Tag Archives: diversity

Politics, Religion, and Other Dirty Words You Shouldn’t Use in Public

danger
Image: Clipart Panda

Disclaimer: I want to state for the record that this blog post is about as politically incorrect as you can get, so if you’re easily offended, don’t read it. Remember, you have been warned.

Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne recently published an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled, “The Evangelicalism of Old White Men Is Dead.” They write that evangelicalism (or at least its reputation) is a “casualty” of the recent presidential election. They believe it is time to bury evangelicalism and replace it with a more authentic expression of Christian faith.

-Shayne Looper
“Red Letter Christianity” And The Bible
The Huffington Post

If the recent presidential election proves anything, it’s that we — as individuals, organizations and a country — need to evolve the tech industry’s approach to diversity and inclusion.

-Nichole Burton and Aubrey Blanche
Why white men are diversity’s missing stakeholders
TechCrunch.com

In the days that followed Donald Trump’s election victory, liberal assessments about what went wrong and prescriptions for how the Left can move forward were in short supply. There were, however, exceptions. Notable among those was Mark Lilla’s piece in the New York Times ten days after Hillary Clinton’s loss describing the need to bring about an end to the “age of identity liberalism.”

-Noah Rothman
The Left’s Toxic Identity Obsession
Commentary Magazine

As Donald Trump’s inauguration day rapidly approaches, the news media continues to scramble for some understanding of what went wrong, as in “How could Hillary Clinton have possibly lost to Donald Trump?” kind of wrong.

Their answer, and I’m grossly simplifying it here to make a point, is “White Men Bad!”

More specifically, the Huff Post article states in part:

Campolo and Claiborne regard the fact that 80 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Mr. Trump as evidence that evangelicalism has been poisoned by self-interest. Its reputation “has been clouded over.”

clinton voters
Image: Business Insider — AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Actually, I find the statement hilarious. Does Shayne Looper imagine for one split second that everyone who voted for Clinton wasn’t voting out of self-interest? Everyone voted for the candidate they thought would best represent their interests, or at least they voted for the candidate they found less objectionable (and some people  were so revolted by the both of them, they voted for neither).

But to that point, Looper goes on:

How, they wonder, could people who take Jesus seriously ever vote for a man whose campaign was marked by “racism, sexism, xenophobia,” and “hypocrisy”?

From Shayne’s point of view, the problem isn’t just white men, but white, male Evangelical Christians. I’m not a huge fan of Evangelical Christianity, in part because it really can be rigid about doctrine and the whole “God, guns, and guts” routine, but they’re Americans too, and they have the right to vote for the candidate of their choice.

I do agree with Shayne that we have to take the Bible as a holistic, unified document rather than emphasize some areas (such as putting everything Jesus said in red letters) and de-emphasizing or completely disregarding others (and it should be said that Jesus was almost universally teaching Jews, not Gentile Christians…if Christians want to understand their own theology better, they need to read Paul).

The “solution,” from Looper’s point of view, is to replace Evangelical Christianity with a more universal form that presents as more compassionate, charitable, and inclusive (my words, not his).

This is somewhat different from the solution proposed by Nichole Burton and Aubrey Blanche at TechCrunch, who believe that instead of ejecting white men in favor of something different, they should be recruited as “allies”.

The Silicon Valley tech community is about as liberal and progressive as you can get, but they’re still struggling with their own “diversity crisis,” probably because like a number of other professions, it’s been historically dominated by white males.

According to Burton and Blanche:

In the election, the majority of white people voted for Trump, whose campaign was characterized by division rather than inclusion. And white men voted for the president-elect by at least a 10 percent margin over other groups.

blm protest
Image: ABC News

I also found this statement hilariously funny, not because it isn’t true, but because it describes the Obama Presidency to a “T”. Racial and ethnic relations have reached (or so it seems to me) an all-time low in the eight years since Barack and Michelle first walked into the White House.

But they go on:

White men (and other allies) must learn how to be inclusive and use their own privilege constructively. All of us are capable of prejudice and biased behavior, but changing it is more difficult the further a person is from being the subject of discrimination.

I have to be thankful that Burton and Blanche at least acknowledge that it’s possible for people besides white males to be “capable of prejudice and biased behavior,” but of course, it’s worse when whites do it.

