Graduate Theological Union

Cross-Cultural Lens: Using multicultural theory to interpret Jesus

Kayko Driedger Hesslein  

“The more ways we can talk about
Jesus, the more people feel like
they can participate in the
discussion.”

— Kayko Driedger Hesslein,
Ph.D. Candidate

 

Kayko Driedger Hesslein’s daily life is both multicultural and multireligious: she is Canadian of Japanese and German descent and Lutheran. Her husband is both American and Jewish. Her two children have inherited all of these identities. Both as a pastor and as someone diving more deeply into theology, she has been trying to develop a language that explained her and her family’s multiplicious identities on a theological level.

During her maternity leave in Toronto, she began investigating theology programs to study covenant entry between Jews and Christians, and how adherents can look at the similarities between both religions. While applying to the GTU; her son was baptised and had a bris. Driedger Hesslein, who had started with praxis, wanted to articulate how this worked on the level of theory and theology.

Since arriving at the GTU, Driedger Hesslein’s project has shifted to examine the Jewish identity of Jesus, and the influence this identity has had on theologies of the Incarnation. To do this, she uses multicultural theory to explain how Jesus can be both divine and human, and particularly a Jewish human. The foundation of her argument is that Jesus’ Jewish religious identity contributes something vital to his person. “If we continue to say that Jesus was so many things, but ignore that he comes out of Jewish influences, it is easy to set him up against his own community, but it is from his own community that he learned care of the sick and care of the other.”

Driedger Hesslein explained that the GTU is ideal for her project in part because of its diverse multireligious resources, such as the Center for Jewish Studies, but also the multicultural and multireligious (and multidenominational) perspectives. “The GTU is really good at teaching doctoral students from a critical lens and seeing things from the position of the marginalized. It’s really easy to fall into one way of thinking about an issue, and the GTU really challenges that and encourages us to think in new ways.”

Courtesy of a Newhall Fellowship, Driedger Hesslein will soon be teaching a class titled The Jewish Body of Jesus, where she will be using theories of difference to examine the ways in which Jesus as a Jew, and his Jewish identity, has been obscured or erased. This is especially pertinent given Christianity’s long history of supercessionism (covenants with God made through Christ replace covenants made through Moses to the Jews) and anti-Jewish rhetoric. She maintains that a refusal to grapple with these realities, concepts, and histories means that these traditions will persist. Instead, it is important for change to begin in the seminaries, to prevent the passing of destructive or incomplete theologies onto the parish level.

Illustrating her imperative, she says: “The more ways we can talk about Jesus, the more people feel like they can participate in the discussion.”