Cultural relativism is viewing a culture by its own norms without any ethnocentrism coming into play.  Researchers have a difficult time divorcing their own cultural beliefs from the one they are studying.  Once this hurdle is overcome, several other factors must be evaluated, one of which is human rights.  Are human rights universal or do they fluctuate from society to society?

When the English colonized India, they prohibited the practice of widow burning, because it violated human rights.  Some societies believe it is fine for a man to beat his wife is she is not submissive.  Does this violate human rights against abuse?  Anthropologists must decide when to be arbitrators and when to let things remain at the status quo.

Christians on the mission field deal with this issue all the time.  There are three main approaches a missionary can take: (1) accept the new culture completely, (2) maintain a balance between both cultures, or (3) keep the old culture and try to change the new one.  Hudson Taylor completely accepted the Chinese culture because he believed it was essential for sharing the gospel.  A friend of mine took the second approach by saying, “I had to come to the conclusion that in France, what the French did was right.  In America, what the Americans did was right.”  As long as culture does not violate Scripture, Christians should adapt to it completely.

– Hannah S. Bowers