They do want to extend a carrot instead of a stick by creating “safe spaces” for “unconverted” whites to hear minority points of view, and to use whites who are already allies to invite non-ally whites into the fold.

So the Huff Post writer wants to trash can Evangelical Christianity for a version that would be more likely to vote for Clinton, while the TechCrunch writers want to solve the same problem by recruiting conservative white males into progressivism as allies, people who also would be more likely to vote for Clinton.

However, according to Noah Rothman at Commentary, the left has a problem:

Notable among those was Mark Lilla’s piece in the New York Times ten days after Hillary Clinton’s loss describing the need to bring about an end to the “age of identity liberalism.” Lilla’s case in favor of a “pre-identity liberalism” is a convincing one, but he doesn’t propose a method to bring about a return to this providential status quo ante. There’s a reason for that: there isn’t one—at least, not an easy one. Political movements are not party committees. They don’t radically redefine their mission at the drop of a white paper. The modern activist left was reared on toxic identity politics, and it seems disinclined to abandon this addictive poison without a struggle.

women's march
Photo: Women’s March on Washington/Facebook

The idea here is that modern liberalism is hardly united. It’s been fractured into multiple units, some running in parallel to others while some are actually standing in opposition to particular liberal factions.

They have no central rallying point, and thus, no specific focus other than #NotMyPresident.

Rothman goes on:

Take, for example, the so-called “Women’s March” that will descend on Washington D.C. to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 21. The masses gathered in opposition to Trump will create the appearance of unity, but a closer examination of the coalition united by their antipathy for the incoming administration paints a portrait of a movement at war with itself.

The Women’s March will be short at least one formerly eager participant who told the New York Times she canceled her trip to Washington D.C. after reading a volunteer organizer’s Facebook post who “advised ‘white allies’ to listen more and talk less.” The Times noted that racial tensions within the organization extend to the organizational level. A Louisiana coordinator resigned her volunteer role due to a lack of diversity in leadership positions. The decision to change the name of a satellite march based in Nashville yielded to a caustic debate over whether the event had become hostile to white participants.

I read about this in another online venue, and basically what was being said was “white women aren’t victim enough”. I consider this yet another of President Obama’s legacies. Leftist progressives are inhibited from uniting by identity politics. How are they going to accomplish anything if they can’t unify, even over how much they hate Donald Trump?

Google “Democratic party crisis” and the search results will produce quite a number of articles, usually published sometime last November, including this one from Fox News.

They’ve probably recovered from the shock of Clinton losing the election by now, but they’ve got an uphill battle in dealing with a Trump Presidency and a Republican majority in the House and the Senate.

So what does that mean for the rest of us?

white males
Image: imgur

If Hillary Clinton had won, then white males who were not self-avowed “allies” would have continued to be relentlessly attacked by the majority liberal left, basically with us being called racist simply because we were born white and male (and we received further demerits if we happened to be Christians or religious Jews). The majority social and political power in the United States would have kept on flattening us with their juggernaut steamroller just as they have for the past eight years.

As the character Howard Beale (Peter Finch) ranted in the film Network (1976) “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

And that’s the real reason Donald Trump won the Presidency. The marginalized rose up against the monolithic system and gave it a taste of its own medicine.

They sure don’t like that taste, not at all.

The result is that in a week, Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States.

I wish that actually meant good things, but every time I hear the man speak, I’m astonished that he managed to build an empire worth billions. At least Clinton could (most of the time) fake being a sane and reasonable human being.

What it really means for us is that instead of a steamroller continuing to mash us flat, the left will either play the victim card hoping we’ll feel guilty enough to succumb to being their allies, or that they’ll put on sheep’s clothing and pretend they don’t think that all white males are “deplorables,” as Clinton declared us, hoping we can be convinced to turn over our free will and self-determination to the collective.

I know all this sounds cynical, and it probably is. Trump isn’t going to help, and in fact, every time he opens his mouth or puts out a tweet, he just pours more gasoline over the inferno.

