Natalie Kim, EdD
The United States is becoming more diverse than ever. According to the 2020 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, "Nearly all groups saw population gains this decade and the increase in the Two or More Races population (referred to...as the Multiracial population) was especially large (up 276%)."¹ In the current context of a diverse culture with an increased chance of encountering people from different backgrounds, we are called to love our neighbors who are very different from us.
Stella Ting-Toomey, the author of Communicating Across Cultures, defines personal relationships as "any close relationship that exhibits a certain degree of voluntary engagement, relational interdependence, affective sentiments, and personalized understanding."² She further explores different factors that shape intercultural relationships such as cultural norms, membership values, and ways people communicate. The fundamental question for Christians is this: where is God in our intercultural relationships? As God should be at the core of any human relationship, our intercultural connections should also be deeply rooted in our relationship with God. There are at least two implications of how God is key to building intercultural relationships.
People are naturally drawn to those who share similarities because commonality creates a sense of connection, belonging, and safety. People feel comfortable with their inner circle of friends, in which cultural expectations and communication styles are intuitively agreed. Therefore, building intercultural relationships with those who have different verbal and non-verbal language requires more careful approaches and mindful attitudes.
Non-believers build connections with others through a sense of familiarity and comfort level, but Christians relate to others through God's sovereign power and wisdom. It's not human wisdom and knowledge that bridge the cultural gap and uncertainty. God must work simultaneously in us and others to overcome barriers and miscommunication. We have the assurance that God knows all of his creation including every nation, tribe, and tongue. He will give us unity, a deep understanding, and reconciliation when we humbly seek his intervention in every relationship.
God-mediated relationships help us deepen intimacy and set healthy boundaries with others. Through prayer and daily interaction with God, we can reflect on our relationships with others in light of God's truth. We ask God to examine and reveal to us if there is any hidden agenda or human inclination for an ungodly relationship. There are different ways people develop personal relationships.
In some cultures, personal disclosure is highly encouraged when first meeting someone. Americans tend to be more transparent. In Asian cultures, openness is not necessary to start a genuine relationship. Having a safe boundary and becoming familiar with someone over extensive time is considered more important. Even with these differing cultural expectations, God helps us adjust to his standard and build trust and intimacy with our new neighbors. The gospel-centered relationship is always intercultural because it transcends our human understanding.
¹ Nicholas Jones, Rachel Marks, and Merarys R Ios-Vargas. "Improved Race and Ethnicity Measures Reveal U.S. Population is Much More Multiracial" United States Census, (August 12, 2021). https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/08/improved-race-ethnicity-measures-reveal-united-states-population-much-more-multiracial.html.
² Stella Ting-Toomey, Communicating Across Cultures, First edition. (New York: The Guilford Press, 1999), 175