Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

When culture and morals clash

Those not living in southern Africa may not be aware of all the things happening in South Africa on the political front. President Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa was recently voted out as leader of the ruling political party, the ANC and replaced by Mr Jacob Zuma. Accused of rape, a charge on which he was found not guilty after it could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt that there had not been consent from the girl who laid the charges, indications are that Mr Zuma will soon be standing trial on charges of corruption. Mr Zuma is also a Zulu, one of the largest population groups in South Africa, closely related to the Swazis.
Yesterday I was driving around in Swaziland accompanied by a nurse who is helping us with our home-based caring project. She is also a Zulu and she is also a Christian. Our discussions eventually moved over to politics and she admitted that she was fully in favour of Mr Jacob Zuma becoming the new president of South Africa. I, on the other hand, said that I would find it difficult to respect him as president due to a number of moral issues with which I cannot identify myself. One issue obviously is the fact that he never denied having a sexual relationship with the girl in question but only that he denied raping her. And when he was asked in court whether he was aware that the girl was HIV positive he replied that he did indeed know beforehand. When asked what he did to prevent himself from getting infected, he told the court that he took a shower after having sex with her! Oh boy!
What surprised me was when the nurse in the car with me remarked that my problem was that I didn’t understand the Zulu culture which was the reason why I couldn’t accept Zuma’s morals. I responded by saying that this wasn’t really the truth, as I feel that I do have quite a lot of understanding for the culture but that I, as Christian, could not identify myself with this part of culture. Furthermore, what is considered to be culture is causing the death of millions of people in Southern Africa.
This discussion just made me realise once again how sensitive cultural issues are. I would guess that most committed Christians would claim that there is only one thing important to them and this is to do what God wants them to do. But throw in a few cultural issues and it will soon become clear that nearly all of us have certain issues which we consider to be non-negotiable.
Knowing the integrity of the person who said this to me, I took her words seriously. And I did realise that God truly has to free us all from our cultures, be it African, Western, American, East-European, Asian or whatever else. In some cultures it may be racism that we need to be freed from. In other cases it may be arrogance. In some a culture of alcoholism in others a culture of free sex. Ultimately we all need to be purified by God in an ongoing way so that we can increasingly reflect the Lord’s glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Having said all that, I just realise how difficult it is, when working in another culture, to distinguish between matters that are truly Biblical and those which contradict my own, Afrikaans culture. This is not as easy as it may sound.


Saturday, January 19, 2008 - Posted by | Africa, Alternative Society, Culture, Culture Shock, HIV & AIDS, Indigenous church, Mission, Racism, Swaziland, Theology

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for those thoughts. As an Christian American-born Chinese person spending some time in Swaziland right now (April 2008) doing some HIV work, some of these cultural things are weighing heavily on my mind.

    Comment by Phil | Thursday, April 3, 2008 | Reply

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