Biblical Justice, Human Rights, and
by Major Robert
While studying Cultural Anthropology during my undergraduate
degree I was given an observation assignment to observe people
reading to determine the cultural rules that applied
specifically to reading on a suburban train.
At first I didn’t really understand the exercise and
struggled to identify any such rules as I awkwardly watched
people reading their iPads, newspapers and books on an hour
long train trip during the morning rush in Melbourne.
It wasn’t until I switched roles from observer to
reader on the return trip that the exercise made sense and the
‘rules’ became very evident when my personal space as a
passenger trying to read my book became violated by music
playing from mobile devises, intrusive conversations, phones
ringing and unruly school students nearby.
This simple exercise revealed unconscious cultural
rules or values that determine what acceptable and
unacceptable behaviour looks like in everyday situations.
Living and working cross-culturally in a foreign
country for an extended period of time, where you are a
cultural minority, also has a way of exposing deeply rooted
cultural values that are intrinsically a part of who you are
as a culturally conditioned person.
Often without any real conscious awareness until those
values are challenged or violated by your new environment.
When your perception of what is normal or right or just
is confronted by a contrasting worldview, it is natural to
push back against the offending values or attempt to impose
the way things should be from your point of view.
Our respective cultural backgrounds shape the way we
think and respond to the same stimuli and can cause people who
have the same information to arrive at very different
conclusions (Livermore 2013, 78).
For the past three years I have been serving in the
Solomon Islands as the leader of The Salvation Army, where my
cultural reality has been challenged by very different
As a cross-cultural worker I find myself almost daily having
to discern when to accept the way things are, when to give the
culture a bit of a nudge and when to draw a line in the sand
and present what I consider to be a ‘better way’.
In most cases, this cultural tension has little
consequence to my personal values or to those of my host
when conflicting cultural values result in the violation of
‘universal human rights’ the consequences of action or
inaction requires very careful consideration. Anthropologist
Charles Kraft states,
“At the core of culture and, therefore, at the very heart of
all human life, lies the structuring of the basic assumptions,
values, and allegiances in terms of which people interpret and
These assumptions, values, and allegiances we call “worldview”
(Kraft 1996, 11).
Our worldview forms the interpretive framework for how we see
ourselves and interact with the world around us.
It provides a set of lenses through which we view and
interpret reality (Kraft 1996, 56) and respond to or within
the indigenous structures where cultural values are manifested
through traditions and customs that conflict with alternative
often presents a gap between local cultural values and
universal human rights, as listed in the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights (UDHR).
Such a gap can cause enormous conflict for
cross-cultural workers attempting to advocate for human rights
by challenging the cultural structures that violate those
rights. In the
scope of this essay, I will endeavour to unpack the nature of
this cultural gap, and offer a biblically informed pathway
towards addressing the associated complexities and challenges
for those endeavouring to work in this dynamic space.
Identifying such a gap infers that “the inherent dignity and …
equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human
Declaration of Human Rights” 1948) is not a value universally
embraced or expressed by all cultures.
Even though the United Nations asserts, “all United
Nations member States have ratified at least one of the nine
core international human rights treaties, and 80 percent have
ratified four or more, giving concrete expression to the
universality of the UDHR and international human rights”
(“Human Rights Law” 2015, emphasis mine).
The aspirations of the
thirty articles outlined in the UDHR may be shared by all 193
member states and even ratified in part, but their application
is far from universal.
For example, in my current cultural context, the
Solomon Islands has only ratified five out of the eighteen
International Human Rights Treaties
(“- OHCHR Dashboard”
n.d.), despite being a signatory to the UDHR.
The treaties not yet ratified by the Solomon Islands
Government are areas where attention to basic human rights is
notably lacking; in particular, the Convention on the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities (People With Disabilities Solomon
The Bangkok Declaration hinted that Asian states considered
the imposition of alien values interference in their internal
affairs and included a controversial statement that the Asian
states “recognise that while human rights are universal in
nature, they must be considered in the context of … national
and regional particularities and various historical, cultural
and religious backgrounds” (Cerna 1994, 743).
