diversity identity

Identity and Diversity

I just read a blog post written by Dr. Larry Hurtado called Early Christian Diversity as well as a brief commentary by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski on Pirkei Avot 1:14. Interestingly enough, I think they both speak to me personally as well as to the wider body of modern Yeshua (Jesus) believers.

Part of what Rabbi Twerski wrote was:

What Hillel really meant can be better understood with a statement by the Rabbi of Kotzk, who said, “If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am and you are. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not and you are not.”

William Shakespeare said the same thing with the words “To thine own self be true,” and I think that’s what I’m attempting in creating my own definition of a life of holiness (not that it’s so easy to follow such a definition).

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

In reading Dr. Hurtado’s blog post, I am once again reminded that what I’m going through, what we are all going through, is not new at all:

But it isn’t as though we didn’t know that before Bauer wrote. From our earliest Christian texts (e.g., Paul’s letters and other writings) we have candid references to diversity in the young Jesus-movement, even sharp conflicts and mutual condemnation. Maybe Eusebius could convince himself that everything was sweet agreement initially and that diversity and division only came later, but that’s not what the earliest sources actually show.

This early Christian diversity, however, was not a number of totally separate communities or forms (hence, my dissatisfaction with “early Christianities”). As I contend in a recent article, the diverse expressions of early Christianity seem to have been in vibrant contact with one another, sometimes conflicting, at other times seeming to agree to overlook differences, at other times seeking to persuade others of their own views/emphases…

I’ve tended to think of the differences between “early Christian” communities as being divided largely across the lines of Gentile believers and Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua, but I believe Dr. Hurtado is making finer distinctions. There may have been numerous branches of “Christianity” in the latter part of the first century and into the second that had other points of separation or distinction. In fact, there was likely no real effort to “form a broadly connected and cooperative trans-local religious movement” until Eusebius or Constantine, according to Dr. Hurtado.

That makes me wonder what the Apostle Paul was up to if not attempting to create unified and uniform communities of Yeshua followers among the Gentiles (certainly Jewish praxis and community was already well established for Jewish disciples of the Rav).

Now let’s look at the Christian and Jewish religious landscapes today. There’s a wide variety of denominations and branches in both faith movements. There are thousands of separate or overlapping Christian denominations, and a number of different branches to Judaism including various subsets.

We could spend a lot of time debating who is right and who is wrong, but that’s not why I’m writing this blog post. Each early “Christianity” (I keep writing that word in quotes because until the Gentiles forcefully separated themselves from their Jewish mentors and teachers and reinterpreted the Bible as a Gentile religious document which excluded Jews, there was no such thing as “Christianity” … it was just another Jewish sect, albeit with an unusually liberal policy about admitting Gentiles) was the result of a separate understanding of the teachings of Rav Yeshua, sometimes interpreted by Paul, sometimes interpreted by other Jewish or Gentile teachers.

church?In modern times too, we are separate by differences in theology and doctrine, but I believe some of these separations are also the result of efforts to define identity. This is a key issue for Messianic Judaism certainly, but I believe we “Judaicly aware” non-Jewish disciples of the Rav are also worshipers in search of an identity.

Some are comfortable identifying as “Messianic Gentiles” and operating within the confines of a Messianic Jewish community (or primarily Messianic Gentile community in some cases), while others, though appreciating the Jewish perspective on the Bible, feel a need to not necessarily emulate Jewish praxis, even to a minor degree.

In a number of ways, I think that Gentile involvement in Messianic Judaism, while it works for some, can lead other non-Jews to attempt to ingrain Jewish practice and Jewish identity into themselves, either via the “one law” theology promoted in areas of the Hebrew Roots movement, or in extreme cases, by these Gentiles abandoning Yeshua altogether and converting to (usually Orthodox) Judaism.

For some of these non-Jews, there is a justification for conversion, either to the aforementioned Orthodox Judaism (or some other traditional branch) or even within certain streams of Messianic Judaism.

However, there are a plethora of Biblical prophesies stating that both Israel and the people of the nations of the world will acknowledge God and bow to the King in Messianic Days. For that to happen, there have to be some Gentiles around. We can’t all convert to Judaism.

And we can’t all practice Judaism as such. There have to be people around who are devoted to God who nonetheless are recognizably Gentile.

And there are tons of us, but we are mostly in Christian churches of one sort or another. Lots of diversity even within “the Church”. And then there are outliers like me who don’t really fit anyone’s mold, system, or structure, who are seeking an identity that fits our personalities, educations, perceptions, and circumstances.

Rabbi Twerski summed up his small missive with:

Today I shall…

…try to achieve my own identity. Whereas I will listen to the advice of those who are wiser than me, I will nonetheless never hold others responsible for what I do.

Of course, he is describing his personal identity. His identity as a Jew in Jewish community is well-defined largely by the community. Anyone who belongs to any community is, in some fashion, defined by the norms of that community.

aloneAnd for those of us who don’t belong, we struggle to define ourselves or at least, search the Bible for a way to understand how God defines us.

