I mentioned Rachel Held Evan's blog the other day... yesterday she posted an interview with a friend of hers who is an Orthodox Jew. It is a fascinating read... Often the questions were formulated like "What do Jews think about..." and answered, "Jews think..." or "the majority of Jews think..." I commented that the answers may have been representative of Orthodox Jews but readers needed to be aware that answers from Conservative and Reformed Jews, let alone secular Jews, might be radically different. The woman who was interviewed responded, "The vast majority of Orthodox Judaism consider Reform and Conservative to be a different religion."
My first reaction was WHOA!!! and all of the hairs n the back of my neck went up. How many times I've been written off as not really being a Christian because I don't agree that TULIP is an adequate or accurate condensation of the Christian faith or disagree with what someone else feels is required in a statement of faith. Then I thought about the answer... clearly it is accurate. The way that many Reformed Jews and Conservative Jews understand their faith is so radically different from what this woman described that they may easily be seen as separate religions. That got me thinking about an experience I had a few years ago and think I shared here but couldn't find so here it is again.
I was flying someplace by myself and ended up seated next to a young woman. It was the time when the Episcopal Church was fighting about Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, to the position of Bishop. Whatever I was reading led her to ask me what I thought of ordaining an openly gay, non-celibate man as a Bishop. I told her I thought his orientation was irrelevant to the question and we had an interesting discussion. It turned out she was an Orthodox Presbyterian. To put the highlights in a nutshell, she told me that her brother is gay, God created her brother that way, and that God would condemn him to hell for being gay. The potter can create a pot for whatever use the potter chooses... Obviously, I was aghast at her theological construct. We talked for a bit and she observed, "we worship two very different Gods." She was correct. She might have also observed that we practice two different religions... even though both are called or, at least, call themselves "Christianity."
I've raised the question of definitions before. I still don't have any good answers but the questions still remain. Who is the real Jew, Christian, Baptist, Muslim, American, whatever? Who gets to define the term? And, perhaps, most important of all, when terms are used with such radically different definitions, how do we ensure that we are understood or understand?