Project Prayer: Ramadan 2016 - Day 17

Gary Fallesen

Project Prayer: Ramadan 2016 - Day 17

Day 17: The honor/shame culture, part 2 — Who I am

By Gary Fallesen, founding president, Climbing For Christ

Harran, Turkey near the border of Syria. (Photo by Gary Fallesen, Mission: Ararat 2015)

Roland Muller wrote of having served among Arabs for 20 years when he was sharing with a fellow missionary about his struggles communicating the Gospel with Muslims. “His offhand comment completely changed my world: ‘That’s because Arabs live in a shame-based culture.’” It was the first time Muller had heard the term “shame-based culture.”

As I read this single, rich page Muller contributed to the January-February 2015 issue of the always-superb Mission Frontiers magazine, I felt a sense of relief. I had wondered from time to time last year why I was just learning about honor and shame. How did I miss this in the first 10-plus years of Climbing For Christ ministering in foreign (often shame-based) cultures?

Perhaps it was God’s timing. But a divine encounter in April 2015 at a gathering of ministry leaders working with unreached Muslim people groups opened my eyes to honor and shame. Much reading followed. Shortly thereafter, we formed a Global Gospel Team —a virtual think-tank consisting of several Climbing For Christ members.

We have come to understand that cultural differences (guilt-based vs. shame-based, as we began addressing on Day 3 of Project Prayer: Ramadan 2016) can be as big an obstacle to overcome as any language barrier produced by the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11).

“Simply stated,” Werner Mischke writes in his book, The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World, “shame is about who I am; guilt is about what I’ve done.”

What does this mean in the Muslim world?

In his excellent Mission Frontiers story, “Gospel Restores Honor to the Dishonored,” Bruce Sidebotham writes how “the consequences of uncleanness (are) more feared than the results of sin!”

According to Islam, sex makes one unclean. Those who do not bathe after sex will not have their prayers heard. Never mind if that sex is inside or outside of marriage. To be caught “unclean” is a greater transgression than being caught in adultery.

“I had always wondered why even nominal Muslims make such a big thing out of not eating pork and not getting licked by dogs when sins like lusting after women are treated so superficially. Even the 9/11 terrorists frequented striptease joints,” Sidebotham wrote.

“Under this perspective, the greatest felt need is not salvation from sin but deliverance from defilement. Every element of a devout Muslim’s life is ordered by this insecurity: the direction to face when falling asleep, the Arabic words with which to preface a task, speech, or greeting, and even the way to blow one’s nose or wipe one’s bottom. Because eating pork introduces the worst possible defilement and because one’s ceremonial purity outweighs one’s moral purity, the pork eater (George W. Bush) is more despicable than the murderer (Osama Bin Laden).”

Purity (or taharah in Arabic) is an essential aspect of Islam. The Qur’an states there “are men who love to purify themselves; and Allah loves those who purify themselves” (Surah 9:108). As a result, “polytheists (what Christians are considered by Muslims because we worship a Triune God) are unclean, so let them not approach” the Holy Mosque (Surah 9:28).

Levels of defilement, according to Sidebotham, range from burping or passing gas to touching one’s private parts to touching semen, urine, feces or menstrual flow. In fact, a woman’s prayers will not be heard during her period.

“In Indonesia a friend asked me why Christians insist that Jesus is God and that he was crucified,” Sidebotham wrote. “Instead of trying to convince my friend that all have sinned and that all sin must be punished by death, I noted what he already knew, that all flesh is defiled and from before birth contains the very substances from which we need to be cleansed. I expressed my opinion on the futility of ceremonial rituals for making us clean enough for heaven, because dirt cannot make itself clean any better than darkness can make itself light. I said that just as a candle drives darkness from a room by entering it, God drives defilement from human flesh by becoming it. In other words, the very thing that Muslims object to most in Christianity, syirik [the sin of practicing idolatry or polytheism, i.e. the deification or worship of anyone or anything other than the singular god, Allah], is the solution to man’s most basic problem as perceived by most Muslims.

“I should have also shown how the nature of Jesus’ miracles healing blindness with his spit and leprosy with his touch proves that he had to be God. No mere prophet could touch a leper without being contaminated, and, while a prophet’s grave might be holy, his spit remains foul like everyone else’s.

“I did point out that by embracing death itself Jesus destroyed it. I concluded that our only hope for heaven lay in appropriating Jesus’ undefiled life and victory over death for ourselves by faith as is symbolized in baptism and communion.

“Jesus not only bore our sins; He bore our shame. As the ‘author and perfecter of our faith’ He ‘endured the cross, scorning its shame’ (Hebrews 12:2).”

May we learn how to communicate the truth about Who Jesus is to all, regardless of culture. Pray for cross-cultural clarity as we GO to the ends of the earth. May those living with shame defining them as “who I am” be introduced to the great I AM.

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