The dynamics of majority culture and minority culture
It’s useful to talk about the differences between first generation Chinese culture and second generation Chinese culture, and particularly to explore why these differences come about, and what they mean for gospel ministry.
However a few years ago, Kenny Liew drew my attention to another important dynamic that also needs to be introduced into the whole discussion: that of majority culture and minority culture.
When there is a dominant culture (whether it be Aussie, or OBC Chinese, or ABC Chinese), the people of that culture tend to adopt certain behaviours and attitudes towards people of the minority culture. I’ve fleshed some of it out below, but by and large it stems from the inability of people of the majority culture to genuinely see things from the minority culture’s point of view. And as a result things are done in a way which unintentionally disadvantages and prejudices the minority culture.
One example is that people from the majority culture people talk in the majority culture language – and are impatient with minority culture for not being able to use the majority culture language (see below). Meetings and informal discussions are conducted in majority culture language.
The unintended effect is to marginalise people from the minority culture from the discussion, and keep the serious decision making in the hands of the majority culture.
The default way of doing things in the organisation will be defined by the majority culture – it will just be expected that things will be done in the way of the majority culture. But more than that, there will also be a tendency for people from the majority culture to want to impose their way of doing ministry on the minority culture. This can include how leadership is exercised, how worship is conducted – even what is expected of a pastor (see below).
Needless to say this can often put people from the minority culture on the back foot, having to defend their ministry approach before people who have already made up their mind.
The essential ‘rightness’ of the majority culture leads to people of the majority culture developing a feeling of magnanimity as they consider how much they have accommodated people of the minority culture. The flip side of this is that they believe people of the minority culture should be thankful – and are ungrateful for demanding more (see below).
As a result, any hint of unhappiness among the minority is seen in essentially moral terms.
This tension often comes up in the context of being united / divisive. People from the majority culture will quite unconsciously define unity in terms of taking on the forms of the majority culture (see below), not fully realising that the forms they think are universal are in fact particular to their culture – and may in fact be quite unhelpful to the minority culture.
And of course if people from the minority culture show any unhappiness about going along with the majority culture, they are being divisive.
Bear in mind that this majority culture / minority culture dynamic is not tied to any one specific culture. The majority culture of a social group may be Aussie, OBC or ABC – and the minority culture likewise. And it could be that over time, a group that is currently the minority culture grows to become the majority culture and itself unwittingly adopts the behaviours of a majority culture!
But when it comes to understanding what is going on in Chinese churches, yes, it is helpful to be aware of the differences between ABC and OBC culture. However ABC-OBC differences only form part of the dynamic… the other part has to do with the dynamics of majority culture and minority culture. And so we need to realise that what we are experiencing may be due to one group’s position as the majority (or minority) culture in the social group…