Because Donald Trump won and Hillary Clinton lost, and because Donald Trump is such as big, white, rich, narcissistic, loudmouth, all white males, and especially conservative and religious white males (along with conservative, religious white woman) will be painted with the same broad brush, and one strategy or another will be employed to either turn us to the “light side of the Force” (in their eyes, not mine) or they will attempt to maintain a “Rebel alliance” which will limp along for the next four years due to factionalized identity politics.

trump
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier/Newsday.com

Bottom line is no one is going to have a good time. We’ll all suffer, not only because Trump is a total loose cannon, but the only solution the left has to fix its problem and the problem of white men, is to reframe capitulation  as cooperation. They will continue to try to remake us into their drones, and failing that,  “demonize” us as the enemy to resist.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day or, continuing my Star Wars references, “Help us Yeshua HaMoshiach, you’re our only hope.”

The Illusion of the Unified Body of Messiah

In the article, I tackled the now-familiar “trajectories” model of early Christian developments proposed influentially by James Robinson and Helmut Koester, showing examples of how it has involved dubious results. The trajectories model does reflect the sense of diversity in early Christianity, but I contend that it is inadequate as a model in allowing for the complexity of that diversity. For it seems to me that all our evidence points to a rich and vibrant interaction of the various early Christian groups.

Sometimes this was of a hostile nature, as in the well-known conflict of Paul and certain other Jewish Christians whom Paul refers to as “false brothers,” and even agents of Satan. Sometimes, however, perhaps more typically, this interaction was of a more positive nature, as reflected in the appropriation of “Q material” in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, or the implicit affirmation of Peter in John 21.

-Dr. Larry Hurtado
discussing the presentation of his paper,
Interactive Diversity: A Proposed Model of Christian Origins,” Journal of Theological Studies 64 (2013): 445-62
on his blog post “Interactive Diversity SBL Session”
Larry Hurtado’s Blog

I suppose it would be naive to consider that there was a single, uniform expression of Christianity in the mid-to-late first century CE. As Dr. Hurtado points out, both on this blog and in his paper, there are multiple different theories to describe these varying expressions including the “trajectories model.”

However, in his paper, Dr. Hurtado suggests a different viewpoint he calls “Interactive-Diversity”.

As early as the Jerusalem church, there was linguistic diversity, as likely reflected in the Acts depiction of ‘Hebrews’ and ‘Hellenists,’ terms which probably designate respectively those Jews in the Jerusalem church whose first language was Aramaic and those whose first/primary language was Greek. Also, Paul’s deployment of the little ‘Marana tha’ formula in 1 Corinthians 16:22 is commonly taken as reflecting his acquaintance with Aramaic-speaking circles of Jewish believers, as distinguished from the Greek-speaking (gentile) congregations to whom he wrote.

I should note that regardless of believers being Jewish or Gentile, Dr. Hurtado refers to them as Christians.

In this first example, the diversity is linguistic and between Greek speaking and Aramaoic speaking Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus), as well as distinguishing them from the Greek speaking Gentiles.

However…

Moreover, remarkably early there was also a trans-local diversity. In Acts we have reports of the young Christian movement quickly spreading from Jerusalem and other sites in Jewish Palestine, to Damascus, Antioch and Samaria, and through the activities of Paul and others (often anonymous) spreading through various locations in Asia Minor, Greece, Rome and elsewhere. Though the historicity of some features of
Acts has been challenged, it is commonly accepted that there was an early and rapid trans-local spread of the young Christian movement to locations such as these. It is to
be expected that this remarkably rapid spread of the Christian movement would have been accompanied by diversity, Christian circles taking on something of the character of
the various locales, and also the varying ethnic groups and social classes from which converts came.

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

There was, as we might expect, also diversity among the Gentiles based on “trans-local diversity,” or distinctions of geography, nationality, ethnicity, and custom.

All this seems to suggest that there were different interpretive traditions of not only the Jewish scriptures (remember, at this time there was no such thing as the “New Testament”) but how these differing groups understood the letters of Paul as well.

The different attitudes toward ‘food sacrificed to idols’ (8:1-13) comprised another potentially serious difference in Corinth that may well have reflected different social groups. Likewise, Paul’s exhortations in Romans 14:1—15:6 are widely thought to address differences that likely reflect a diversity of a social or ethnic nature.