A round table discussion on human rights in Amman in
1993 recommended that “the universality of human rights
requires respect for the diversity of faiths and cultures”
(Cerna 1994, 744), evident by a number of Muslim states that
express specific reservations about the Convention on the
Rights of the Child on the grounds of incompatibility with
Islamic Shari’a law (Cerna 1994, 748).
The clear gap that exists between
and human rights
is a complex space that plays into the concerns of Western
states that the absolute universality of rights and freedoms
is at risk of being diminished by conflicting regional,
religious and cultural variables (Cerna 1994, 741).
This gap exists in part due to the lack of understanding of
structures that form cultural values and a resistance to
international standards that inform human rights.
When one worldview is elevated above another, without
seeking to genuinely understand the underlying assumptions
behind both, it is difficult to make sense of and engage with
the cultural norms from either side (Kraft 1996, 46).
Whether this leads to an impasse or conflict within the
gap, the outcome is often tokenism and tolerance at one end of
the scale or isolation and imposition at the other end.
Another contributor to this gap is the incompatibility
between some deeply held cultural values and universal human
rights. Even when
there is a clear understanding of the underlying assumptions,
there are times when the two spaces simply do not and cannot
coexist without serious compromise from both sides.
In this case, there is limited opportunity for change
and any attempt to alter the indigenous structures runs the
risk of cultural instability, as international standards may
not fit that particular culture, no matter how much we want
them to (Englehart 2000, 564).
This does not mean we should abandon these people to
the abuse of their fundamental rights as human beings made in
the image of God, but acknowledges that bridging this gap will
be much more complicated than culturally sensitive dialogue
Furthermore, this gap is fuelled by unequal power
relationships where both internal and external funds are used
as a tool to ensure conformity to indigenous structures or
coerce compliance to international standards.
In Honiara, the concern about future funding being used
by donor countries to coerce Solomon Islands into changing its
position on same-sex marriage was controversially expressed by
the Governor General during his Queen’s Birthday speech in
MARRIAGE COMING - Solomon Star News” 2018).
The Governor General’s speech was strongly condemned by
the Australian High Commission, who called upon the Solomon
Islands Christian Association (SICA) to publicly denounce his
comments, without any real understanding of the cultural
values that actually supported the offending comments. The
starting point to understanding why this gap exists is mutual
and respectful dialogue that is equally committed to
self-discovery as it is to learning about the other, while
avoiding the temptation to come to the table with all the
answers or manipulative ultimatums.
“Christian workers should exegete organizational culture with
the same passion that they exegete the host culture. Such
studies should result in better understanding, better
adjustment, better communication, better critical
contextualization, and most importantly, better
(Steffen and Douglas 2008, 197)
It has been very interesting to engage in this space in the
Solomon Islands where the human rights priorities of
diplomatic missions and NGO’s are focused around developing
gender equality and ending family violence.
Having originated from a culture where these issues
have a very high importance, it is quite confronting to
observe indigenous attitudes, customs and behaviours that seem
to violate the basic rights of women in this nation.
The occurrence of domestic violence, sexual assault and
depravation of education and employment opportunities for
women is alarming and demands a response.
However, some of the approaches by cultural outsiders
to address these important issues, especially in the area of
gender equality, illustrate the complexities and challenges of
working in the gap between the rights of women and the
cultural values that violate them.
Local women gather to attend workshops and conferences
where an alternative cultural vision for gender roles and
relationships is presented, elevating individual rights above
These women are captivated and inspired by such a vision, only
to return to their indigenous family and social structures
that elevate cultural values above individual rights and view
equality as somewhat of a threat.
When cultural insiders feel that
standards are being imposed upon their
above values’, it evokes a reaction that can cause these
indigenous structures to become further
international standards in order to reposition their
‘values above rights’
and preserve their social order.
isolation occurs, it only serves to further perpetuate
and deprives indigenous people of the opportunity for cultural
Whereas, when international standards are
imposed it causes
for those who have stepped outside of cultural norms because
the espoused human rights have not been fully embraced and
integrated as a cultural value in everyday life.
