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Cultural relativism is a threat to Christianity, which believes the Bible contains absolute truth because it is the inspired Word of God. Further, Christians maintain that God, as Creator of the human race and Sovereign of the universe, has the right to set moral laws, not a sinful society.
Cultural Relativism and Missionaries
Cultural relativists may believe that missionaries have no business converting people to Christianity because each culture has the right to practice its own religion. Relativists claim missionary work interferes with native society by introducing an outside element.However, cultural relativists may have second thoughts if the local religion includes such repulsive practices as human sacrifice, cannibalism, or female circumcision. Despite their belief that absolute truth does not exist, relativists may also agree that customs such as slavery or child molestation are universally illegitimate.
Sir Richard Francis Burton, an English soldier who explored Africa in the late 1800s, was shocked to find a tribe in which lying and stealing were considered virtues. Cultural relativists would say those ethics were valid within that society.
By contrast, Christians believe salvation is God’s gift to the entire world and that the gospel should be shared with everyone. In fighting cultural relativism, missionaries encourage native peoples to worship Jesus Christ in their own style, retain their local type of clothing and other customs, as long as they do not oppose biblical teaching.
Cultural Relativism Today
In practice, morality created by society has resulted in ever-changing rules and increasing laxness in standards.Cultures strongly influenced by the entertainment media, such as the United States, have seen greatersexual promiscuity, a coarsening of the language, as well as high rates of alcohol and drug abuse. Many young people see celebrities as role models and try to imitate their lifestyles.
In recent decades, as Christianity has been ridiculed and church attendance has dropped, political correctness has demanded tolerance for nearly every kind of behavior and belief, from witchcraft to gay marriage. Cultural relativists have often portrayed Christians as narrow-minded and bigoted.
The U.S., England, and Europe, which have all seen a flood of many religions and foreign cultures, are moving toward the idea that absolute truth does not exist. This view has surfaced in the Emerging Church as well, because many young seekers have friends who are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists. The logical extension of the idea that all religions are equally valid leads to universalism, the belief that everyone will be saved.
Christian doctrine, on the other hand, teaches that salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NIV)
The goal of Christian missionaries is not to westernize developing countries, but rather to introduce the good news of salvation through Christ. In cultures that have rejected the belief in absolute truth, the society bears an eerie resemblance to Israel in the time of the judges:
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25, ESV)
From Jack Zavada
Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack’s Bio Page.