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Full Access Transnational Identities and the Church: Examining Contemporary Ethnicity and Place

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Transnational Identities and the Church: Examining Contemporary Ethnicity and Place

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Abstract Ethnic identities have been problematic for the construction of local churches since New Testament times. Transnationalism adds a layer of complexity to this circumstance, as migrants hold multiple identities and retain strong ties to places of origin. An examination of the history of anthropology’s study of ethnicity reveals ethnicity’s constructed nature, along with its tendency to demand loyalty as to a family. Given people’s very real need for a place of ultimate belonging, churches have sometimes too easily resolved the tension between Christian identity and ethnic identities by segregating themselves. New Testament churches were assemblies associated with place, not ethnicity, bringing together diverse peoples and requiring them to submit to Christ, as to the head of a household. There is evidence that contemporary attempts to form multi-cultural churches out of a liberal political agenda ironically become enmeshed in power struggles. But those that recognize the centrality of the gospel succeed due to the adoption of a central authority, Christ himself, who relativizes all ethnic and national identities in favor of a common purpose, the spread of the gospel to others who have not heard it.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Missions and Anthropology Eastern University 1300 Eagle Rd., St. Davids, PA USA emeneses@eastern.edu

10.1163/157338312X638028
/content/journals/10.1163/157338312x638028
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Abstract Ethnic identities have been problematic for the construction of local churches since New Testament times. Transnationalism adds a layer of complexity to this circumstance, as migrants hold multiple identities and retain strong ties to places of origin. An examination of the history of anthropology’s study of ethnicity reveals ethnicity’s constructed nature, along with its tendency to demand loyalty as to a family. Given people’s very real need for a place of ultimate belonging, churches have sometimes too easily resolved the tension between Christian identity and ethnic identities by segregating themselves. New Testament churches were assemblies associated with place, not ethnicity, bringing together diverse peoples and requiring them to submit to Christ, as to the head of a household. There is evidence that contemporary attempts to form multi-cultural churches out of a liberal political agenda ironically become enmeshed in power struggles. But those that recognize the centrality of the gospel succeed due to the adoption of a central authority, Christ himself, who relativizes all ethnic and national identities in favor of a common purpose, the spread of the gospel to others who have not heard it.

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/content/journals/10.1163/157338312x638028
2012-01-01
2016-12-03

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