Engleheart makes a related observation that cultural
differences can be claimed as justification of human rights
abuses, while deflecting criticism by labelling it as cultural
imperialism (Engleheart 2000, 566); thus widening the gap
between cultural values and human rights, and perpetuating
human mistreatment and cultural displacement.
When it comes to addressing the appalling rates of domestic
violence in the Solomon Islands, the same process is required
to avoid the manifestation of Engleheart’s astute observation.
An exclusively human rights driven approach to domestic
violence risks avoiding the necessity of wrestling with the
underlying cultural values that drive this behaviour and
defaults to simply declaring it to be wrong.
Yet, slogans, campaigns and legislation alone are
making little difference in changing the behaviour of men in
After eleven rape cases in four months in 2018, the then Royal
Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) Commissioner Matthew
Varley, an Australian expat, lamented, “I really don’t know
what else to say to the men of this country” and suggested “I
think we really need to be serious on our conversation about
the culture and the mindset of the men in this country – 11
rapes in 4 months is unacceptable” (Ragaruma 2018).
In response to the
concerning trends in domestic violence, World Vision has
developed a powerful program called ‘Channels of Hope for
Gender’ that targets men in particular and churches in general
with the purpose of changing flawed cultural and religious
beliefs about women; because belief drives behaviour.
This is where bridging the gap between cultural values
and human rights through a robust dialogical relationship is
critical to achieving cultural transformation!
The authors of
‘Crucial Conversations’ assert that “People who are skilled at
dialogue do their best to make it safe for everyone to add
their meaning to the shared pool – even ideas that at first
glance appear controversial, wrong, or at odds with their own
beliefs” (Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler 2012, 24).
Participating in this type of dialogue “does not mean
that we tread softly and do not engage each other on the roots
of our failure as societies” (Maggay 2005, 90).
Instead, it is a strong form of internal advocacy that
endeavours to engage the local population in reframing their
cultural thinking to understand, that in this case, “neither
gender possesses the divine image in isolation from the other”
and that “when the dignity and rights of women are denied, the
divine image in men is diminished (Marshall 2001, 60).
Mutual engagement has more hope of stimulating ‘aha’
moments that challenge and change beliefs than imposing
standards that judge behaviours through a foreign cultural
The role of the cross-cultural worker in this context is
somewhat prophetic in nature, insofar as “the prophetic task
is to unmask the current paradigm … while also providing an
alternative vision” of the possibility of a different future,
instead of enforcing another worldview (Bergsma 2020, l. 863).
One of the ironies of engaging opposing ideologies
through open dialogue is the more convinced you are that you
are right and the harder you push your view, the more likely
others will become resistant to it, especially if their
contrasting convictions are as strong as yours (Grenny,
McMillan, and Switzler 2012, 144).
This is a particular challenge for someone with my
personality and temperament, as I am a passionate person who
finds it difficult to temper my indignation against injustice.
However, my previous experiences of interfaith dialogue
and current involvement in cross-cultural mission and ministry
has taught me that the deeper my conviction is about an issue
the more guarded I need to be against imposing my point of
view and the more willing I need to be to build bridges of
mutual dialogue that deepen my own understanding of the other
point of view (Pinnock 2015, 204).
Therefore, a posture of humility is an essential
prerequisite to entering and bridging this challenging and
complex gap. I
saw this powerfully demonstrated recently during an interview
between Peter Vander Meulen and Jack Dekkinga, an American
Evangelical Donald Trump supporter.
Peter’s posture of humility in this interview opened up
a respectful and insightful dialogue with a man whose cultural
values clearly conflicted with his own.
Yet, he skilfully navigated the gap between opposing
worldviews in this context to reveal the underlying
assumptions and values behind an Evangelical Christian’s
support of arguably the most divisive US President in my
lifetime. It is
essential that anyone wanting to engage in transformational
dialogue is open to learning, having their own biases
challenged and even the possibility of changing their views.
