By: Dr. Karen Stoufer, CVM Asia and Training Director

In my work with training veterinary professionals to serve cross-culturally, I have been learning more about the three dominant spiritual worldviews in today’s world. There are guilt-innocence cultures, fear-power cultures and honor-shame cultures.

Guilt is about WHAT you do and guilt-based cultures are mainly found in individualistic cultures like America.  This culture focuses on rules, determinations of right and wrong and on justice.  A person who is guilty often says, “I made a mistake.”

Fear is about the SOURCES OF POWER with whom you connect and these are mainly found in animistic cultures who focus on fear of invisible powers.  Common expressions today would be the use of voodoo, consulting shamans or astrologers and practicing witchcraft.

Shame is about WHO you are and is found in communal societies with group identity. The person at fault would say, “I AM a mistake” rather than “I made a mistake”.  The person’s behavior and actions reflect upon the entire society or family; bringing shame or honor on all. Honor is defined as social worth, which comes from relationships, traditions and meeting expectations.  Many honor-shame cultures refer to shame as “losing face”.

It would be rare to find someone who adheres 100% to just one of these worldviews; most of us are a combination.  However, most people in a given culture function predominately in one of these three, and a presentation of the gospel must address the dominant spiritual worldview in order to make sense to the hearers.  All of us will grow in our spiritual walk when we understand more fully the multi-faceted gospel including the three-dimensional (3D=guilt, shame, fear) aspects of the gospel.

In every culture, humans have devised systems for dealing with guilt, with shame and with fear.  For example, in guilt/innocence cultures, such as North America and Western Europe, we have devised systems of restitution, punishment with jail or fines, and other regulations to right the wrong and restore justice.  In fear-power cultures, such as in the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa, we humans have developed rituals, magic, charms, spells, and sacrifices to ward off the evil spirits.

In honor/shame cultures, people have created ways to deal with shame that we can see illustrated throughout the Old and New Testament. The Middle East and most of Asia are honor-shame cultures.  In Genesis, we read that when Adam and Eve were ashamed, they hid.  Hiding and imposing exile are two ways that communal societies deal with shame.  Another response is suicide; removing yourself as an offender.  In Acts 16, we read that the jailer prepared to commit suicide because of the shame of prisoners escaping on his watch.  In the news today, we can read of failed leaders in Asian countries committing suicide because of the shame they brought on their family.  When the uncle of the Boston Marathon bomber was interviewed, he talked of the terrible shame this young man had brought on their family.

Another response to shame that we can read about in the Bible is the story of Dinah in Genesis 34.  After she is raped by the prince of Shechem, her brothers are outraged at the shame on their family and seek revenge through deceit and mass slaughter to avenge their sister.  Their concern is not about guilt, but revenge.  Revenge and terrorism are common responses.  When people believe their honor has been offended or insulted, instead of hiding, they often seek revenge to restore their honor.  Jihadists would fall into this category when they act to defend their faith, which they believe has been insulted.

All of these human systems fall short of forgiving sin, alleviating fear or restoring honor.  Let’s look at how God responds to each of these.

God’s solution to the separation caused by sin is restitution; Jesus paying the price for our sin through his death on the cross.  God’s solution to fear is that he has already defeated spirits and powers. Christ’s victory on the cross defeated Satan and death and God has made the power of the Holy Spirit available to us. (1 John 4:4  “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”) This is the good news or gospel to those living in bondage and fear.

God’s solution to shame is restoration.  Jesus took our shame upon himself on the cross to reconcile our relationship with God. (Hebrews 12: 2 …”For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame”)  

Have you seen these dynamics at work? I’d love to hear your stories.

Too often, we Americans present the gospel in a distinctly “American” or “Western” way which people in other cultures may not understand. Or, we may present the gospel solution to guilt to someone whose primary issue is shame or fear, so it seems irrelevant or they may even accept the forgiveness of sin but not realize how the gospel relates to the rest of their lives.

It may be that a key factor in the fact that the Majority World from the Middle East throughout Asia is less than 10% Christian today.  Is it that we have often exported a guilt-based presentation of the gospel rather than the good news that addresses the issues of honor and shame?

Each one of these views is Biblically correct and we need to understand all three to fully grasp God’s love for us.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”   (Ephesians 3:18-19)

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