Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cross-Cultural Communication: What Can We Learn From an Extreme?

I recently received an email from someone in ministry to new religions and in follow up to that I decided to take a look at their website to get updated on their activities. I am not going to name the individual or the ministry they are connected with as I see nothing beneficial coming in locking horns with this individual, but would like to use this as an example filled with important intercultural and missiological lessons.

This ministry is well known for using antagnostic approaches that attack Joseph Smith, a revered figure for Latter-day Saints. As I reviewed the website for this ministry it appears that they also engage in "outreach to Muslims." As the reader clicks on the photos connected with this outreach we see several individuals from this ministry holding up signs that read "Muhammed" as they stand outside a mosque in southern California with beaming smiles on their faces.

In light of our post 9/11 world and the international tensions that exist between the Islamic and Christian segments of our world, perhaps we can reflect on this for a few moments. We might ask ourselves a few questions. Does anyone seriously think that Muslims will be favorably disposed to considering the message conveyed by these Christian communicators? What message might the Muslims infer from these signs? Can it in any way be viewed positively by Muslims? Is this an appropriate form of cross-cultural communication? And, do these evangelists intend on trying this approach in those parts of the world where Islam is dominant, such as Asia or the Middle East?

And if this wasn't troubling enough, in a review of the board members for this ministry one of them was raised as a "missionary kid" and received an undergraduate degree in intercultural studies from a major evangelical seminary. Obviously, the cross-cultural communication elements associated with these areas did not sink in, or at least somehow there is a disconnect between cross-cultural missions approaches overseas and those in the United States.

This ministry indeed represents an extreme on the spectrum among evangelical approaches to new religions and world religions. Even so can we learn important lessons from what not to do as a result of reflection on this? And will we hear evangelicals share their critique and displeasure from such extremes and examples of theological and missiological naivette? I certainly hope so.


Paul said...

"Outreach to Muslims" and "Muhammed lied..." Is this degree of obtuseness seriously possible? Or are they knowingly being highly ironic?!

John W. Morehead said...

Thanks for sharing your comment and question, Paul, and your incredulity in regards to the methods used by this ministry as discussed in this post. If you read carefully in this post you can and do some Google research you can find the ministry under discussion to judge for yourself. Let me point out that this same method is used to engage Mormons, and at some of their most sacred places, such as the Manti Miracle Pageant and General Conference, and I have seen this ministry use such methods in these venues. They really feel that this represents an appopriate form of ministry to LDS, and now, apparently, also for American Muslims. Since that seems to be the case I am asking readers to reflect on this and to see how this fares in critical reassessment.

John W. Morehead said...
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John W. Morehead said...
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Jonathan Moorhead said...


BTW, you spell your last name wrong.

Steve Hayes said...

What can one say?

It is cross-cultural communication of a sort, but it depends what sort of message one is trying to communicate. In this instance "outreach" is a misnomer -- sounds more like a "Shove off".

John W. Morehead said...

...or more likely, "stick it in your ear" or some other orifice, but anything other than an approach that will be received positively.

Andii said...

Thanks John for this. It prompted me to try to think a bit more about the more robust ways that Christ communicated on occasion in relation to an ethic of loving communication. If you want to follow up, it's at