply, is it possible to know and hold the truth of the gospel in a multicultural society?
One writer has defined multiculturalism as an expression of both ‘a will to difference and a will to sameness’.
Multiculturalism and government policy – this is the desire of government to put in place certain measures to deal with the differences between people in society.
The politics of multiculturalism – strategies that minority groups use to resist those state policies. In effect, this is the way people behave to ensure society recognizes their right to be different.1
There have always been cultures that live in the same place,2 and traditionally they would have been linked to nationality. During the 1950s’ civil rights movement, however, Martin Luther King demanded equality based on the fact that, under the colour of our skin, we are all the same. As the 1960s came, there was a reaction to that ‘equality on the basis of sameness’ and groups began talking of their right to have a slice of power without having to assimilate into the ‘dominant’ culture. They argued that what they did, how they dressed, how they spoke, etc., was a part of their culture and they had as much right to express that as others did as this was part of their identity - who they were. As migration into western countries grew through the 1960s, multiculturalism became associated with the need to show respect for those groups that were arriving. As many of those arriving were from Asia, religion was a central part of their cultural identity, and so the multicultural melting pot received an addition that was unexpected and, in many ways, unwelcome.3
If there are differences in society then we are going to have to put up with things that we don’t agree with. In a word, we are called to exercise ‘tolerance’. This traditional definition left room to still respect and value those with whom we disagreed, but ‘the definition of new tolerance is that every individual’s beliefs, values, lifestyle, and perception of truth … are equal; … there is no hierarchy of truth. Your beliefs and my beliefs are equal, and all truth is relative’.4
Long ago, Pilate asked, ‘What is truth?’, and then turned away from the Lord Jesus, before an answer could be given. Jesus claimed not just to tell the truth but to be ‘the Truth’. How sad that, due to political pressure, those in authority were willing to put ‘the Truth’ to death. Today, we live in a climate where the pressure is on to privatize ‘exclusive’ faith claims. However, the word of God has a twofold exhortation:
Are we willing to humbly stand for the truth and actively demonstrate the love of God, knowing that we may have to endure suffering for Christ’s sake?6
‘Thou art worthy’, sing the twenty-four elders around the heavenly throne, ‘for thou hast redeemed us … out of every kindred, and tongue and people and nation’, Rev. 5. 9. Finally, we see a wonderful unity in diversity. The secret? The people are redeemed and reconciled to God. These are people who have experienced the greatest cultural change; once aliens and strangers, they have now been made nigh. But the truth gets even more amazing! Christ shed His blood that He might reconcile both (Jew and Gentile) unto God in one body, Eph. 2. 16. Now, the Church should be a powerful example to the world that true unity among those who are different is possible and stand as testimony to the living power of God in the lives of individuals and communities.
The foundation of that unity is a love that is willing to sacrifice itself for those who are so completely different. It is interesting to note that the truth of the body of Christ in a local sense was revealed to a city church where there was a clash of three major cultures and, just prior to the unfolding of that truth, a ‘more excellent way’ was described, love, 1 Cor. 13. Paul describes the church as, ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’, 1 Tim. 3. 15. Part of that truth is surely that our God loves unity? As an increasingly unstable world looks on, may it be that we ‘endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’, Eph. 4. 3, and sense the privilege of being part of a unity that only God can produce.
Paul, faced with the culture of Athens, spoke up because he was stirred by the idolatry of the people. A love for the truth and the people combined to make him risk ridicule and wrath in his desire that men might come to ‘the knowledge of the truth’. Could it be that God has placed us here at this time to be able to spread the gospel among those who perhaps would never have had the opportunity to hear? Will we thank God for the privilege He has given us and rise to the responsibility placed upon us?
‘Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadows, keeping watch above his own’.7
They tried to put ‘the Truth’ to death; they thought they could keep Him in the tomb, but today the Truth is at the right hand of God. One day the world will see Him who is called ‘Faithful and True’ riding out to victory to take His rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords. ‘Rejoice’, says Peter, ‘inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy’, 1 Pet. 4. 13.
Summarized from: The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology, pp. 407-8.
Culture: Has numerous definitions see Clifford Geertz, quoted in Christ and Culture Revisited, D. Carson, pg. 2.
Summarized from: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/multiculturalism-bites.
T. Helmbock quoted in The New Tolerance, J. Mcdowell and B. Hostetler, pg. 19.
Ibid, pg. 95.
Many examples are given of the effects of the ‘new tolerance’ on believers in different walks of life. See the book The New Tolerance detailed above.
Poem: James Lowell, The Present Crisis.
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