When Pei Fen became a Christian, her parents were extremely upset. Accusing her of abandoning her Chinese heritage and following a foreign god, they insisted that she continue family traditions related to ancestral worship. How, she wondered, could she show she still valued her heritage without compromising her newfound faith in God?
In Asian contexts, culture and religion are closely intertwined. As Christians, when we are asked to take part in traditional observances and practices that may include the worship of ancestors or involve beliefs in luck and deities, we may wrestle with questions like, “Can I help my family buy food meant for offerings to our ancestors?” or “Should I accept gifts that are intended to symbolise luck and fortune?”
To avoid compromising our Christian faith, we could “play safe” and ignore all the traditions our families observe. But that may just confirm the impression held by many that becoming a Christian means rejecting our cultural identity—and worse, abandoning our family. At the same time, we cannot simply follow all the traditions, as some may compromise our worship of God.
So how can we show our families and community that we have not forgotten our heritage, while keeping our worship of God pure?
Perhaps, we can keep two key principles in mind:
1. Address the real issues
If we probe deeper into our elders’ unhappiness over our faith, we might find that the issue sometimes isn’t about whom we believe. Pei Fen, for example, discovered that her parents’ real concern was that she would no longer be filial to them, and that she would no longer be “Chinese”. So she took special effort to be a good daughter and show her love and devotion to them (Exodus 20:12). She also joined a clan association to show that she was still proud of her heritage. Her efforts paid off, and over time, they came to accept her new faith.
We, too, can take the same approach to show our parents that becoming a Christian will only result in us loving them more. The Apostle Paul exhorts us: “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good… Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:9, 17–18 NLT).
2. Show grace
As we prayerfully work out what we can or cannot do as Christians, let’s strive to put God first—but to always do it respectfully. Instead of making a stubborn stand, let’s explain our faith gently, and not quarrel over the smallest thing. In other words, let’s show grace—the same grace that God showed us in forgiving us even when we were sinners. Sri Lankan Bible teacher Ajith Fernando, who has ministered in a multi-religious society over many years, challenges Christians to “do everything that you could possibly do” to show godly love for their non-believing families. Then, he says, pray:
Lord, what can I do to show that I am really a member of this family?
Help me to be more sacrificial in my love for the members of the family than anyone else.
Cross cultural barriers with God’s love.
Read more about how Pei Fen responded in the dilemma of faith versus culture at discoveryseries.org/courses/keeping-the-faith/.
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