But along with the evident diversity, a well-attested ‘networking’ was another feature of early Christianity. This involved various activities, among them the sending
and exchange of texts, believers travelling for trans-local promotion of their views (as, e.g., the ‘men from James’ in Gal 2:11, or Apollos’ travels to Corinth in 1 Cor 1:12; 3:5-
9; 16:12), representatives sent for conferral with believers elsewhere (as depicted, e.g., Acts 15:1-35), or sent to express solidarity with other circles of believers (as, e.g., those accompanying the Jerusalem offering in 1 Cor 16:3-4).

For that matter, Paul wasn’t the only one establishing “churches” in the diaspora. There were others, most or all of whom were anonymous, who were also “planting” faith communities and apparently establishing differences in teaching and praxis.

However, it wasn’t because these communities were isolated from each other geographically that allowed the rise of diversity. In fact, according to Hurtado’s paper, they were quite interactive, sometimes uncomfortably so.

On the other hand, there are also indications of far more adversarial interactions as well, and at a very early date. Paul’s letter to the Galatians will serve to illustrate this. Exegetes are agreed that this epistle reflects Paul’s exasperation over unidentified other Christians (probably Jewish) who have visited the Galatian churches calling into question the adequacy of Paul’s gospel and urging his gentile converts to complete their conversion by circumcision and a commitment to Torah-observance. Paul represents these people as proclaiming ‘a different gospel . . . confusing you and seeking to pervert the gospel of Christ’ (Gal 1:6-7), and he thunders an anathema on anyone who proclaims a gospel contrary to that which he preached (1:9).

And…

This is rather clearly an example of early Christian diversity of a more hostile variety! But it is also indication of the interaction that I emphasize here, with non-Pauline teachers visiting Corinth (with intent!) and Paul reacting with an uncompromising vigour.

It can result in some exchange and adaptation or in a hardening of previous positions. But my point is that early Christian diversity was often (even typically?) of a highly interactive nature.

Apostle Paul preachingDoesn’t sound terrifically different than how different Christian denominations “get along” in the 21st century CE.

You can read the full 16 page document as a PDF to get all of Dr. Hurtado’s message on this topic. My point in bringing all this out on my own blog is somewhat similar to what I pointed out in one of my reviews of the Nanos and Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle.

Various articles within “Paul within Judaism” put forth the idea that Jews and Gentiles “in Christ” not only did not share a single, uniform identity and role within the faith, but that the identity and role of the Gentile within the first century Jewish movement of “the Way,” was ill defined and incomplete.

Paul and others may not have thought this was a problem if they believed that the Messiah’s return was imminent. If Messiah was coming back in a year or two, or a decade or two, he would straighten things out as he completed establishing his Kingdom.

That may also be one way to view the diversity between various diaspora congregations and their differences in interpretation, doctrine, and praxis. While it’s compelling to imagine that in the beginning of the Yeshua movement within Judaism, and as it was being exported to the diaspora Gentiles, the conditions operating within the overall movement and trickling down to specific “churches” were uniform, representing a single, complete unity, perspectives such as “Interactive-Diversity” paint a much different portrait.

What we think of may never have been unified, at least not since Rav Yeshua lead his small inner circle of apostles and disciples through the Galilee or taught from Solomon’s Portico at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. His teachings wouldn’t be documented and widely disseminated for decades, and even then, they would likely have been interpreted differently by the numerous congregations and house fellowships of Jews and Gentiles in both Israel and the diaspora nations.

I remember during my early days in the Hebrew Roots movement (some fifteen years ago or more) I thought what I was experiencing in my local, little “One Law” group was something akin to what the Gentiles experienced in their congregations in the days of Paul.

I was really inexperienced and unstudied.

I’m not exactly a genius now, but as time has passed and I’ve accessed a wider variety of information sources, I’ve come to realize that we aren’t particularly certain of what was normative practice for Gentiles in Messiah while Paul was on his journeys and writing his letters. Here we see that there probably was no one normative practice, but that not only were the teachings and praxis of the different groups of Gentiles highly variable and even competitive, but that their very identities and roles as disciples of our Rav were probably indistinct and variable as well.

Granted, I’m drawing a great deal out of a few small examples, but it does possibly mean we do have one thing in common with the earliest non-Jewish followers of Yeshua. Our variability or interpretation and practice and even the competition and (sometimes) hostility between differing factions within both the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements is normal.

Like Paul, we too may have to wait until Messiah comes so he can sort everything out.

