Wednesday 2 December 2009

Once in Royal London City…

Last night the prestigious Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church on Shaftesbury Avenue in London’s West End hosted an event in aid of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Holy Land Trust.

Although the service was not advertised on the church’s website it was listed on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign site ( The event included seasonal readings from the controversial playwright Caryl Churchill and other pro-Palestinian figures.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign calls for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel” and Jewish activists accused the service of being “one-sided” and “politically motivated”. David Gifford, chief executive of the Council for Christians and Jews, criticised the church for “politicising the Christmas message.”

Martin Sugarman, chairman of the Hackney Anglo-Israel Friendship Association, believed the BCBC was “being used and manipulated by the PSC.”

Jonathan Hoffman, vice-chairman of the Zionist Federation, said it was “completely wrong for a church to host an organisation which disseminates the racist apartheid lie about Israel and which has Caryl Churchill – the author of the play Seven Jewish Children – as one of its patrons… Many right-thinking Christians will be horrified at this latest cynical hijacking of what is supposed to be a time of goodwill to all men.”

Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children is a truly shocking play. In much the same way as George Orwell transformed oppressed animals into the zoological equivalent of their human masters, Churchill transforms Holocaust survivors into Nazis. All in the space of less than ten minutes. You can see the play and read the script here:

At a similar event at St James’s, Piccadilly, last year, the organisers rewrote The Twelve Days of Christmas. Amongst other things, “On the twelfth day of Christmas, Ehud Olmert sent to me twelve assassinations … nine sniper towers…” and so on but BCBC assured the Jewish Chronicle that there would be no rewriting of carols.

Reverend Dr Simon Perry of Bloomsbury Baptist said that although the church had received numerous complaints, he nevertheless supported the event.

Yesterday I wrote to Simon Perry and other leaders at BCBC:

I understand that Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church is tonight hosting a fundraising event for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Holy Land Trust, featuring carols by the “Adhoc Humanitarians Brass Band and Choir”, and readings by playwright Caryl Churchill, Karl Sabbagh and Samira Hassassian.

As the General Secretary of a Christian Mission to the Jewish people, I have grave misgivings about a church, especially one as respected as BCBC, hosting an event designed to politicise the birth of the Messiah and thereby distort the message of the Gospel.

The fact that this year the carols are not being rewritten is to be welcomed but in view of the choice of participants, Jewish people are already seeing the event as not only anti-Zionistic but also anti-Semitic. This is hardly surprising in view of the fact that playwright Caryl Churchill – whose play Seven Jewish Children in the space of ten minutes skilfully manages to verbally morph Jewish people from victims of the Holocaust into Nazis – will be participating.

We live at a time when, according to Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “a tsunami of anti-Semitism is sweeping over Europe”; a time when many Jewish people in London have been physically and verbally attacked simply because they are Jews. Though I understand the concern for the suffering of the Palestinian people, equally I cannot understand the lack of compassion for Israeli and Jewish suffering.

By hosting an event that demonises the only democracy in the Middle East as a racist, apartheid, pariah state that must be brought down like Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, Bloomsbury Baptist is sending a signal to the Jewish community that Christians are against them. That, in turn, will reinforce Jewish resistance to the gospel of Jesus and make our ministry of persuading Jewish people to turn to Jesus that much harder. Even if you do not feel called to support gospel ministry among Jewish people, at least do not make the work harder for us.

The way of peace is not through thinly-veiled tendentious political events that distort or obliterate the message of the Messiah. “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh...” Whatever our political opinions on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, as followers of the Prince of Peace we must proclaim the gospel of peace, which is for both Jew and Gentile, Israeli and Palestinian. Anything other will be destructive of peace.

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