Monday, October 6, 2014

Multicultural Counseling and Sin in a Reformed Perspective

Belinda Adame is a graduate student in the MA program in Counseling Psychology here at TCC.

“Evenu shalom alejem, evenu shalom alejem, evenu shalom alejem, evenu shalom, shalom, shalom alejem.” This is a traditional song that is sung at my church in order to greet the congregation. Translated this song reads: God’s peace be with you, God’s peace be with you, God’s peace be with you, peace, peace, peace be with you. This song most commonly reflects the definition that individuals often associate with shalom; peace. However, shalom, as Plantinga (1995) describes, has a deeper significance. According to him, shalom is “the way things ought to be” and “a spread of appropriate thoughts, desires, emotions, words, deeds, and dispositions” (p. 10). This includes relationships between two or more people as well as races within different nations. However, the problem arises when individuals begin to realize that the way things ought to be are not the way things are currently. If everyone imagined his or her perfect world, every individual would paint a different picture. However, some common themes may include happy, unified families, spiritual prosperity, and contentment. When it comes to the topic of shalom and sin, it could be stated that sin is the absence of shalom.

Sin is Generational

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5: 12, NIV).  In order for one to label sin as sin, one should feel a certain degree of culpability. However, this culpability is also presented in the form of a more structural element, one that is acquired through social learning;  generational sin. The first instance recorded in the Bible of someone sinning against God’s orders was when Eve ate from the forbidden fruit and shared it with Adam. This act symbolizes that just as it was that simple for Eve to share the forbidden fruit, sin is just as easily shared. When it comes to discussing race, there are many opinions. Racism is a generational sin that has been progressive, even before the birth of Jesus.

When slavery is mentioned one might automatically assume that one is talking about African Americans who were until recently subjected to this traumatic experience. However, in the book of Exodus, the bible narrates the story of the obstacles Moses had to overcome in order to release his people from slavery. Sins such as slavery, segregation, and superiority have not developed over the night, rather they have been generational. “Recognizing that youngsters not only idolize but also imitate their heroes… imitation is one of the main ways children sow what they have reaped” (Plantinga, 1995, p. 71). This quote is a perfect example of what happen with the fall of humanity. Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, shared the fruit with Adam, as a result both were released from the garden, where they procreated, and had two children. Most people who have read the story know that Cain, Adam and Eve’s son killed his own brother Abel. While murder is a sin, the sin was caused as a result of what Adam and Eve sowed. Cain and Abel were conceived in sin; therefore, this was part of their humanity. Similarly, one could explore how White privilege could also be generational sin.

According to Sue (2004), White privilege means to, “inherit and benefit from” and to “knowingly or unknowingly have a stake in the perpetuation of White Racism.” Simply because one is White, he or she has been born with the freedom to do more than individuals of other races. White privilege does not mean that White people do not also struggle to get where they are in life, it simply means that in some instances, opportunities have been more readily available to them.

Sin is Perverse, Polluting, and Disintegrating

Sin is repulsive because it separates us from what ought to be. Sin holds us back in terms of spiritual and personal growth; however, sin has more than just negative effects on the individual. Just as sin is generational and has the ability to grow, sin also leaks and spreads onto other individuals much like the flu or the common cold. In chapter three, Plantinga (1995) describes sin as a father molesting his daughter. While most of us are quick to reject the idea that we could possibly be compared to a child molester, sin is sin. Whether that father was lying to his daughter or molesting her, the fact is that because that father decided to pervert his relationship with his daughter, other relationships such as other members of the family, are also polluted. Plantinga claims that pollution is a way in which relationships are weakened due to the integration of an unknown element (p. 44). Furthermore, disintegration involves, “The breakdown of personal and social integrity the loss of shape, strength, and purpose that make some entity an “entirety” …Disintegration is always deterioration, the prelude and postlude to death” (p. 47).  Many times individuals do not examine how our sinful actions will cause harm to others because we tend to be most interested in what is more accommodating to us.

Sin is Self-centered

We live in a society that values independence. Being dependent on others and acknowledging that not everything could be done on our own is difficult to admit. While self-sufficiency is a trait that most of us value, this can lead to feelings  of pride, which is a sin that also disturbs shalom. Plantinga (1995) is very direct when he states, “God wants to fill us with his Holy Spirit, but when we are proud we are already full of ourselves. There’s no room for God” (p. 82). This statement is difficult to accept because even if one is prideful, one is unaware of this characteristic. Having some pride is not always harmful; however, it is when this pride directs us to engage in discrimination that it is not acceptable. Much like the Holy Spirit wants to work within us to restore our lives and simply to be a part of us, God also desires us to depend on one another. However, an issue arises due to the development of various assumptions that separate us rather than unite us. For instance, it may be difficult for some Caucasians to accept the reality of slavery. And although “moving forward” for some African-Americans would be ideal, this experience is not a simple task (Hardy, 2008). For some African-Americans it may seem that Whites are being prideful in not acknowledging their experiences, and this thought or action is causing disintegration between one another.

On one hand being prideful is a sin, but being envious and holding resentment is also a cause of sin. Resentment is, “anger aimed at what the angry person regards as unjust, insulting, demeaning, especially to her personally” (Plantinga, 1995, p. 166). Resentment may stem from one’s racial experiences or inability to be accepted or understood at a multicultural level. If one does not allow the Holy Spirit to work with the anger and resentment that is being stored, this is also a development of sin. Avoiding the Holy Spirit within us would be to push God aside and claim that we are self-sufficient individuals, however, God’s intended plan for our lives was and is to depend on Him, our creator.

Sin is Deceiving                                          

Sin is beautiful. After claiming this most individuals would be fast to argue this statement, however, if sin were not desirable, it would not be difficult to voluntarily stop engaging in sin. Ordinarily, things would probably being going the way they ought to. What attracts us about sin is, “the goodness in it” (Plantinga, 1995, p. 94). Sin is disguised so that what is wrong seems right to do. However, how could this be translated into our society in regards to multicultural counseling? For some individuals, the way they conceptualize race is normal. Again, this may be due to the way a person was raised by his or her parents or by the lack of racial consciousness. However, this does not excuse the behavior that it perpetrates. Because racism could be as subtle as not feeling any responsibility for feelings expressed by African-Americans in regards to slavery, it is often difficult to accept that one is “racist” and therefore, much easier to deny it. According to the AMCD Multicultural Counseling Competencies, counselors are expected to have certain skills, knowledge, attitudes and beliefs in regards to their own understandings of cultural values as well as a worldview perspective (Arredondo, 1996). However, in order to do so one has to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and let go of pride, regardless if one believes he or she is subjected to it.

Arredondo, P., Toporek, M.S., Brown, S., Jones, J., Locke, D.C., Sanchez, J. and Stadler, H. (1996). Operationalization of the multicultural counseling competencies. AMCD: Alexandria, VA.

Hardy, K. V. (Producer and Director). (2008). Psychological residuals of slavery [Motion Picture].(Available from Alexander Street Press).

Plantinga, Cornelius. (1995). Not the way it’s supposed to be a breviary of sin. Grand Rapids, MI:              William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Sue, D. W. (Producer and Director).  (2004). What does it mean to be white? The invisible whiteness of being [Motion Picture]. (Available from Alexander Street Press).  


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