Christian CoffeeAlmost a week ago, I had coffee with a friend, and we were discussing this topic. He believes that as the time of Messiah’s return draws near, the variability between all the denominations of Christianity, let alone those of us who, at least in name, don’t call ourselves “Christians” (well, we do and don’t…long story), will begin to erode and a clearer vision and more stable platform will emerge for Messiah’s disciples.

I disagree.

In fact, I think the opposite will happen. I think we’ll all become increasingly fragmented and confused. Sure, there will be a remnant that will maintain a stable perception of God, Messiah, Israel, and the Bible consistent with God’s redemptive plan for His Jewish nation, and through them, the people of the nations, but a lot of “nutsiness” will emerge and thrive as well.

I even think there will be scores of churches that will reject the resurrected Messiah and ascended King because he’s too Jewish, because he rebuilds the Temple in Jerusalem, because he rules from Jerusalem instead of Heaven, and because the “raptured” will join him in Jerusalem instead of Heaven…

…and because Israel will rule the nations of the world with King Messiah instead of “the Church”.

I’m not saying we should just sit on our laurels and wait around for Messiah to come back. I’m not saying we shouldn’t continue to study the scriptures, to teach, to go to teachings, to seek out greater truth, to improve our walk, or any of that.

I’m saying it’s expected if we don’t know everything right now. It’s normal not to get everything right. We should accept that, when Messiah does come and when he teaches, that he will point out where we made mistakes, even as we were (and are) sincerely seeking him and searching out the face of God.

Fortunately, Hashem is patient. He understands us, even though we don’t always understand Him or what He’s trying to tell us. We may have the Spirit of God, but that doesn’t mean we always listen to the Spirit either, no matter how much we think we want to.

We aren’t one candle, but many, yet all burning for our God.

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.

Doing It Right

My family lives in Greenwood, Mississippi. Nestled in the heart of the Delta, we are proud of our small-but-vibrant shul; even when only a dozen or so folks fill the pews, time spent in our building is meaningful. However, recently we saw our sanctuary overflowing with guests for the first time in years—and we were honored to host an event that led to powerful connections and conversations with our Delta neighbors.

-Gail Goldberg
“Christians and Jews Sharing Shabbat in the Delta”
MyJewishLearning.com

Derek Leman on this blog Messianic Jewish Musings, refers to himself as:

…a rabbi, writer, and speaker at the intersection of Judaism and Christianity, Jesus and Torah, temple and atonement.

That last part about being at an intersection probably describes any Jew or Gentile who is involved in the Messianic movement in any sense, for we hold views and convictions that aren’t exactly typical in more normative Judaism or Christianity. In fact, we end up getting into plenty of arguments with just about everyone because we don’t fit into anyone’s convenient religious mold.

But Gail Goldberg’s article attracted my attention because it shows a portrait of Jews and Christians “doing it right,” of laying aside the ancient apprehension and animosity and for one brief evening, sharing the Shabbat in a synagogue in peace.

People came from all over to hear her speak; Christians were challenged and enriched by her teachings on Christianity, and Jewish attendees were similarly riveted by her approach to scholarship and religious studies transcending both religions. Though the program took place in a synagogue, AJ knew her audience was primarily Christian. She addressed all equally, and encouraged all to be open to challenge and new notions. As local bookstore employee and program partner Steve Iwanski noted in his wonderful blog following AJ’s presentation: “…she sought to bring light to the parts of Jewish faith that may be unfamiliar to the typical Christian.

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

This isn’t describing a Messianic anything. These are Jews and Christians outside our little movement who nevertheless, found a bridge by which they could cross a two-thousand year old gap and find some common ground. There could be a majority of Christians amid Jewish community and no one felt threatened.

Ms. Goldberg’s article finishes with:

That night, I felt the pride of our ancestors – Ilse (Ilse Goldberg, Gail Goldberg’s 86-year-old mother-in-law) in the room, and others no longer with us. If they could have seen the full pews and felt the support and investment of our neighbors, I know how proud the previous generations of the congregation would be. I’m just honored that I could be part of such a wonderful communal experience, and grateful to see our shul stuffed to the gills with long-time supporters and first-time visitors. I hope to see our friends and neighbors joining us in fellowship many more times in the future.

