“What a Bunch of Savages”

by Stacey

Dave and I have lived for over 30 years in America. For 30 years we lived and breathed American culture. But 2 years ago we were launched out of our comfort zone and into first Europe and now Africa. We have found that in reality, we are somewhere in orbit outside of these cultures, not really belonging to any of them. Within a single week, we hear both the values of those from our home country and the swirling opinions of the people among whom we work. Their differing reactions to the same issues are astonishing:

Concerning Homosexuality:

Western Culture: “How is it even possible that in Cameroon a single homosexual act can get you 5 years in prison!?”

Cameroonian Culture: “Wow, can you believe that homosexuality is LEGAL in the US and that they even have gay pride parades?!”

Concerning Children’s Respect for their Parents:

Western Culture: “Did you know that in Cameroonian culture, disrespectful children are beaten, sometimes publically!?”

Cameroonian Culture: “Can you believe that in the United States children will openly disrespect their parents in public, without any reprocussions?!”

Concerning Immunizations:

Western Culture: “Is it not great that those who live in the remote places in the world do not fill their bodies full of harmful chemicals and immunizations but can just eat organically and live off the land?” 

Cameroonian Culture: “If only I had access to the polio vaccination when my daughter was younger, then she would not have to be bent over with her arms dragging on the ground for the rest of her life.”

Concerning Abortion:

Western Culture: “Can you believe that in Cameroon women do not have the right to an abortion unless it’s deemed medically necessary or unless they have been raped?!” 

Cameroonian Culture: “Did you know that it is LEGAL in the United States to kill one’s unborn child for any reason and the government ensures that women can do it easily and comfortably?!”

Concerning Marriage:

Western Culture: “Can you believe that it is legal in Cameroon for one man to marry multiple women?!” 

Cameroonian Culture: “Can you believe that one man can marry another man in the States?!”

The conclusion of both cultures is that the other is crazy at best and savage at worst.

Who is Right? (Or is There Even a Right?)
So, in regards to the above issues, which culture is right? I think the knee-jerk reaction on both sides would be to claim that their perspective is the right one. But can we do that?  For instance,
  • If we say that men should defer or submit to women, what would we say to a society that says that women are to defer to or submit to men?
  • If we are adamant that women should have the right to terminate their pre-birth children, what then would we then say to the culture that allows mothers to beat or even “terminate” their post-birth homosexual sons?
  • If we say that men should have the right to marry another man, what would we say to a society that says that men should have the right to marry as many women as he wants?
  • If we say that women and children should be heard, what would we say to a society who says they should not?
    Maybe at the end of the day we are just as affected by the our culture as they are by theirs. Maybe we pity them because they are brainwashed by their society and they look at us and think the same thing. Maybe we look at little girls in some countries and pity them for growing up in a society that has brainwashed them into thinking they are inferior to men. And maybe they look at our society and pity the little boys who have been brainwashed into thinking they are inferior to women.
    So Now What?
    Admit When Judgmental
    If we decide in the end that all of these values are just culturally relative, that is, determined by culture, a call for change would be judgmental and ethnocentric. After all, who are you to say that your culture is better than mine? Can you really tell me not to beat my child when my culture tells me that it is the best way to correct them? In fact, what if my culture tells me I am a bad parent if I do not beat them? Who are you to say you know better then an entire nation of people?

    But what if these issues are not relative? What if there is truth that transcends culture?
    Embrace the Truth that is Not Contingent
    The God of the Bible refers to himself as the beginning and the end. He has always existed and will always exist. Kingdoms, powerful rulers and cultures have risen and fallen, but he will always remain. He is the Creator of the world and what he values remains the same no matter the culture, no matter the era. He does not change and never will. And this God wrote a book that explains his standards which are true for all people of all time in all places.  In the words of Jesus, 

    Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Mark 13:31

    And the words of Jesus confront the sins found in every culture.

    Acknowledge the Sins of our Own Culture

    It is true that someone raised in a culture accustomed to violence may not immediately see beating one’s child with a machete as a sin. Or someone else may genuinely believe that men are superior to women. What both of these people need is the Bible to show them the error of their ways. According to the Bible, men and women were created by God as equals and it even refers to Christian men and women as co-heirs of God’s Kingdom. In regards to raising children, the Bible says that parents are to discipline their children out of love for them but not in a way that provokes them to anger. Here it is the Bible correcting erroneous thinking, not just me with my own cultural biases.
    It is equally true that someone raised in American culture could grow up believing that taking the life of an unborn child is permissible. Or that one has the right to have a sexual relationship with whomever he pleases. This again is where we need the Bible to reveal our blindspots. We need the Bible to show us that God is our Creator and as our Creator he has the right to speak into our lives. He has the right to tell us what we can and cannot do with the bodies he has given us. He has the right to tell us with whom we can have a sexual relationship and with whom we cannot. The Bible also considers the unborn to be God’s image bearers, thus protected and not to be “disposed of.”

    What is amazing is that being a Christian and recognizing that truth resides outside of culture ultimately frees us. When Paul said that he had “become all things to all people” he was communicating this truth. When he came as a missionary, he could leave his culture behind him. For the sake of the Gospel he could wear Corinthian clothes, eat Galatian food, and admire Ephesian architecture. He could look at Jewish culture and call out their sins, while doing the same of Greek culture. Why? Because he was not comparing the two. Instead he was holding them both to God’s standard. Thus, missionaries ought to be the most tolerant world travellers, completely unconcerned with how our host culture measures up to home. But instead examining every new culture in its relation to God’s Word.

    To conclude, it is far too easy to judge other people’s culture using the rule of our own. There is not one culture that is free from sin nor can be used as the standard. It is only the Word of God that helps us to discern clearly what God values as right and wrong and every culture all over the world needs this book to help them see clearly the sins that they have readily accepted all their lives.

    I pose this challenge to our readers: Are you willing to open the Bible and let it point out to you the sins of your culture that you may have accepted without question? If you are not, ask yourself the question, “How am I different than those in other cultures that I might consider to be savage? By what rule can I say that I am in the right and they are in the wrong?” And in the words of the Apostle Paul:

    Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2 


    Author: Stacey Hare

    Stacey is a servant of Jesus Christ as well as a wife, mom, linguist, and Bible translator among the Kwakum people of Cameroon.