‘You will always be gadjo’: Reflections on Identity

“You will always be gadjo*,” the Roma pastor said to us, smiling, meant partly in jest and partly in seriousness.

I felt something rise up in me…a resistance…a protest…and a feeling of rejection.

“Well, yes, ” I thought, “Yes…and…no.”

Of course I will always be an outsider to Roma culture; in fact, sometimes I consider myself a double outsider because I am constantly interacting with two cultures—Croatian and Roma.  I will never be Croatian, I will never be Roma. I will always be an American.


I have a theological problem with what the pastor said, because I knew that he was not just necessarily meaning on the ethnic-cultural level; the implications, when you know the history between Roma and non-Roma in Eastern Europe, go much deeper than this.

Because although I am an outsider, and will always be so, I am also very much an insider in terms of our most essential identities  being children of God.  And given the multitude of problems that exist between various cultures and ethnicities worldwide, it is here we need to focus—because it is here our prophetic voice can perhaps be heard with the most dissonant clang.

But perhaps this is easy for me to claim, given that I am coming from the West..from America, which bears all the unfortunate associations of self-imposing power and wealth.

“Yes, yes, we are children of God FIRST,” I can claim.

But what does it look like from  the other position, when you are not consciously or unconsciously nestled in structures of power?

And is my simple utterance of this more of a naive Americanism more than anything else?

Lately I am hard at work on a piece of writing in which I argue that reconciliation and unity between Roma and gadjo is the heart of God’s mission in Eastern Europe.

There is a reason that Paul uses the word ‘enmity’ when he is talking about the walls between humans, although of course he is specifically talking about Jews and Gentiles.  We humans tend to view the ‘other’ with suspicion, hostility, and  judgement, particularly when there is a centuries-old foundation that forms the archetype for such attitudes.

But it was in his flesh and  through the cross that he put to death the enmity, establishing peace between groups.

Transformed relationships are the flowering of the gospel; unity is how others will understand God’s love.

How then can we continue to view the ‘other’—even while respecting and enjoying their particular cultures—first and foremost through the  lens of nation and ethnicity?

I am open to any thoughts or challenges on this…

*Gadjo is word for being non-Roma


9 responses to “‘You will always be gadjo’: Reflections on Identity

  1. I would agree that the cross breaks down enmity between any individuals or families in any two cultures, but I would not use the texts related to the one-time historic elimination of the Jew/Gentile distinction (before God) as a direct application to breaking down cultural barriers down through history. Also, cultures merge in new environments (such as northern Europeans as immigrants in the USA), and later generations don’t hold the enmity of their grandparents toward the other culture (in the new environment). However, among unbelievers in their home settings it is rare to have a total “reconciliation and unity” and this is especially true for despised classes (such as the Roma in certain settings). Therefore I agree that It is a worthy goal, but the “heart” of God’s mission is always reconciliation with Himself through Christ. Apart from that spiritual change there isn’t much hope, or historical precedent, for the cultural change.

    • Mark, thanks for the reply. I do agree that texts do relate to the elimination of the Jew/Gentile barrier but doesn’t this one-time act have further social implications, while maybe not direct application? Also, I find it interesting that sometimes where there is a big move of the Spirit (such as Azusa Street Revival) barriers between genders and ethnicity are broken down (although often re-erected later).

  2. I would say that the forgiveness offered through Christ coupled with the universal church being “in Christ” does speak to true reconciliation. The Roma and Gadjo both, in my opinion, have real grievances against each other. Real wrongs. Real violations of “law.” Those wrongs must be dealt with in some way for reconciliation to occur. Justice? Well, on a societal level, that the path does not lead to reconciliation and unity. Forgiveness is the key and only the cross of Christ can lead people to true forgiveness. First between themselves and God. Secondly, after realizing how they have been lovingly forgiven by their Creator, forgiveness between each other. I do feel that the biblical references you have used support this. Not a direct application but an application of the principle that through Christ’s forgiveness violations of the law are forgiven, between man and God and, if you are a true Christian, between Christian brothers and sisters across all cultural boundaries. Our common identity is in Christ and there is absolutely no case for hostility between us, even if real wrongs have been committed. It is not just the idea that Jew and Gentile have been made one man and reconciled to God, but it easily follows that the entire Church has been made one and reconciled to God, in Christ.

  3. As an Old Testament teacher (this is Alyssa, not Kevin), for what it is worth, I think the biggest OT problem concerning identity and our response to the “other” is violence and genocide originating from God himself. Not sure if you’ll tackle that at all, but if you do, you may want to check out the paper I presented at a conference in Slovenia. It is called “Jonah’s genocidal suicidal attitude–and God’s rebuke.” I was focusing on genocide and suicide because that was the conference theme, but I think Jonah is a powerful canonical voice against hatred of the “other” at any level. Here is a link to it at Kairos: http://hrcak.srce.hr/index.php?show=clanak&id_clanak_jezik=205977

  4. I appreciated this post. Even without major grievances on either side, it is hard to be working with and in love with people and wanting to work with their particular struggles and still “always be American.” But then when you go home to American, you realize can never be “American” again either. And so… you are basically homeless. Except for the church. But the way things are handled in the church doesn’t just fix everything. Is that a theological/community problem? Some of it, for sure. But is some of it inevitable? I don’t know.

    But I feel like it is something that should be talked about/recognized more. It’s kind of a sort of…grief?

    • Yes, I agree, it is a kind of loss or grief. And I think it is in part inevitable. But you are right, it would be helpful to talk about it more in community!

  5. Pingback: On Humility and the Supremacy of Love | Balkan Voices

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