The Messianic Jewish movement purports to share a common Messiah and a common God between Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of the Master, and yet we see a lot of friction and many separate ways of attempting to operationalize our “union”. Some Jews who aren’t Messianic like my friend Gene, find it necessary to point out the rather stark differences between Messianic Judaism/Christianity and Orthodox Judaism, which, whether he means to or not, continues to drive a wedge between Jew and Christian.

But as we’ve seen in the quotes above, it doesn’t have to be that way.

But this isn’t the only example:

We moved to the Czech Republic eight years ago to serve God and our new community and I had expectations of what life would be like. When I stand in the synagogue now on Friday nights, looking out at our growing group of spiritual sojourners singing and praying in Hebrew, Czech, and English, I am taken aback by what God has done. He has demolished my expectations and from the rubble built something worthy, something glorious.

My husband and I had just started being observant. We started slowly, first lighting candles on Shabbat, then observing festivals. He began to wear his kippah, I would cover my head during prayer. I started learning Hebrew and to sing the prayers in my new siddur. Each tentative step brought me closer to my heritage and closer to the way I found to truly express my love for God. As we strolled one day through the medieval alleyways of Cesky Krumlov, we stumbled upon a synagogue, hidden away off the beaten path. It was just finished being reconstructed and I felt a leap from within me. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could sometime light the Shabbat candles here at the synagogue?”, I whispered in my heart and ever so quietly to my husband. It was as if saying the words too loudly would damage them extinguishing the hope that had been lit..

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

This was written by Krista, one of Derek’s students, for his blog post A Synagogue in the Czech Republic. You can click on the link to get the whole story, but here’s what I want to show you:

Ours is an inter-faith group. All are welcome. “Isms” are left at the door. Though the service is conservative and very traditional, there is an atmosphere of family here, humanity seeking the Creator and learning how to worship together. Many who come are Christian, Baha’i, Hindu, Jewish and agnostic. We save the discussions for the café which used to be the Rabbi’s house. Ruth remembers it as it was when her dear Rabbi lived there. Now we sing and pray and talk about deep topics there over tea and cake. I invite those who might want to delve deeper to our house for once a week gatherings, Mussar and Bible Studies. As a Messianic Jew, I share my thoughts and beliefs about Messiah during these group times at our home.

I’m not saying every synagogue, Messianic or otherwise, has to be this way, but here we have two examples where in Jewish religious and community space, not everyone was Jewish and in the latter case, there was acceptance of a Messianic Jew as a Jew by non-Messianic Jews and by many other faith traditions including Christianity.

Krista also wrote:

This burgeoning community is in need. We have just filled out the paperwork to be recognized as a Jewish Community by the Ministry of the Interior.

Unfortunately, it was suggested that this Czech synagogue was pulling a “bait-and-switch” since Krista describes it as an interfaith community, but in his response to that comment, Derek said that:

Gene is wondering if a bait and switch is going on in Cesky Krumlov and I answered that: no. The people there are happy with an interfaith community and there is nothing deceptive about it.

Derek also said to Gene (sorry to keep bringing you up Gene, but I can’t avoid it in this context):

Your idea that Jews don’t like Christians or that Jews want to keep Jesus away with a ten foot pole, just isn’t true. Maybe your journey away from Jesus into Orthodox Judaism colors your perception. Most Jews are open to all sorts of things, including Bahai and Buddhism. People who insist on sharp borderlines do not represent most people in the world who take joy in learning from many streams of religion, philosophy, arts, politics, etc. If you were to approach these people and say, “This is bad, you shouldn’t do it,” I think they’d ask who the heck you think you are. Now having said that, the services in the synagogue are simply Jewish prayers and songs. The groups that meet at other times are not in the synagogue. It is called Interfaith. Some people like it. You might not be one of them.

I found that statement slightly ironic given that within Messianic Judaism, there are voices who advocate for a sharp division between Gentiles and Jews, and at times I’ve been one of those voices.

sky bridgeBut there’s got to be someplace where we too can build our bridge, stand together in a common place, break bread together, and find a mutual peace.

Maybe Gail Goldberg’s synagogue in Greenwood, Mississippi, and Krista’s shul in Cesky Krumlov are giving us just a tiny peek into the world of the Messianic Kingdom of peace. Maybe someday we can all learn to “do it right.” Someday, we can put aside our differences and while being distinct, also as one bow our knee to One God.

