Q&R: Multiple Religious Identities?

Here’s the Question:

Hope you’re doing well! I caught your Q&A this morning on Facebook, about why you continue to identify as a Christian. In it, you make reference to the fact that Christianity is your heritage. This is an issue I’ve been wrestling with lately, and was hoping if you found a couple extra moments you could offer some encouragement and/or advice. I have no issues continuing to identify with other Christians–in other words, I don’t feel the need to shy away from the label because of others. For me, I was raised in a Jesus-following home. But my family is Jewish. I was raised in a small Messianic congregation, worshipping Jesus within a Jewish context. I have distanced myself from the “Messianic Movement” as an adult, because I have issues with the exclusiveness and tribal mentality of many in that movement. While I was obviously raised in a Christian home, Christianity feels more like my background; Jewishness is my heritage. Calling myself a Christian has always been a challenge, because my Jewishness is so important to me. And as I have discovered the Emergent stream of Christianity (a much more “Jewish” expression/ethos of Christianity, in my opinion), I’ve tapped even more into my Jewish identity. I just…don’t know how to reconcile the two. I love being Jewish. I love that inheritance. I also love Jesus. Is there a way you think I can gracefully and authentically combine the two without neglecting my Jewish heritage or affiliating myself with the Messianic movement?

Here’s my Response:

Thanks for sharing this challenging problem. It’s a great example of CRIS (conflicted religious identity syndrome) that I talked about in my book.

I want to begin by further complexifying your problem into three problems.

1. On a personal level, I think you’ve become comfortable with what my friend Richard Rohr calls “non-dual thinking.” For many people (especially those “in the first half of life”), you’re either this or that, one or the other, and any mixing is seen as “compromise” or syncretism. But you’ve experienced the reality that you can in some creative ways be both/and. InWhy Did Jesus?, I was focused on the challenge of Christian identity in a multi-faith, post-Holocaust world, and could only briefly mention the challenge of multi-religious identity. One of the best books on the subject that I’m aware of is “Without the Buddha I Could Not Be Christian” by Paul Knitter – which you might enjoy.

2. On a congregational level, of course, that creates problems, especially if you’re part of a church where non-dual thinking is rare or forbidden. Interestingly, though, I’m finding more and more churches where multiple religious identity is welcomed. This, by the way, is one of the contributions of the “seeker movement.” Churches have gotten comfortable welcoming people who are at various places in their spiritual journey, and they’ve become more open to the ways the Spirit leads different people differently.

3. On a more public level, you have the challenge of how you identify yourself most authentically and honestly without creating insult, offense, confusion, etc. I think of two Jewish friends who do this particularly well. You can read about them here.

At the end of the day, I think more and more of us find ourselves saying, with Paul, that “by the grace of God I am what I am,” and “I become all things to all men” – not as an act of camouflage or subterfuge, but as a true expression of our human solidarity, because “in Christ, we recognize no one according to the flesh” any longer. That’s a complex identity – but it is an honest and interesting one!

Cross-posted with permission from Brian McLaren’s website.

About Brian McLaren

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, pastor, and networker among innovative Christian leaders, thinkers, and activists.


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