Does the Bible say anything about multiculturalism?
Multiculturalism is defined as the presence, or support for the presence, of several distinct cultural or ethnic groups within a society. It is diversity, and the Bible certainly teaches that God created and loves people from every culture and every ethnic group. From the beginning, God's plan was that "all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). At the end of time, this picture of diversity comes to life in Revelation where we read that there was "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb" (Revelation 7:9). God clearly does not use culture or ethnicity as a reason to exclude people from His kingdom. In fact, He seems to delight in the diversity of people who bring Him praise.
Paul teaches that cultural practices that do not conflict with God's law can be continued and indulged in. He exhorts the Colossians, "let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath" (Colossians 2:16). He is telling them that their cultural practices of what foods they eat or the days they choose to celebrate or not celebrate are appropriate to continue and need not conform to another cultural standard. Paul admits to the Corinthians, "To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:20–22). Paul was an expert at taking on whatever cultural practices were necessary in order to effectively share the gospel. In fact, in Athens, Paul referenced the Athenians' "unknown God" and quoted their "own poets" (Acts 17:23 and 28). These examples show that differences in culture can be celebrated and appreciated as displays of God's creativity in the many diverse ways He is glorified.
An important caveat to the above is that in every culture there exist "cultural practices" that are clearly against God. For example, a "cultural celebration" that worships ancestors is inappropriate as is a "cultural norm" of deception or a "cultural value" of monetary success by any means necessary. It is also true that some cultures outlaw the worship of God. In such a case clearly it is better to obey God than it is to accept the cultural norm (Acts 5:29). Freedom to participate in and enjoy the diversity of cultures across the world does not mean freedom to participate in the sins of any of those cultures. It also does not mean we must conform to a specific culture. First Peter 2:12–17 advises us to, "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." See also 1 Peter 3:14–17. Honoring God is our primary objective; we do that in part by being respectful toward others—whether we share a mutual culture, we are visitors in their culture, or they are guests in ours.
Paul teaches that as Christians our primary identity is as "fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19). "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Our identity is no longer found in our cultural or ethnic group, but rather in our role as part of the body of Christ. In Ephesians 4:3–6, Paul tells the Ephesians to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Our new identity in Christ brings us into a unity with our spiritual brothers and sisters from differing cultural backgrounds and we have the freedom to enjoy and appreciate these differences when our identity in Christ is properly prioritized.
One idea that multiculturalism can lead to when taken to an extreme is the idea of relativism where no particular viewpoint is seen as actually true, correct, or moral. The claim that all religions are true, all concepts of God are equally valid, and that every approach to religion is correct is incompatible with the Bible. Jesus taught that, "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). He also taught that the God of the Bible is "the only true God" (John 17:3).
While Romans 12:18 says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all," a few verses earlier Paul tells his readers "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God" (Romans 12:2). The God of Scripture and His Word are the only source of truth in this world and people are not to be deceived by cultural or religious relativism. The God of the Bible is the only true God and He created and loves all people from all cultural backgrounds. We are free to enjoy that diversity when our identity in Christ is properly prioritized.
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