Struggles in Diversity

Apostle-Paul-PreachesAs early as the Jerusalem church, there was linguistic diversity, as likely reflected in the Acts depiction of ‘Hebrews’ and ‘Hellenists,’ terms which probably designate respectively those Jews in the Jerusalem church whose first language was Aramaic and those whose first/primary language was Greek. Also, Paul’s deployment of the little ‘Marana tha’ formula in 1 Corinthians 16:22 is commonly taken as reflecting his acquaintance with Aramaic-speaking circles of Jewish believers, as distinguished from the Greek-speaking (gentile) congregations to whom he wrote.

Moreover, remarkably early there was also a trans-local diversity. In Acts we have reports of the young Christian movement quickly spreading from Jerusalem other sites in Jewish Palestine, to Damascus, Antioch and Samaria, and through the activities of Paul and others (often anonymous) spreading through various locations in Asia Minor, Greece, Rome and elsewhere. Though the historicity of some features of Acts has been challenged, it is commonly accepted that there was an early and rapid trans-local spread of the young Christian movement to locations such as these. It is to be expected that this remarkably rapid spread of the Christian movement would have been accompanied by diversity, Christian circles taking on something of the character of the various locales, and also the varying ethnic groups and social classes from which converts came.

Larry Hurtado
from pre-publication typescript of his article Interactive Diversity (PDF), pp 7-8
As published in Journal of Theological Studies.
“Interactive Diversity: A Proposed Model of Christian Origins.”
The Journal of Theological Studies 2013; doi: 10.1093/jts/flt063

I tend to think of the early Messianic (Christian) movement as having started out as a single, unified entity and then at some point, splitting into divergent trajectories. I just found out, thanks to reading the above-referenced Hurtado essay, that there is a “‘trajectories’ model of early Christian developments introduced by James Robinson and Helmut Koester.” I think it’s what many Christians think about when they consider the origin and development of our faith from the first century CE forward.

In the Abstract of his essay (pg 1), Hurtado states:

The earliest model of Christian origins appears in certain ancient church fathers, who posited an initial and unified form of Christianity from which a subsequent diversity then flowed, including alleged heretical divergences from the putatively original form.

That sounds terrifically familiar.

But it isn’t necessarily so.

As the quote from Hurtado at the top of the page states, we can expect a certain diversity between Aramaic/Hebrew and Greek speaking Jews was established from the very beginning (see Acts 6:1). Hurtado also brings out how there very well could have been “trans-local” variations in the Christian populations in the diaspora based on ethnicity and social class as well as language and nationality. However I’m interested in exploring one slice of the pie, so to speak:

On the other hand, there are also indications of far more adversarial interactions as well, and at a very early date. Paul’s letter to the Galatians will serve to illustrate this. Exegetes are agreed that this epistle reflects Paul’s exasperation over unidentified other Christians (probably Jewish) who have visited the Galatian churches calling into question the adequacy of Paul’s gospel and urging his gentile converts to compete their conversion by circumcision and a commitment to Torah-observance. Paul represents these people as proclaiming ‘a different gospel . . . confusing you and seeking to pervert the gospel of Christ’ (Gal 1:6-7), and he thunders an anathema on anyone who proclaims a gospel contrary to that which he preached (1:9).

-Hurtado, pp 10-11

jewish-sand-paintingThis is actually a key point that my Pastor and I regularly discuss. His opinion is that Paul had been teaching both the Jewish and Gentile disciples in the Galatian area against circumcision and Torah observance, while my position is that Paul did not require circumcision and Torah observance for the Gentile believers, but they were a “given” for the Jewish disciples.

We can see a few things from Hurtado. One is that he (and other “exegetes” or textual interpreters of the Galatians scriptures) believes that certain people, which Paul identifies as “false brothers” (probably Jewish) were invading the churches in Galatia and questioning the validity of Paul’s teaching. The second point is that said-false brothers were encouraging the Gentile disciples that they had to be circumcised and take on board full observance of the Torah, and Paul refers to that teaching as a “different gospel,” one this is “contrary to the gospel of Christ.”