Jim Ife reminds us that “dialogue, by its very nature,
is a two-way process, and anyone wishing to engage in an issue
as this cannot start from a non-negotiable position” (Ife
As previously stated, working in this gap begins with mutual
dialogue. It then
common ground to feed into the conversation in order to
begin bridging the gap.
“Mutual purpose is the entry condition of dialogue.
Find a shared goal, and you have both a good reason and
a healthy climate for talking”
(Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler 2012, 77).
Despite the diversity of cultural values, religious beliefs
and political views that contribute to this gap, we share a
common humanity as human beings created in the image of God
that transcends our differences.
This is especially true for the three major
monotheistic world religions that have common roots in the
Judaism, Islam and Christianity share a belief in the Creator
God, who created humankind in His image and whose love and
justice extends to all people.
Though these shared beliefs and their ethical
implications are expressed differently and are frequently the
source of much conflict (Hollenbach 1982, 99-100), there is
still enough common ground to engage in meaningful dialogue.
I experienced this first-hand when I was invited to
attend The Conference of World Religions in 2015 by the
Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in Langwarrin, Victoria.
The purpose of the conference was to bring together
religious leaders from different faith traditions in the
spirit of peace, mutual understanding and respect.
It was our shared values that brought us together not
our theological differences.
Hollenbach asserts that in all three religions, “there
are strong scriptural mandates for a universal respect for the
dignity of both those inside and those outside the community
of shared faith” (Hollenbach 1982, 99).
Even those outside of any faith tradition still share a
common humanity as global citizens with the UDHR offering a
kind of creed or manifesto in place of Scripture as a secular
foundation for the inherent value and dignity of every human
being. This is
our common ground, creating a point of connection for mutual
dialogue to affirm the dignity of humanity and address issues
of mutual concern when that dignity is violated (The General
of The Salvation Army 2018, 21).
Building on this common ground through mutual dialogue
requires digging a little deeper within the culture to
shared values, beyond our common humanity.
Are there deeply held cultural values that we can
What are the underlying assumptions of these cultural values
that intersect with the human rights issue under discussion?
Referring back to my current ministry context in the
Solomon Islands, the cultural value of ‘wantok’ offers a
helpful illustration of a potential shared value that can
build on our common ground.
Wantok means ‘one talk’ and refers to a group of people
who share the same local language and tribal roots.
A Solomon Islander’s wantok provides them with
interconnected social, cultural, religious, economic and
ceremonial networks, that, “based on collective
responsibility, traditional practices include obligation by
the community to look after the needs of all; a social
security provision coined “one common basket”” (Ward 2020, l.
Unfortunately, over time the idea of wantok has strayed from
its cultural integrity and has become a source of corruption
with indigenous people exploiting their wantoks for personal
gain instead of the collective good.
For example; some politicians favour their wantoks with
government funds to secure votes, instead of open tendering
processes wantoks are awarded development projects and grants,
and wantoks provide a form of nepotism for employment and
Wantok and corruption have almost become synonymous
terms in the Solomon Islands, particularly from the vantage
point of expatriates observing these corrupt practices while
serving in this country.
The indigenous structures elevate this distorted
cultural value of wantok above the wellbeing of the community
through the misuse of resources and exploitation of the local
Responding to this human rights issue could involve the
punitive enforcement of international standards to directly
address corrupt behaviours, which certainly has its place.
Alternatively, finding common ground in the gap between
the abuse of the cultural value of wantok and exploited human
rights by corruption opens a doorway for mutual dialogue to
rediscover the original cultural intent of wantok that can be
embraced as a shared value and used as a platform for cultural
Instead of dismissing the value of wantok outright,
development and cross-cultural workers can easily identify
with the original cultural value of “a social security
provision coined ‘one common basket’” that looks after the
needs of the most vulnerable.
This could be an influential shared value that has the
potential to empower indigenous leaders to reframe and restore
a cultural value that could address a number of social and
economic issues for Solomon Islanders, including the
prevalence of corruption.
I recently discovered a further example of how shared values
can bring two deeply divided cultures to a place of mutual
dialogue and allow a shared vision of peace to shine a light
of hope into a significant gap between cultures where human
rights violations have been immense on both sides for
While travelling in the Middle East last year, I attended a
lecture at the Bethlehem Bible College in the West Bank given
by a Palestinian Christian named Salim Munayer.