One mistake we often make is to take offense at how an individual defines themselves relative to the Bible, Rav Yeshua, and God. In writing Isaiah 56 and the Gentile, I started a bit of a “conversation” that was the result of my self-definition spilling over onto how other non-Jews define themselves.

Really, I’m hardly in a position to tell other people who they are and how to live when I’m struggling with those very issues myself. I believe I have a self-identity that’s fairly well-formed but a life of faith remains vital only when it is constantly under scrutiny.

Dr. Hurtado wrote of an early Christianity that was highly diverse as well as interconnected, finding different local and ethnic expressions. Rabbi Twerski spoke of consulting other individuals and the community and ultimately allowing self-identity to emerge from the “self”.

Whoever we are as human beings and people of faith, in community or not, the final responsibility to grasp an understanding of who we are, who God made us to be, and how God defines our identity, remains with each of us.

No one can threaten that unless you let them.

20 thoughts on “Identity and Diversity”

  1. You quoting Dr. Larry: ….we have candid references to diversity in the young Jesus-movement, even sharp conflicts and mutual condemnation. Maybe Eusebius could convince himself that everything was sweet agreement initially and that diversity and division only came later, but that’s not what the earliest sources actually show.

    For readers who want to know more about Eusebius (and his connection with Constantine and others), see elijahnet.net for writings of Dan Gruber (readable online free) under CHRISTIAN ANTI-SEMITISM, the first link over at the very far left column of the home page.

    Thank you for sharing this meditation (and the statements you shared from others), James. All thought-provoking. Inspirational.

  2. Well, no I didn’t forget. You use this (), and this () [all without parentheses]. This is what I did (correctly) — for “elijahnet.net” and “first link over at the very far left column” there. Looked it up (the coding or symbols to use). That’s supposed to be what works, but there are two blogs where I’ve tried to use underlining recently, and it didn’t work. Anybody know what I’m missing?

  3. Oh well, now what I typed in to try and explain my dilemma didn’t show up. What I did type in was basically what you will find if you look up how to underline. I don’t know why only two sets of parentheses (rather than six sets), and no other symbols (u and / and another u), showed up in my first sentence. The parentheses were a device I tried to use only in the explanation so as to try and get everything to show up (rather than disappear with no trace — not even the underline).

  4. At a different place from where I looked before, talking about underlining, I found the same thing but also another way, plus a suggestion:

    By Steve McDonnell
    eHow Contributor
    ….. [Go to the link to see the most relevant points, which don’t transfer over here in a readable form if I copy and paste.]

    In HTML5, the tag should be used to label proper Chinese names and to indicate misspelled words. Since underlined text typically signifies a hyperlink on a Web page, you should use a different attribute, such as boldface or italics, to emphasize text.

    Read more : http://www.ehow.com/how_2056317_underline-text-html.html

    [I personally was trying to use something other than italics because italics “typically” signify other things. Bold would’ve been good.]

  5. There’s a good chance (at least a possibility) much of this post will end up underlined (unless underlining is disabled or not supported). Or does underlining now (new version of html) have to be within a designated paragraph — “p” tagged and a “u” tag then inside of that?

    I did use the “u tag” — “” and the closing end for that (with the “/” and another “u” inside “” again to specify what I wanted underlined earlier. Doesn’t happen. It’s just as well since the website I shared doesn’t work as a direct link (so underlining may have looked confusing had my attempt worked). When something IS a direct link, the underline normally shows up automatically. If someone wants to go to the particular site I was talking about, one will either copy and paste or type into the address bar (elijahnet.net). I’m not necessarily recommending everything there [for instance, I never felt a need to finish reading about politicians, also left but lower down the column]. The section on CHRISTIAN ANTI-SEMITISM (first link over at the very far left column, top of the list) is enlightening on Eusebius.

  6. Okay, inside the two sets of quotation marks above that have nothing between them were, in the first set, a “u” between the two (opposing) sideways carrots, the second set, just the two sideways carrots.

    I can’t show you what I mean by “carrots” because they simply disappear. I’m guessing the rules for underlining are more complex than for doing italicized or boldface style font these days.

    1. BTW, Marleen — the word you want is “carat”, not “carrot”, and it actually refers to the upward-pointing symbol usually accessed as “shift-6”, rather than to the right- and left-pointing triangle brackets (used in mathematical expressions to indicate “greater-than” [“>”] or “less-than” [“<"]). Because HTML uses them as command delimiters, it blanks them out along with the text between them which is presumed to be a command string. When I post this, I'll find out if single instances of these triangle-bracket characters also disappear in the same manner that pairs do. There is probably also some command character that tells HTML to interpret the subsequent character literally rather than as a command-string character, but I can never remember these commands.

  7. I suppose it’s quotation marks, as long as you don’t put the two things (less than and greater than symbols) together inside. I tried putting a single item inside parentheses (and that didn’t work). Yes, I know that other thing is actually a carat (while the left- and right-pointing triangle brackets are not carats, [:)] or carrots). Thanks for the spelling correction. I can’t show the wrong spelling underlined, as the rules for the command have obviously changed. I used to be able to do it. Now, even though I’ve put a command (or what used to be a simple command) between the two mathematical symbols [closing too], the whole set disappears without the command being performed.

