Goodwill to all is the theme of the season. While much of the world is subjected to senseless violence and despair, we hear at this time a few more voices calling for real peace and real tolerance. Australian Christians can say ‘Amen’ to that.
Yet it is a sad reality that not all are committed to goodwill to all and even more distressing that St James church in Piccadilly London should use this season to display in grand style their goodwill to just ‘one side of the fence’. St James has made this public statement loud and clear by obscuring their church and the Christmas message with a 26-foot replica of the Israeli security barrier.
One reason given for this is that the so-called ‘wall of separation’ obscures the view of Bethlehem’s holy sites and historic places. That would be the view of the Jewish Holy Place of Rachel’s Tomb that has been the scene of numerous and constant terrorist attacks threatening Jewish pilgrims to the site. In fact, as at May 2013 there had been 290 attacks on the site in the preceding 6 months.
This wall is certainly separating the goodwill of St James toward all and completely overlooking the orphans, widows and many civilians who have found real security behind this wall. And it is telling that the dozens of other countries that have fences or walls at their borders - USA, Turkey, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, India, Spain, Thailand, Finland and Yemen – never draw such criticism.
The 8 months spent planning this display wall and the cost of erecting it - the scaffolding, builders, designers and architects – raise the moral question if the time and money would have been better spent on supporting the orphans and widows on either side of the wall.
To add insult to injury, the wall replica is to be lit up for the 12 days of Christmas as part of the Bethlehem Unwrapped Festival - a festival that unwraps an array of anti-Israel polemicists and comedians. As Richard Millet notes:
Maybe Ivor Dembina will reprise his notorious Holocaust “joke” in which he mocks the Jewish people for wanting to hog the Auschwitz limelight. According to Dembina Jews don’t really want others to know that gays, gypsies and the disabled were also murdered at Auschwitz because we like to see it as “Ourschwitz, not Yourschwitz”.
This doesn’t really sound like the repertoire for ‘bridge-building’ which the church is advertising. But to be fair, it’s not just St James in London guilty of fake bridge building. Others are turning their hand to the plow as well.
In Toronto a Muslim charity commenced their Christmas special: a highly offensive advertising campaign in the Toronto subway with billboards declaring that Jesus is not God.
Freedom to hold these opinions is of course a given in the free world – but the spirit of such a public campaign in the Christian high season speaks volumes about the sincerity of mutual respect for other cultures and traditions. Not to be outdone, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas referred to the Jewish Jesus as a ‘Palestinian Messenger’ in his pre-Christmas message delivered from Ramallah.
Perhaps the historical origins of the term are lost on some. After conquering the Jewish nation, the Romans originally gave the name Palestine to the region in the first century as an alternative to Judea. Up until 1948, the term Palestine applied almost exclusively to Jews and Jewish institutions. But writing them out of the story, even at Christmas, seems to be a common thread by many Christians and Muslims alike.
With so many conflicts and so much human suffering this year, including mass murders in CAR and South Sudan, civil war in Syria, bombings in Iraq, brutality toward the Kachin and Rohingya peoples in Burma, continuing tensions and strife in Egypt to name just a few, it is quite incredible that St James has devoted so much time and money to advertise this security wall. The irony is that Christians are dying violent deaths in unprecedented levels of persecution throughout the Middle East and the other side of this wall, within Israeli borders, may be the only future place of refuge for them.
A little good will toward all please St James – there are people in need on both sides of the fence.
Australian Christians is a federal political party with the goal of representing the values and concerns of the 2.7 million Christian Australians who attend church once a month or more, and others who identify with these values and human rights concerns.
Vickie Janson, Victorian State Director
M: 0411 298 464