Reflections on Racism (Ethnocentricity)

For all practical purposes, Rose and I pretty much stopped going to the movie theater a couple years ago. Even though we paid the seniors discounted price, it was just too expensive! I just couldn’t justify paying those prices. However, just before Christmas, I ordered cards from I had seen Facebook posts from a number of my friends who “liked” I contacted a colleague, and mentioned that Facebook told me she liked, and so I asked her if she actually had it. She told me that she herself did not have it, but that her son had it, and loved it. When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is, but based on what my colleague told me, I took the plunge. Long story short (there IS a longer story here, which we will bypass for the time being), it works like they say it does. So . . . we have gone to more movies in our leisure time in 2018 than in the past.

One might ask this question: What in the world does that have to do with Reflections on Racism (Ethnocentricity)? Well it does, and yesterday, we saw a film that sparked thoughts on that subject. I had read some reviews of the film before, and wanted to see it sometime. The combination of our church study calendar made me want to see it yesterday.

Our church is in a study of the Gospel of Luke. The current focus of the series of sermons is titled The Yes & No of Discipleship. The sermon yesterday (which I had spent a couple hours on Saturday reviewing, so that I could do a fairly decent job of interpreting simultaneously into Spanish) was preached by my good friend (former boss) and current colleague, Mark Scott. I didn’t translate the sermon, but I did watch it on my home TV, as weather cancelled most church services in the entire 4-State area (Missouri/Kansas/Oklahoma/Arkansas). Even at this writing, I’m looking at the back deck of my house, and I can see a glaze of ice. Main roads are OK for traffic, but side streets, and especially parking lots can be treacherous. In view of personal safety, it probably was a good idea to cancel church services. Thinking about 2,000 people parking on the church lots would be a scary thing. We went out to the theater in the afternoon, when the temperature was getting close to the freezing point. The parking lot there was slick. I dropped Rose off on the sidewalk, and then I went to park the car.

At any rate, the sermon was based on Luke 10:25-37, the story of the Good Samaritan. College Heights Christian Church, did their very first Facebook Live Sermon, transmitted from the home of the preacher, Mark Scott. It was a very good sermon (it is difficult for me to think of a poor Mark Scott sermon). You can watch it here, if you would like:

If there ever was a teaching of Jesus that exemplified racism reversal, it is this one! The enemy was the hero of the story! Now, as a missions guys, I am very much interested in being able to relate to the culture in which we are working. During our years in Chile, I made every effort to eat, drink and live Chilean culture, understanding it (hopefully) as much as I understood my own US culture. Now located in the US for the last twenty-some years, I teach students to become more culturally aware, of their own culture and of other cultures. A text that I have taught from for the last several years speaks of tacit ethnocentrism, which is defined as “the assumption that one’s own way of life is just normal, not cultural. 1” The common way of thinking making tacit ethnocentrism believe that “one’s own way of life is just RIGHT, and that any other way of life is just WRONG. We are often blinded to those culturally hidden aspects of our own thought patterns, especially about those who are different than we. Such unconscious thought patterns about those who are different are the breeding ground of racism. The same textbook illustrates tacit ethnocentrism with a cartoon (p. 35):

The key to overcoming the barriers of ethnocentricity is for those from disparate (hostile) groups to spend time together. My colleague, Gary Zustiak (head of our Psychology/Counseling department), speaks about the need to work together on a joint project as a means of overcoming hostilities. In our context in Southwest Missouri, major racial tensions have to do with hispanic immigrants. The stereotypical Southwest Missouri redneck resents the presence of hispanic immigrants (even those who are documented). “They are just a bunch of criminals, who have come to take away our jobs.” My question to them might be, “Have you ever met one of them, and really gotten to know him/her?” That would change sentiments, I believe. Now this is not the place to resolve our immigration issue. The current DACA deadline is March 5. I’m not sure what will happen. I would recommend resources from the Evangelical Immigration Table to see the issues from the other side (which, I believe, is Jesus’ way).

The film we went to see yesterday was Hostiles. First off, a disclaimer: the movie is rated R, because of its raw nature. As an aside, I remember the time that I recommended that my parents see a movie, only to be embarrassed to find out that it was rated R. It was the 1980 movie Ordinary People. We saw it in Chile, where the rating was para mayores de 14 años (older than 14 years old). It was an incredible psychological study about the effect on a family of the tragic loss of one of the members. It starred Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, and Timothy Hutton. It was awesome! And I recommended that my parents go see it. It was only later that I found out that the film was R-rated in the US, and I was embarrassed. I think, sometimes, however that PG-13 movies may be more objectionable than R movies. But I digress.

I sometimes read movie reviews on a site called Christian Spotlight on the Movies. The review for Hostiles, written by Francisco Gomez, Jr., gives it a moral rating of Very Offensive, but a moviemaking quality of 4.5 stars (out of 5). When I read the review, it was obvious to me that Gomez liked it, moral rating notwithstanding. The protagonists in the story are

  • Captain Joseph Blocker, a US army official with years of brutal and bloody struggle with savage Native Americans
  • Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk, who along with his family, were imprisoned by US army forces for past “war crimes”
  • Rosalie Quaid, who lost her entire family to a war party of Comanches

This excerpt from Gomez’s review drew me in: “At its core, “Hostiles” is a story of faith, compassion, and peace. Blocker’s journey is an introspective one as much as physical. He resents Yellow Hawk for taking the lives of many of his fellow soldiers. Blocker’s job as a soldier requires him to take native lives, and he does so in as brutal manner, just as the “savage natives” do. Thus, the line between soldiers and the “hostiles” is blurred. The difficult journey forces the detail and the natives to view things from each other’s perspective. In this manner, the film manages to be more objective in its portrayal of settlement. The lack of dogma in the story allows for the film’s performances and visuals to shine.


Though we don’t see a resolution of hostilities between the Jews and Samaritans in Luke 10 (or anywhere else, for that matter–watch Mark Scott’s sermon to see Dr. Bruce Parmenter’s imagined “rest of the story”), there IS such a resolution in the story of Hostiles. As Gomez stated, the lines between the soldiers and the “hostiles” was blurred. The movie’s poster, outside the screening room said “We are all . . . HOSTILES. That seems to be good theology to me. The Pauline command in Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”) When Paul mentions others, he is referring to others, not just to others who are like us. It is time for us to begin to practice that, both locally and globally.


  1. Howell, Brian M. & Williams Paris, Jenell. Introducing Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective, Baker Academic, 2011, p. 34

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