I want to reopen a conversation that was started in May. On May 23, 2007, I wrote a post called “Warning: This is a long post on Gentiles in MJ,” which was followed by “Carl Kinbar on Gentile in MJ” and “Leah on Gentiles in MJ.” Just today Martin wrote a thoughtful comment on the subject.
It seems to me that the role of Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish synagogues is crucial for our going forward. We don’t have anything like a consensus on the matter.
It seems to me the possibilities include:
1. Allowing only Jewish or mixed couples in the synagogue.
2. Welcoming non-Jews, but not in leadership and not to fully participate in ritual life (no Torah reading, no tallitot, etc.).
3. Full inclusion of non-Jews as equal partners in the synagogue life both as God-fearers and as converts (we need a conversion process that is widely agreed upon and properly administered).
I presented a paper in which I basically used the following lines of argument to suggest #3:
1. Sojourners in Torah were able to come right to God’s altar even though some texts suggest they were not converts (Exod 12:48, Deut. 14:21).
2. Second-Temple Judaism made a place for God-fearing Gentiles, though, admittedly, it was not even close to full inclusion.
3. The prophets radically include non-Jews in the Age to Come in Israel’s worship, even with some as priests.
4. The God-fearers of Second Temple Judaism, while not fully included. widely shared in Torah observance, especially Sabbath and Dietary Law.
I suggested the following policies:
1. Intermarriage is forbidden except with conversion of the non-Jewish spouse.
2. Conversion is an option for candidates with mature understanding.
3. God-fearers are accepted as non-Jews participating with Jews.
4. God’s continuing election of Israel and the importance of Jewish identity are clearly taught.
5. The non-Jewish members understand that they have chosen to cross the Jew-Gentile line and participate in a Jewish congregation.
6. The purpose of the congregation is to follow Yeshua together through a Yeshua-based Judaism.
7. Torah standards are maintained for communal functions, though non-Jews are not required to observe Torah distinctives at all times.
Carl Kinbar raised some problems with my suggestion. He pointed out that:
1. Converts (Gerim) in the Torah were to be a minority, not the majority, while in MJ it is true that Gentiles are the majority, not the minority.
2. Converts and God-fearers were no threat to Jewish identity at that time whereas in MJ the non-Jewish members have consistently made light of Jewish identity, assumed Jewish roles for themselves, and unwittingly worked for the demise of Jewish identity in Messiah.
I respect Carl’s objections and feel the only appropriate response is to say: something prophetic is happening in MJ. It is like nothing experienced before in history. God is bringing non-Jews into a Jewish movement. It is easy to be cynical and say God is bringing Jews into a Gentile movement that is only called Jewish. Too often that is true. So what are we to do about it? I think we must clarify our theology of Jewish identity and our theology of non-Jewish inclusion in Israel’s worship. Absolutely we cannot allow non-Jews in MJ to make light of Jewish identity and covenantal obligation. Non-Jews who love Torah but find no place for Jewish identity are welcome to form their own Torah-based congregations and leave Messianic Judaism. We are not a Torah movement founded in personal preferences but a Jewish Torah movement ordained by God.
Leah, a young and very promising scholar with an amazing knowledge of Jewish life made her voice heard with a few suggestions:
1. We cannot have an apartheid Messianic Judaism, but must find ways to include Gentiles without giving up Jewish identity.
2. We can and must modify liturgy that excludes Gentiles (there are models in some of the Reconstructionist prayers).
3. Gentiles who are in MJ must live according to the standards for a Sojourner, which means some Torah requirements but not as strict as Jews and converts.
Anyway, there is something of a summary. Now I hope to start a discussion.
What are some of the problems that have come from MJ being a mostly non-Jewish movement?
What are some of the blessings of the Gentile majority in MJ?
What are some arguments for excluding Gentiles from the movement?
What are some arguments for excluding Gentiles from full inclusion?
What are some of the reasons Gentiles must not be excluded from the movement?
How can we explain our movement as a Jewish movement when it is largely non-Jewish?
What are we to make of the precedents of God-fearers and Gerim?
What policies do you recommend for Gentile inclusion in MJ?
Comment on any or all of these. Please keep comments to a few paragraphs. It is better to make two short comments than one long one.