Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cultural Taboos

This is something I deal with daily. Not my taboos but others. You see, I work with several people from India. Most of the Indian's that I deal with are vegetarians who, for religious reasons, find eating meat taboo.

According to one online dictionary, taboo is defined as
  1. proscribed by society as improper or unacceptable (adj)
  2. a prohibition or interdiction of anything; exclusion from use or practice. (noun)
  3. to put under a taboo; prohibit or forbid.
Many of those things we count as taboo we have good reason for. Driving while intoxicated should be taboo as it puts others in danger. The Bible has prohibitions on sex outside marriage as it is against God's ideal and as we have found, can lead to contracting an STD, pregnancy, etc.

What is disappointing to me is when we make something taboo when there is no danger to others or prohibition in the Bible. Doing this tends to put us above God.

Today, as part of my Daily Audio Bible listening (June 15th actually as I am two days behind because of some download problems previously) we heard Acts 10. This is where Peter is in a
trance, sees the sheet and is told to eat all the animals previously thought to be unclean.

It is tempting to look at these verses and just think about the pork (or some other unclean dish) we had for dinner. In fact, this is how I looked at it for years.

Looking at the context of the story, however, the trance happens as the servants of a Roman army officer is on the way to ask Peter to hear the message of Christ.

Had this happened one day earlier, Peter would not have seen the servants as they would have been unclean. There was a religious taboo against seeing these men as it was against the laws of Moses. Jesus, however, had set a different example and we assume Peter was there to see most of these examples. Jesus spoke with a Samaritan (taboo) woman (taboo) (John 4). He healed the servant of a Roman Officer (taboo) (Luke 7). He healed on the Sabbath (taboo) (Mark 3). He spent time with sinners and tax collectors (taboo) (Matt 9).

Peter was given new instructions though. It was now permissible to eat unclean animals. It was permissible to talk to the unclean people (like me?).

This brings me to the question at hand. What cultural taboos should I be breaking to better follow Christ's example of reaching those who need him? The other side of this issue is if others are breaking my taboos, do I need to give them grace in order for God to be glorified.

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