On September 14, CBS inaugurated its 13th season of the popular show Survivor: Cook Island by dividing its “tribes” by race and pitting them against each other.  There are 4 tribes: African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American and Caucasian.  Host Jeff Probst claims that the format is a “social experiment” that takes the show “to a completely different level.”  He said it’s a response to criticism that the show is not diverse enough.  However, others see this experiment as a racially insensitive gimmick, intended to boost ratings.

Members of the New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus have called on CBS to drop the show.  United Methodist News Service reported that “in San Francisco, Fresno, and Sacramento, California, and Reno, Nevada, United Methodists representing the ethnic diversity of the denomination’s California-Nevada Conference gathered outside the offices of CBS affiliates KPIX-TV, KOVR, KTVN, and KJEO.  The Cal-Nevada Conference includes more than 24 different ethnic groups, and many responded to the call.

“In San Francisco, a crowd of more than 100 from Glide Memorial, Epworth, Temple, Downs Memorial, and Taylor UMCs, and as far away as San Jose Calvary, carried signs in Spanish, Tongan, and English, with messages such as “God did not divide us by race-why let CBS divide us?”  Despite losing some long time sponsors to the show (General Motors, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, and Home Depot have all pulled their sponsorship), CBS had sponsors ready to roll when the show premiered Sept. 14.”

I confess that I have not seen Survivor: Cook Island, but it’s not only because I have no free Thursday evenings until December.  I am not interested in watching a show that reduces America to tribes again for the sake of marketing hype.  Popular talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Rosie O’Donnell are fueling the fire.  On his August 23 show, Limbaugh suggested that the swimming challenge is unfair to African Americans because “young blacks – especially males – are more likely to drown in pools than whites.”  Limbaugh added that Hispanics have “probably shown the most survival tactics” and that they “have shown a remarkable ability to cross borders.”

United Methodist Bishop Beverly J. Shamana, who is African-American, wrote in a letter to members of the California-Nevada Conference, “As God’s people of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, we have declared we are one in Christ – people of diverse cultures, diverse geography and one in Christ.  It is time for us to provide visual proof that we will not tolerate television programming in our communities that places our human race on the commercial auction block, to be divided and sold for the profit of a 60-second commercial.”

At district superintendent training last month, we spent some time exploring intercultural competence with Lucia Ann McSpadden, author of the book Meeting God at the Boundaries; Cross-Cultural-Cross-Racial Clergy Appointments.  We all need to learn about multiculturalism not simply because we have racial ethic churches in our denomination and because we have cross racial appointments.  The reality is that almost all of our churches contain people of different ethnic backgrounds.  In addition, we experience multiculturalism in the communities and countries to which we reach out.

I appreciated McSpadden’s approach that we are learners, not experts and that making mistakes is natural.  She gave us hints for developing intercultural competence.

  • Relationships are the key!  Take the time to develop authentic relationships.
  • Ask questions that will gather knowledge.  Avoid “why?” 
  • Listen with respect for differences.
  • Believe what you hear.
  • Tolerate ambiguity.  You will not always know what to do or say or how to behave.
  • Observe, observe, observe.
  • Suspend judgment.  Remember, this is not your own cultural context.  Attempt to understand what the behavior means in the other person’s cultural context.
  • A well-developed sense of humor is the “lifeboat!”

As part of our training, all of the district superintendents took the Intercultural Development Inventory.  On a scale that moves through denial/defense/reversal, to minimization, to acceptance/adaption, I learned that I am in the minimization stage, as are most organizations in the United States.  Minimization means that the elements of my own cultural world are experienced as universal.  Those at minimization assume that people from other cultures are basically “like us” and may become insistent about correcting others’ behavior to match their expectations.  I am a learner.  I have work to do in order to acquire a worldview that comprehends and accommodates to complex cultural differences. 

Racial bigotry, stereotypes and insults are all around us and contribute to oppression and injustice in our world.  At times, our own thoughts and words betray our insensitivity and ignorance, as we unwittingly becomes like the Survivor tribes.  Yet, the church is called to be the light in a world of darkness.  Even as we move on to perfection, we are called to model a world where we are all one in Christ Jesus, and differences are celebrated rather than mocked.  “As God’s chose ones, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Bear with one another and, if any has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful”  Colossians 3:12-15

Blessings, Laurie

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