Are you guilty of this cross-cultural blindspot?
Ýesterday, an American friend of mine here in Phnom Penh shared his anguish over the US bombing of South-East Asia during the Vietnam war.
"When I see the guy begging in the market near my house, with one leg, I sometimes wonder," he confessed, "was it an American bomb that did that?"
It might seem like old news. But the impacts are still felt around Cambodia today. And it was a profound moment of sharing.
Here's a quick rundown of what happened - the US began secretly dropping bombs on Cambodia in 1965 and continued until 1973. During that time 500,000 tons of bombs were dropped on 113,000 sites.
Some estimate that up to half a million Cambodians were killed by these sorties. Many more were injured or permanently disabled.
In anyone's books, it was an atrocity. (And of course, US drones continue to wreak havoc around the world to this day.)
But in terms of my friend's confession, it was super tempting to say to him, "Don't worry mate. You didn't personally drop those bombs. It was nothing to do with you!"
I mean my friend wasn't even alive in the 70's. What guilt does he carry for this sorry episode? Why should he be on the hook?
But that kind of whitewashing doesn't sit well with the Biblical worldview. In fact, our conversation took place in the context of a Bible study we were doing of Daniel 9. And Danny-boy actually sheds a very interesting light on this whole question...
We can all pretty much agree that Daniel was one of those great heroes of old. He was so dedicated to God that he nearly ended up as a lion's chew toy because of his prayer routine.
I mean this guy would be a strong contender for anyone's Top 10 list of "Supermen of the Faith".
But what is fascinating - and relevant for us today - is how Daniel prays in chapter 9...
First off, he starts by acknowledging that he lives within a certain political context - "the first year of the reign of Darius" (Dan 9:1)
If he was living today he would have to acknowledge that he lived in the first year of the reign of Trump, or whoever your political leader is. His prayer is rooted in an awareness of the political context of his times. (You know the drill: newspaper in one hand - Bible in the other.)
Second, Daniel moves into repentance. Read these words and as you do, consider that Daniel himself was pretty much blameless while he was praying this:
"We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws." (Dan 9:5)
"We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you...All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you." (Daniel 9:8-11)
Daniel is certainly not personally responsible for the bad stuff Israel has been getting into. He didn't personally worship idols, eat a bacon sandwich or run around causing chaos with prostitutes. Daniel is the good guy. Daniel is the blameless one. Daniel is Righteous - with a capital R.
And yet, here he is confessing and repenting of the sins of his people. Not just his currently alive-and-kicking people, but even his dead-and-buried people - his ancestors.
Now that is one wide-ranging prayer of repentance!
And God responds FAVOURABLY to Daniel - whose name literally means "God is my judge" - with a vision of how God is going to discipline and restore the nation.
So here's how this relates to you...and me. As a Westerner, I am steeped in my individualistic worldview.
I repent for MY sins, not yours.
I am only responsible for MY choices, not my forefathers'.
And I certainly don't have to answer for what my government or ancestors did. No sirree.
And yet, other cultures, and the scriptures, teach us a vastly different worldview. A worldview in which we are somehow all tied together. A worldview that says we are complicit in what our own people have done.
I shared with those present in that conversation about Daniel, that my own great-great-grand-daddies were part of the original influx of Brits into New Zealand. They were part of the colonizing contingent that stole a whole truckload of land from the Maori inhabitants. Culture was trampled and snuffed out. People were killed. It was wrong.
It wasn't me personally, but it was my people. And so repentance and reparation is the appropriate response.
For those of us who work cross-culturally, this is often a blindspot.
We didn't personally colonize these people, but our fore-runners may have. We didn't personally enslave these folks, but our ancestors did. We didn't personally steal their land but our forefathers may have. We didn't personally create our government's policies towards these people, but our nation did. And if we're being honest, very often we have personally benefitted from those actions.
Nathan Hamm says, "Christians who tell you to stick to discipleship and stay out of politics have usually been deeply discipled by the politics of the empire." He is pointing out that we are too often blind to our own complicity. And we need to open our eyes. Because this IS a discipleship issue.
So, in light of that truth, the humble posture of righteous Daniel is a good way to start.
Firstly, we are invited to open our eyes - and begin with a deep awareness of the political context - (or if we are lacking awareness, to educate ourselves.)
Then, we turn to God, and humble ourselves in prayer and repentance.
And just as He did for Daniel, God will show you - AND your people - the way toward restoration.