His lecture presented powerful insights from a book he
co-authored with an Israeli Messianic Jew named Lisa Loden,
titled ‘Through My Enemy’s Eyes – Envisioning Reconciliation
Throughout this book, an open dialogue emerges that
builds on common Christian values and beliefs, while seeking a
deeper understanding of each other’s pain and suffering, in
order to move beyond their cultural and political differences
towards a theology of reconciliation.
The author’s state, “the goal of meeting with one’s
perceived enemy is not to do away with distinguishing
characteristics, but rather to be enriched, challenged and
humbled by the differences of the people whom God has called
to his kingdom” (Munayer and Loden 2014, 229).
While affirming each other’s cultural distinctiveness,
they emphasise their mutual identity as children of God to
define how to interact with each other as “equally valued
members in the body of Christ” (Ibid 2014, 229).
I suspect that such an approach to working in this very
complex and challenging gap between opposing cultural values
and conflicting human rights will have more chance to bring
lasting reconciliation in Israel-Palestine than any foreign
However, it must be acknowledged that finding shared values in
some cultures is not always easy and may even be beyond reach
due to the outright incompatibility between some local
cultural values and universal human rights.
Clear examples of this can be found in cultural values
that include the practices of child marriage, genital
mutilation, honour killing, slavery, torture, just to name a
shared values with zealous advocates of these types of
practices to contribute to mutual dialogue would seem
Nevertheless, our shared humanity still provides common ground
to cast a vision of
shalom into this gap to appeal to cultural insiders who
are open to dialogue or desire cultural transformation.
A vision of shalom adopts a relatable Hebrew term to
describe a state of being that succinctly embraces principles
of God’s justice found in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament and
the Qur’an (Hollenbach 1982, 98), as well as in the universal
standards outlined in the UDHR, to promote the dignity and
rights that span the diversity of our common humanity.
“Shalom is a state of wholeness and harmony within a community
which exists when all the relationships within that community
are good. It is a good which is promoted by acts of justice
and mercy, love and compassion. It is a good which is about
each person being able to participate fully in the community,
not a good in which each person is able to express themselves
individually regardless of the cost to the community.”
(McIlroy 2014, 4)
McIlroy highlights relationships that are good and whole,
which are characterised by justice and mercy, love and
is a state of being that echoes the words of the prophet Micah
who declares God’s desire for the covenantal community, “to
act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your
God” (Micah 6:8).
These ethical standards define the essence of true religion,
which encompasses compassionate care and concern for the poor,
orphans and widows (James 1:27).
It also means walking in constant fellowship with God
whose very nature personifies these characteristics of justice
Relationships that promote the intended order of creation,
which was declared by the Creator to be “good” (Genesis 1:31),
foster a state of wholeness where the value and dignity of all
people is protected and the beauty of the earth is preserved.
They provide an environment where all people can
participate in the fullness of community and enjoy the
abundance of creation, regardless of gender, class, religion
or any other cultural barrier that diminishes the universal
application of shalom.
In the New Testament, Jesus put flesh on this vision of
shalom when he stood up in the synagogue and read, “The Spirit
of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim
good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed
free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke
teaching and ministry of Jesus Christ manifested these values
and laid the foundation for a ‘shalom culture’ that shaped the
mission of the Early Church (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35).
Burnett asserts that
today, “God is wanting his people in every generation to work
out shalom in their own cultures, working for justice and
freedom and ministering to the whole person” (Burnett 1996,
31). This vision
of shalom is good news for those whose human rights have been
suppressed by misplaced cultural values because it restores
within them the image of God so they can experience a fullness
of life that reflects God’s shalom in their own culture (Ibid
A vision for the way things could be is a powerful motivator
to engage people from different cultural backgrounds in mutual
dialogue, especially when there is internal dissatisfaction
with the way things are.