    Now I’m going to do a test.

    Squared brackets, r: [>]
    Quotation marks: “>”
    Both Sb and Qm: [“>”]
    Squared again, l: [<]
    Quotation again: "<"

  8. So, on that very last try, some words got deleted in addition to all the aforementioned symbols as well as some quotation marks. I had typed in, on that second (shorter) line, which hadn’t been shorter when I typed it in (except about one character shorter), three pairs of double quotation marks — the left pointer (just as in the line above it in the same post) and this [” then “u” and other direction, “] (minus the square brackets) and then the right pointer (followed by the last double quotation marking, which you can see — which did show up right after the first of the six). So, conclusion, quotation marks aren’t enough to be literal (at the very least not good enough if you have a right pointer anywhere following a left pointer and a “u” even if those elements are separated, possibly also not good enough if you do a left pointer anywhere in your typing and a right pointer later anywhere*). Maybe the squared brackets or squared brackets plus quotation marks at the same time are or do accomplish the goal of the effort. But this is probably getting old, so I won’t be testing further other than one thing.

    *I will put a bunch of random nonsense words with no “u” characters in a sentence and include the left, then, right pointers with quotation marks and separated from each other. Here goes (9 “words”):

    We impk have “”

    What I think will go away is often sometimes hoping to spell code. [but which I didn’t try to italicize above].

  9. Yes, that went as expected at this point. Okay… sorry, just one more — nothing (no parens, no brackets, no quotation marks) around the mathematical symbols, just text (and space) on either side and between, right followed by left (not a left followed by right).

    impk > impk < impk

  10. I want to follow up and quote this, too, from you, James, that you’ve (like many) “tended to think of the differences between ‘early Christian’ communities as being divided largely across the lines of Gentile believers and Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua, but [that you] believe Dr. Hurtado is making finer distinctions. There may have been numerous… other points of separation or distinction…”

  11. Regarding “points of separation or distinction”: People being what they are, which is to say prone to disagree, separation is not hard to envision — just like the example of denominations cited above. Unity is often rather harder to achieve. The key question is one of identifying appropriate value-based elements around which a group may rally, and upon which an identity or culture may be founded. If “doctrine” is made the value-basis, diversity can only lead to error because there can be only one doctrinal system (or set of doctrines) that can be “true” (i.e., adequately aligned with HaShem’s revelations in Torah and Prophets). If behavior is made the foundation, then a variety of them can be developed, selected and employed in support of Torah’s revealed goals for all humanity. These behaviors may be refined over time to reflect continuing self-examination-and-evaluation vis-à-vis the achievement of those universal goals. With this in mind, non-Jewish behavioral systems may be compared also with Jewish behaviors that have been developed over a long period for the purpose of assisting Jews to fulfill covenantal responsibilities. Thus distinctive identity development may be pursued simultaneously with behavioral improvement.

    Now, the above may seem obvious, but I thought it still might be worthwhile to state.

  12. I agree with you theoretically (and primarily), PL. But, humanity being what it is, doctrine can be corrupt (which I know, based on prior comments of yours, isn’t “news” to you). Additionally, it seems there were a variety of doctrines in Judaism at the time of Apostolic writing and the time of Yeshua before that (the culture that the Messiah ben Yoseph walked within) as well as a variety of either competing or coexisting doctrines amongst early Yeshua-believing non-Jews. Of course, too, “points of distinction or separation” can certainly be corrupt or simply mistaken. No doubt. The question is “appropriate value-based elements” indeed. I rather think there is room for diversity.

    However, not that I think you were necessarily responding very directly to me just there, what I was meaning to draw out of what James wrote is the fact that Christian doctrine has tended over the centuries to draw sharp distinction as to conflict and even clear zero-sum correctness of gentile perspective versus Jewish perspective or Jews or Pharisees (as if fully the same and one failed block) per se. More recently, there has been an effort to soften this interpretation so as to be less anti-Semitic. But now we can be thankful there is yet more seeking for real situational circumstances and conversations (and conflicts) that were taking place and possibly are taking place in similar ways or can improve.

    To broaden this conversation a bit, I think sort of what you (PL) are getting at is that Judaism has developed well over the centuries; it is valuable as a heritage and should continue to grapple with the elements held dear. This is true. I would add that it has developed largely as a subset of society (society within society). Likewise, gentile communities should [maybe even more so] develop properly within larger society/societies (rather than taking over society as in the dark ages and pogroms and crusades and inquisitions and so forth). Paul indicates agreement when he states that some sinners might as well be handed over and not sequestered in community.

    1. My key points, Marleen, were that doctrine is *not* a good basis for diverse cultural development, because only one could then be correct (if even that many), and that godly behavior is a better basis, because multiple versions of such behavior may address the same godly principle.

  13. Oh, thank you, PL… I’ll re-read. I needed the clarification.

    I like that: “only one could then be correct (if even that many)…”

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