The specific focus upon the Gentiles by the false brothers and Paul’s response tells us that in not being circumcised (i.e. having converted to Judaism), the Gentile believers were not obligated to the full weight of Torah obligation. It also tells us by contrast, that the Jewish disciples (born Jews and those Gentiles who previously converted to Judaism) were obligated to observe the mitzvot. Paul defines this “diversity” between the Jewish and Gentile believers he’s addressing in his letter as the “gospel of Christ” and any attempt to change that relationship, Paul says is a perversion of Christ’s gospel.

(As an aside, I recently read a criticism stating that Gentile conversion to Judaism is not supported Biblically and is an extra-Biblical anomaly introduced by the later Rabbis. However, a quick reading of Acts 13:43 shows how Paul and Barnabas encountered such converts in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch [they probably found converts to Judaism in any synagogue they visited, but this is the first example I could find]. To the degree that Luke doesn’t record any displeasure or complaint by Paul at meeting with the converts in this verse, and I don’t believe we see Paul objecting to the authenticity of “righteous converts” to Judaism elsewhere in the New Testament [the exception is in Galatians, when Paul objects to Gentiles converting to Judaism specifically in order to be justified], we cannot automatically infer that either he or “the Bible” object to or invalidate such a practice.)

The diversity of Jewish and Gentile believers relative to Torah observance and related issues are points I’ve been attempting to assert, both in my personal interactions with my Pastor and here on my blog. I bring Hurtado’s work into the mix as a way of illustrating that this discussion exceeds the bounds of what we call “Messianic Judaism” or any interest in a Hebraic interpretation of the New Testament, and is of scholarly interest in the far wider arena of general Christian studies.

(I should say at this point that this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Hurtado and Galatians on my blog.)

I’ve never been convinced that the Jewish and Gentile disciples ever “cemented” into a single, unified body of worship, at least not on a large scale. I believe that the “Jesus movement” was too young and was forming in too turbulent a world to allow for a widespread integration of populations. In just a tiny march of years after Paul wrote his Galatian letter, he would be arrested, testify at multiple legal hearings, eventually be transported to Rome, and ultimately  be executed. Jerusalem would fall and the Temple would be razed. The Jewish people, including disciples of Jesus, would be scattered. The troubled and frail unity between the Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master would crumble like ash in such an inflammatory environment.

The diversity of the early Jesus movement was based on a significant number of differences between varying bodies of disciples. Not all believing Jews supported Gentile entry into the way without conversion (see Acts 15:1-2 for example). Even after the halachah issued by James and the Council of Apostles (Acts 15), divisiveness continued. Many Jews said Paul could not be trusted and that he did not support and affirm the Torah of Moses for the diaspora Jews (Acts 21:21). There were even accusations that he was taking Gentiles past the Court of the Goyim into the Temple (Acts 21:28-29).

paul-editedWhile Paul fought strenuously to keep the fragmented and unstable populations within the body of Messiah together, it was a losing battle. He even admitted that Israel would be calloused because of the Gentiles for a significant period of time (Romans 11:25), and Hurtado points to Romans 14:1-15:6 as Paul’s attempt to address the social and ethnic differences between varying groups of Jesus believers, trying to draw them alongside each other.

I know I’m painting a rather dismal picture of Jewish/Christian relations, both past and present. In his letter to Rome, Paul was writing of a temporary separation between Jewish and Gentile believers. Temporary means that one day, we will draw closer to each other again (or for the first time). I see some evidence of that today, but it’s only the beginning. I don’t doubt that Messiah will come and it will be he who finishes the work that was started so many centuries before.

But my message for today is that a certain amount of diversity between Jewish and Gentile believers is by design. The gospel taught by Paul supported Jewish continuance in Torah observance but did not require Gentiles to convert, which would have made them obligated to the Law (the implication is that Gentile disciples in the Way were not so obligated). Any teaching imposing circumcision and Torah observance on Gentile disciples was vehemently criticized and opposed by Paul.

Hurtado doesn’t attempt to predict the mechanism of how the diversity will be resolved and for the moment, neither will I. I simply write this to offer further evidence that such diversity between the Jewish and Gentile believers did exist and that it is substantiated not only within Messianic Jewish studies but within mainstream Christian scholarship as well.

Addendum: I wrote this meditation before last night’s (Wednesday, June 26th) conversation with my Pastor. I’ll blog about our discussion including how it may impact what I said above in a subsequent missive.