This was true for an Iranian Muslim couple named Ashkan
and Mitra (names changed for privacy) I met in Adelaide in
2012. Ashkan and
Mitra, with their ten year old daughter, arrived in Australia
with work and education visas looking for an escape from the
oppressive cultural and religious values that governed every
area of their lives.
They said to me, “we are tired of the violence” and
expressed that they were seeking a life of “peace and
vision for a better life opened up a life changing space for
mutual dialogue that ultimately led them to embracing
Christian faith as an alternative set of values to give them
the life they were seeking. A
report published by Plan International in 2019 gave a group of
60 Solomon Islander girls a voice to express their
dissatisfaction with cultural values that deny them equal
access to education because of the culturally defined roles
for girls and women.
Together, they embarked on a participatory project that
identified the cultural barriers they face and the type of
future they desire.
The advocacy work of Plan International Solomon Islands
for children’s rights and equality for girls cast a vision of
hope to bridge the gap and empower these girls to put forward
specific recommendations in a formal report to the Solomon
This generation of girls have an opportunity to reshape
cultural values that could change systems and structures that
mean their children will have opportunities that their parents
could never have imagined (Maggay 2005, 89).
It opens the door to the possibility of
transformation that nurtures an environment of
for these girls, instead of just giving lip service to vital
gender equality initiatives like Oxfam’s ‘Side by Side
Movement’ and World Vision’s ‘Channels of Hope for Gender’.
When we understand that culture is not set in stone and is
open to radical change, if it means improving the quality of
life for indigenous people, the pathway to mutual dialogue can
become much easier to tread.
Instead of international standards being dismissed as a
threat to indigenous structures, they can be discussed as a
stimulus for cultural
transformation to promote
However, cultural transformation can only every truly
occur from within.
Cultural outsiders can facilitate a Citizen Voice &
Action (CVA) style of workshop; cast a vision of another way;
or even hold up a mirror to help cultural insiders to see what
others see; but they cannot instigate cultural transformation
with any lasting effect.
Talking with a number of Solomon Islander locals who
remember the transition to Independence from being a British
Protectorate, revealed that while colonialism had a strong
influence and impact on indigenous culture, for good or ill,
it fundamentally did not change deeply held cultural values.
Some even argue, from their perspective, that Solomon Islands
has not advanced in 42 years of independence as there are
problematic cultural attitudes that hold the nation back from
achieving their aspirations for development.
One indigenous leader lamented, “Our dependency on
foreign aid means that we are not yet truly independent”
(Envoy Wency Ramo’oroa).
This is a culturally and politically sensitive space
that I have no intention of critiquing, except to say that it
illustrates my point that lasting cultural transformation
needs to be driven from within the culture.
It also needs to be said that cultural transformation
should not be imposed, even if the motive is a genuine attempt
to create an environment conducive to human flourishing.
“No one should be forced to accept the other person’s faith or
worldview – rather, we find each other through our
differences, not by being forced to accept the most powerful
group’s definition of human rights” (The General of The
Salvation Army 2018, 21).
The Salvation Army has a strong history of advocacy and social
action that has boldly challenged systems and structures that
violate human rights in 131 countries around the world.
I think it would be accurate to suggest that our most
effective social action that has brought about cultural
transformation has been driven by indigenous Salvationists,
who are cultural insiders.
A good example emerges from The Salvation Army in PNG
that has played a key role in a ‘Guns for Bibles’ exchange as
a part of its Restorative Justice Program. In 2009, this
program was first initiated by local Divisional Commander
Major Sere Kala in Lae, who negotiated the exchange of guns
for Bibles at ‘4 Mile’, a notorious place for violence.
It was a culturally meaningful and transformational
experience at a place that was well known for armed holdups
along the road from the airport into Lae.
Another well documented example in 2010 was in Misapi
in the Highlands that has a very remote but strong presence of
The Salvation Army.
The guns were received by a Dutch Chief Secretary, but
the entire exchange was initiated by locally based national
Salvation Army Officers (“The Salvation Army International -
News Feature: Salvation Army Helps Tribes in Papua New Guinea
Exchange Their Guns for Bibles” 2010).
