LOVE is cross-cultural
Despite the rampant commercialism surrounding Valentine’s Day, I cherish the day because it reminds me to take a moment to consider what love is and how I can be more intentional about communicating it to those around me. This year, I’m thinking a lot about the notion that love is cross-cultural. As Christians, we are instructed to love each other as Christ loved us (John 13:34). And the more I think about Christ’s love, the more I’m convinced that it is cross-cultural at its very core. By pursuing us with great tenacity in spite of our differences with him, Jesus shows us that love isn’t limited to people who are culturally-similar to us.
The incarnation is evidence that Jesus pursues us despite physical differences. He also pursues us despite cultural differences; He’s holy, we’re sinful - that’s a pretty significant “cultural” difference. He even pursues us despite theological differences; his theology is more comprehensive and accurate than any of ours. Jesus’ actions and words suggest that he is serious about connecting with us, in spite of physical, cultural and theological differences. I’m reminded of the oft-quoted first and second commandments: to love God and to love our neighbors. When Jesus gives us the second commandment, he precisely neglects to mention physical, cultural and theological differences. Raising the stakes, he simply says to love each other. He even tells the story of the Good Samaritan in order to redefine what it means to be a neighbor, lest we incorrectly apply the term exclusively to those who are like us – you know, the people with whom it is natural and easy to be neighbors.
This blazing cross-cultural love stands in stark contrast to the way that we often think about love. Quite simply, we love people who are like us; we are attracted to people who share the same culture, attitudes, values and preferences[i]. Similarity is one of the most important predictors of both platonic and romantic attraction because we like people who can affirm our worldviews and share our experiences. As an unmarried, urban, professional woman of color, it’s relatively easy for me to love other women who share these characteristics. My interactions with them are easier because we speak the same “language”, roll our eyes at the same things and can easily rejoice and commiserate with each other. Dissimilar people don't 'get' my humor or laugh at my jokes. This is a problem because I like to think of myself as funny.
The evidence suggests that Christians closely associate love with similarity, rather than dissimilarity. In a platonic sense, we tend to go to church with people who are like us. As University of Chicago researcher Samuel Perry notes, “Segregated churches breed segregated lives.”[ii] When our churches are segregated, our friend groups tend to be segregated. How can we love cross-culturally if we rarely cross cultures in a meaningful way? In a romantic sense, Protestant church goers are about half as likely to have dated interracially than non-church goers.[iii]
It seems that we can grow in the area of cross-cultural love.
One last point of clarification: Do I think that the love expressed toward fellow cultural group members is less valuable or less “Jesus-like” than cross-cultural love? Of course not! All forms of true love are sacrificial and thus, Jesus-like. Besides, many forms of interpersonal love are cross-cultural.[iv] However, I believe that there’s much to be learned and gained in following Jesus’ example of intentionally crossing seemingly impenetrable physical, cultural and theological boundaries in the name of love.
So in order to commemorate this V-day, I encourage you to gather those around you and think about what cross-cultural love is and what it would look like for you to intentionally pursue it. Then plan to take steps to do so. Many of us love culturally-similar others with great intensity and intentionality. Imagine how much more whole the body of Christ would be if we were to match that intensity and intentionality as we love cross-culturally.
[i] Byrne, 1971, 1997; Luo & Klohnen, 2005
[iii] Ibid.; http://www.thearda.com/Archive/Files/Descriptions/BAYLORW2.asp
[iv] Here, I define culture broadly to include dimensions such as age, gender, education level, ideology, etc.