Culture and Christianity: Adapt, Graft, Transform


The Cátedra Carnahan is an annual lecture series hosted by ISEDET in Buenos Aires. This year, Dr. Luis Rivera Pagán spoke on the topic of, ¨Iglesia, colonialidad y liberación: reflexiones histórico/teológicas desde El Caribe¨ (The Church, the situation of being colonized, and liberation: historical-theological reflections from the Caribbean.)

Dr. Pagán (center) with respondents Dr. Mario Yutzis and Dr. Celina Lértora de Mendoza

One of the conference participants mentioned three possibilities that can happen when Christianity encounters a new culture: Christianity adapts to the culture, Christianity is grafted onto the culture, and/or Christianity seeks to transform the culture.

Culture is supremely important for Christianity. Language, music, food, and patterns of thinking are all incorporated into the life of the church. This was true of even original Christianity, when Paul drew on concepts of Greek medicine to make his points. So, as a missionary, I often think about culture and how the church relates to it. In what ways do we adapt, graft, or transform? Here are a few examples from my experience here.

“Marginado y golpeado” (Marginalized and beaten)

Christianity adapts to the culture when, for instance, a pastor in Paraguay spoke about Dr. Gaspar de Francia as a hero and a role model for young people. From everything I have read I believe Dr. Francia was a forceful and arbitrary dictator, yet without him, it’s less likely that Paraguay would have survived and thrived as a sovereign nation. Therefore he is enshrined in the Pantheon of Heroes for serving and protecting his country. When the church points to host culture heroes like Dr. Francia as positive examples, we are adapting to the culture around us.

Dr. Francia in the Pantheon of Heroes

For an example of religion grafted onto the culture, I´ll slip over to the Mormons. They are active here in Resistencia as well as in Paraguay, so much so that when I tell people I’m a missionary, immediately they ask if I’m a Mormon. I cannot weigh in on how Christianity is practiced among the Mormons of South America, but the architecture of this church at least suggests the grafting model. The tall steeple and belfry indicate a style of architecture developed in the context of North American Christianity, which is brought down by the missionaries more or less intact.

The Mormon Church in Villa Don Rafael, Resistencia

And, I’ll close with an example of Christianity transforming the culture. In both Paraguay and Argentina, people go all out to celebrate birthdays. The church is taking this cultural pattern and transforming it, by hosting special worship services of thanksgiving and dedication; for instance, we celebrated the 15th birthday of Flor Mareco, daughter of Pastor Mareco, with a moving worship followed by a dinner. By celebrating birthdays in church, we give new religious meaning to a cultural practice – neither just accommodating ourselves to it, nor passing right over it.

Ana Pacce receives a hug at her 70th birthday

Stay tuned for more on this topic! (And, please share if you have examples of your own!)

One Response to “Culture and Christianity: Adapt, Graft, Transform”

  1. 1 How Jesus Resurrects Anew in Different Cultures | resistanceandacceptance

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