The most recent ‘Guns for Bibles’ exchange was at Enga
in 2019, which was funded by the Australian government who
sent a news crew to cover the event.
The Territorial Commander Colonel Kelvin Alley
participated in the ceremony but this exchange was again
initiated by two local Salvation Army Officers who came from
the two main villages that had been fighting and killing each
other for years (Loop PNG 2019).
Indigenous Salvation Army Officers Major Buka Misia and
Captain Ekali Yalip led their respective communities down this
pathway to peace after suffering their own personal loss from
During his keynote address at the Peace Keeping Ceremony,
Colonel Kelvin Alley congratulated the community, “For saying
‘no more’. For
saying ‘we want a better future’ for ourselves.
For saying ‘we want our families to live in peace and
to feel secure and safe in our villages and communities’”
This restorative justice program was strongly supported by
expatriate leaders, but the mutual dialogue that declared
“enough violence!” is what led to cultural transformation and
a preferred future where human flourishing can take place.
The entrenched cultural violence gave way to peace and
reconciliation through the initiative of these indigenous
leaders who stepped into the gap between cultural values and
As an Australian leading The Salvation Army in the Solomon
Islands, the challenge of maintaining our international social
justice impact in this context, while keeping within the
boundaries of my role as a cultural outsider working in this
gap is very real.
There are social justice issues I feel compelled to speak into
directly and cultural values that I instinctively want to
challenge head-on, but I am acutely aware that I must engage
in this space very carefully.
My voice as an expat may evoke a receptive response in
some circles but in others it will definitely cause a negative
reaction, as my position of relative power and privilege can
be a blessing and a curse.
There is an online forum that I follow called ‘Forum
Solomon Islands – International’ where social and political
concerns are discussed publicly by Solomon Islanders.
The tone of this forum is antagonistic towards any
perceived foreign interference in national affairs, even by
in-country diplomatic missions or NGO’s working to improve
conditions for human flourishing.
Whenever an expat critiques an issue being discussed in
the online conversation (even if their voice is consistent
with majority opinion), they are more often than not met with
resistance and even condemnation.
Therefore, instead of my voice imposing cultural
transformation, I need to equip and empower indigenous social
justice advocates in The Salvation Army Solomon Islands to
effectively stand in the gap and be the voice that initiates
change from within their own culture.
I cannot be the one standing in front of a camera
challenging a cultural value or pushing a human right.
My role is in the background, stimulating the space for
mutual dialogue, expounding the Word of God to broaden
knowledge of biblical principles and casting a vision of
shalom that connects with a cultural yearning for a better
life. Since being
in the Solomon Islands I have endeavoured to embody Henry
Venn’s missiological vision for the indigenous church that
“saw with utter clarity that the goal of a mission was the
emergence of a church out of the soil and soul of a people”
(Shenk 1985, 32–33).
I believe the same goal to be applicable for
cross-cultural church, community and development workers who
find themselves working in this gap – ‘the emergence of
cultural transformation and human flourishing out of the soil
and soul of a people’.
The diagram that has unfolded throughout this essay is a
visual representation of the pathway I have outlined in detail
for use as a tool for group presentations to equip anybody
working in this gap.
It is also available in an interactive PowerPoint
format, complete with animations, to assist the presenter in
explaining each step of the process.
The diagram provides a
useful summary of this complex and challenging space discussed
ground needs to be sought to facilitate mutual dialogue to
understand and address the conflicting issues between
and human rights.
structures that form cultural values risk
when they place values
above rights, potentially resulting in
standards that inform human rights risk
culture when they place
rights above values,
potentially leading to
In either case isolation or imposition widens the gap
between cultural values and human rights and diminishes the
opportunity for mutual dialogue to wrestle with the
ground is found,
shared values and/or a
vision of shalom
provide a dynamic platform to engage in a dialogical
relationship that can work towards
transformation in order to nurture an environment that
Participation in this process is hoped to lead to more
informed human rights advocacy and more inclusive community
development that fully engages indigenous communities in
evaluating their cultural values and
international workers in the application of human rights as a
mutually transformational partnership.
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