Question: Does the Church disregard people's own cultural traditions?


Question: Does the Church disregard people's own cultural traditions?

Sometimes acceptance of the restored Gospel requires a convert to put aside traditions which have been culturally ingrained

It is claimed that the Church disregards people's own cultural traditions, and that it does not assign any value to native cultures, their histories or mythologies.

Sometimes acceptance of the restored Gospel requires a convert to put aside traditions which have been culturally ingrained. This is not an effort on the part of the Church to destroy someone's traditions, but rather a willing change on the part of the convert to live the principles of the Gospel. Where native cultural traditions are uplifting, the Church promotes them, such as the case with the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii.

To claim that the Church has no regard for diverse local cultural traditions is painting with a very broad brush

To claim that the Church has no regard for diverse local cultural traditions is painting with a very broad brush. There are many types of cultural traditions. Some are good and uplifting, and some are not. The Church does not attempt to "homogenize" its membership in various parts of the world. The style of worship may vary, but the principles of the restored Gospel are the same in any part of the world. Certain practices that are traditional may be incompatible with or prevent acceptance of the Gospel, which others may actually fit nicely with new beliefs.

Some cultural religious traditions prevent acceptance of the Gospel

[T]wo realities hamper the growth of the Church: traditions and poverty. The first reality, deeply held cultural traditions, discourages individual family members from changing religions. “Life will be different for someone who joins the Church,” says Elder John B. Dickson, President of the South American South Area until August 1997. “They will need to learn new religious traditions.” In a country rich with tradition, change comes only with sacrifice, and in the past many new members found the obstacles overwhelming.[1]

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The Indian citizens of Fiji also have strong cultural traditions. Many Indian parents do not allow their children to date, and arranged marriages are common. When a woman is married, she becomes a member of her husband’s family and a servant in her mother-in-law’s home. While she lives there, her father-in-law has the final say on what she does. This may hinder a young woman from joining the Church, even though her husband, who is not required to secure his father’s permission, does join. Most Fijians of Indian descent are Hindu, and some Indian Church members are ostracized when they give up the beliefs their families have held for generations. “My personal philosophy,” says Peter Lee, a counselor in the Fiji Suva Mission presidency, “is that if one’s culture is not going to hinder progress, then we should keep it. But if it’s a tradition that will hinder the work of the Lord, we need to take a stand on what we should or should not do. Otherwise we’ll never move forward.”[2]

Some cultural traditions are not compatible with the Gospel

Many people’s dispositions mirror the cultural traditions that they internalized while growing up. The widespread consumption of alcohol, immodesty of dress and behavior, and cohabitation without marriage are but a few examples of cultural traditions alien to the spirit of the gospel. So it is that the “wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers” (D&C 93:39). These traditions seem natural because most people in a given society engage in such behaviors, but the commandments of God are based upon revealed truth, not popular preferences. Thus, King Benjamin warned his people that “the natural man is an enemy to God,” and he exhorted them to put off the natural man, or in other words to reject unholy traditions and to undergo a mighty change in their natural dispositions by yielding “to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” (Mosiah 3:19).[3]

Some cultural traditions can be integrated with the Gospel

Mormonism had a familiar ring to the Maoris. It must be remembered that by the time LDS doctrine was introduced to the Maoris, they were but one or two generations removed from their pre-Christian religion. Although most Maoris had given up the past, they still remembered many of their old traditions and practices. Even before Mormonism, the Maoris had turned to millennial faiths and various adjustment cults in an effort, generally a conscious one, to bridge the gap from the past to the present. Mormonism, too, emphasized the coming time of peace which would be ushered in by the Savior. Of great importance to the Maoris, as they discovered Mormonism and used it to make the adjustment to the pakeha world, was that the elders did not reject Maoritanga, Maori cultural traditions, in their entirety. The missionaries, too, believed that the Maoris were being brought again into a fold from which they had strayed, but from which they had not wandered too far.[4]

Some cultural traditions facilitate acceptance of the Gospel

Two cultural traditions make the gospel “good news” to the Koreans: their religious beliefs and their great family love. Korea has a popular religion, established in 1909, called Dae jong. The beliefs, theologies, and teachings of this religion are very similar to those of Christianity. For example, Dae jong teaches that there are many gods, but one is most high and glorious. His son (Dan koon) acting as his mediator, is the spiritual source of help to the people. These ideas remind us of our Christian concept of Deity.[5]


Notes

  1. Judy C. Olsen, "https://www.lds.org/ensign/1998/02/argentinas-bright-and-joyous-day?lang=eng Argentina’s Bright and Joyous Day]," Ensign (February 1998), 36.
  2. Shirleen Meek, "Fiji: Islands of Faith," Ensign (December 1990), 32.
  3. Spencer J. Condie, "A Disposition to Do Good Continually," Ensign (August 2001), 13.
  4. R. Lanier Britsch, "Maori Traditions and the Mormon Church," New Era (June 1981), 38.
  5. Sang Han, "Encounter: The Korean Mind and the Gospel," Ensign (August 1975), 47.