Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Myth of the "Melting Pot": What a Super Bowl Ad Can Teach us About Christian Mission

"America, hardly the 'melting pot' described by history texts, has been a land that from the beginning was marked by diversity, not homogeneity."  -Oscar Romo

Like millions of other Americans who enjoy "Super Bowl Sunday" as an unofficial holiday, my family and I settled in this past Sunday night with more than our share of pizza and chicken wings, to enjoy what we anticipated would be a great game between two great teams.

Oh well, so much for the great game!

Of course, people will continue to watch even a boring contest that ends with a 43-8 blowout when the commercials are as good as they normally are for this sporting event.  This year was no different.

Actually, that's not true.  This year was very different.  Women were not objectified and the halftime show was actually classy. Even GoDaddy managed to pull off an ad that, while a bit silly, was at least respectful of my wife and daughter, which is far more than I could credit them with in years' past. Kudos to all of them for that welcome change!

But one commercial stood out above all.  My wife and I sat in amazement as Coca-Cola presented us with a fantastic, multi-faceted, all-expansive view of the greatness of America--as well as the various kinds of Americans who recognize that greatness!  So I was quite surprised to see some sections of social media lamenting that "America the Beautiful" was being sung in more than one language.

"This is ridiculous.  An American song should be sung in an American language!"
"Multiculturalism is going to ruin this country."
"The genius of our country is our common language. Sad to see that starting to come apart."

I could quote a few more, but they only get worse.  And, if you are an American follower of Jesus, the historical ignorance, cultural myopia and false dichotomies revealed in these statements should make you weep. They certainly made me sad, primarily because I work with many of these language groups. When we plant churches in their midst, we encourage the first generation immigrants among them to worship in their "heart language," because we are more concerned about them growing as His followers than we are that they become someone else's idea of a "good American."  These are people God created in His own image and likeness--people that Jesus died to save, and I was saddened to see some who claim to know Jesus taking positions that insult so many of their brothers and sisters.

But perhaps it was the eisegesis of intent that was most disturbing:

"Coke is trying to push a left-wing agenda down our throats!"
"I can't believe an American company is so embarrassed to be American!"

I can't tell from my seat exactly what Coke had in mind, but I'm betting it was primarily about getting people to buy Coke products. That the inclusion of multiple languages--which incidentally, happen to all be languages spoken with regularity in my area--was warrant enough for some to use their cultural paranoia to fire accusations of "being unAmerican" at one of the most American companies on the planet.  For anyone who follows Jesus, these attitudes should be completely unacceptable, because they are based on specious history, and really, really bad information.

Watching these events unfold has reminded me of a few things--both about culture, and the Christian mandate to touch every culture.

First, though many history and Social Studies texts describe our country using the metaphor of the "melting pot," the fact is that from the beginning of our existence as a nation-state, diversity has been accepted and celebrated.  To this day, "little Italy," "Chinatown" and many other ethnically defined districts that have existed for centuries can still be found in many of our nations' great cities, where ethnic groups gather and speak the language of their birth. The presence of multiple languages in our country is not new, and those who speak them have a strong history of finding solidarity with the rest of the nation.  It isn't a lingua franca that has held us together for 238 years.  It was, and is, a commitment to the ideals of the Republic.

Yet many aren't familiar with this American narrative, and the last 20 years or so can probably tell us why.  In the late 1980s, a young college dropout named Rush Limbaugh began forwarding the idea that Patriotism and Multiculturalism were mutually exclusive values.  Tell a lie long enough, loud enough, and sooner or later, everyone will believe it.  20% of the first generation churches we plant are Korean, and those pastors can express their patriotism and thankfulness for being in this country far better if they are doing it in their own language.  Of course we want them to learn English--for their own good!  But I reject the myth that the overwhelming majority of immigrants to this country don't want to learn it.  I've worked one-on-one with too many of them to believe that nonsense.  

The roots of our country can be traced to a myriad of European cultures crossing the Atlantic because of the common ideal of freedom.  From that moment until now, we have always been a nation of many cultures; all of which have loved living in America.

Second, when fake issues are contested, it takes our eyes off of the real issues.  The past half-century has witnessed our two great political parties become increasingly Machiavellian, to the extent that the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 8th and 10th amendments are regularly violated without thought.  Additionally, the failed social services/welfare system of the left and the military-industrial complex of the right have one thing in common; both have been effective at rendering this generation bankrupt, and leaving the next one enslaved to an un-payable and potentially nation-toppling debt. My point?  We have bigger problems than a Coke commercial!

Finally, the cultural myopia demonstrated in reaction to this commercial betrays a sense of western cultural superiority that is, quite frankly, antiChrist.  The United States Constitution is, in my view, a document unmatched in human history so far as human governments are concerned, and I'm very grateful to live where I live.  But our nation is not ontologically superior to any other people, and our founding documents are not inerrant or divinely-inspired.  I know of only one book that meets those qualifications, and I'm appalled to see some who claim to follow Jesus acting as if it is sacrilegious to suggest that we are not "better" than other image bearers in other nations all over the world.  Those who witness such behavior on the part of Christians see our faith as nothing more than a cultural imposition, and they see our God as very, very small.

Our faith teaches us that one day, the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and His Christ.  If the United States exists at the return of Christ, His return will be the last day of its existence.  Christians should be less concerned about the perception that we need to "save" what we know is a temporary kingdom, and get about the business of extending that Kingdom that will have no end.

Years ago a missionary friend of mine quipped, "You know Joel, there are two kinds of people in the world.  There are those who speak more than one language, and then there are Americans."  Yes, its a generalized statement.  But its also funny, because there is a sense of accuracy about it.  As I think about our conversation then, it causes me to think that the "English only" mantra betrays our cultural ignorance at its worst, and the very opposite of the incarnational spirit that should characterize anyone who dares to call themselves a follower of Jesus.

The next time you hear another language on TV, across from you at a restaurant, or in any other context in this country, resist the urge to feel threatened as though our culture is at stake.  Its not.  But eternal souls are, and God's design is for every single language to be lifted up to Him with the praise He rightly deserves.

Perhaps we should stop seeing those whose mother tongue is different from our own as the enemy, and instead thank God for bringing them to our shores and placing them within the reach of the greatest story that has ever been told.

1 comment:

Carissa said...

This is a fantastic post! I wish Christianity and patriotism weren't as tangled up as they seem to be. Sadly, many patriotic "Christians" find it more important to convert someone to "American" than to "Christ".