Hyde Park on the south side of Chicago was a happenin’ place to be in the 1980’s not long after the 1978 revelation on the Priesthood in the predominantly black part of the city. (Here’s an article I wrote way back in 1986 about life in that ward.) There was cultural progress; there were cultural gaffes. That’s what happens when cultures collide.
My daughter fondly remembers sitting on the knee of the black Santa Claus at our ward Christmas parties. One young Primary age convert refused to cross his arms while walking through the halls (Mormon body language for “reverent.”) When challenged about it, he said that it was a gang sign, and he wouldn’t do it. Who knew? We tried to do something to recognize Black History Month every February – with music, with “soul food,” with special talks and firesides.
The issue is not just black and white.
Becoming one anywhere in the Church these days continues to be a daunting task. Is it a clash between sin and righteousness, between the “right” way and the “wrong” way? Are the only solutions the extremes of bland homogeneity or maverick idocyncracies?
When our family visited in Hana, Maui, Hawaii one New Year’s week, we attended the tiny branch in that remote town. I noted to my husband that the Islander men were all wearing white shirts at the sacrament table. Having been in Hawaii only a few days, I knew that bright and bold was the fashion watchwords of the region. I was a little sad to see them all “caving” to a tradition that wasn’t their own. My husband nudged me back when they stood up to prepare the sacrament. All the men at the table were wearing skirts. Perfect!
My Chinese friend tells me that translating the scriptures is more complicated than selecting the right words. In his culture, sheep and lambs are considered unappealing, dirty animals. Presenting Christ as “The Lamb of God” doesn’t have the same impact there that it might to a Judeo-Christian culture. It would be more like calling Christ “The Pig of God.”
When we moved to Boston I kept hearing about “the Linaytian branch” somewhere nearby. What could that be? Was it a town name? Finally, I learned that it referred to “the Lynn Asian Branch” – a congregation formed in the Massachusetts town of Lynn where Asians, regardless of country of origin, were encouraged to attend and flourish. I also heard that this unit wasn’t flourishing so well. I guess mixing Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese (whose countries and cultures have had clashed for centuries) was not the happy melting pot experience the (Anglo) church leaders had hoped for.
Just because people look alike, doesn’t mean their cultures don’t clash.
For example, in a “typical” US LDS ward, how warmly embraced are the incognito Democrats? How about those who self-identify as “feminist” as well as Mormon? What feels like a “political” issue to some Saints feels like a “moral” one to others. When is “diversity” a strength and when, if ever, is it corrosive? It’s a high pitched tension calling for our mightiest prayers, thoughts and actions.
Please share your stories of cultural clashes and cultural bridges; your thoughts on flagrant or subtle challenges to our understanding and loving each other in a Godly way; your experiences of healing and progress at these points of tension. I can’t wait to read them!