One London church goes on the record with ‘Bethlehem Unwrapped’

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Still more Christmas messages. The Pope weighed in again, albeit mostly in broad generalities, but with a nod to atheists.  The justice club is growing.

But check out this London church’s “Bethlehem Unwrapped” happening. They built a real Wall – in the middle of London – with a series of events to boot.

Quite an undertaking. Talk about going on record.

What it would be like if we had a similar happening in our American backyard?

It would be a difficult assignment.

Some American church has got to do it sooner or later. After all, the churches have been on a BDS roll for some time. Sure there have been setbacks and retro-assaults like the one the American Studies Association is undergoing now. In the past few days, the ASA issued a red alert due to the usual threats from the usual suspects.

Then there was the pre-Christmas message from Elie Wiesel – “Iran Must Not Be Allowed To Remain Nuclear.” Wiesel’s endless rendition of the axis of evil and America (with Israel) as innocent routine is old and tired. You would think he and his advisers realize it. They don’t.

Branding Iran as a nuclear outlaw is a hoot, considering Israel’s nuclear stockpile. But, then, why let rational thought and analysis interfere with an established Holocaust-Forever ideology?

Nonetheless as the year draws to an end, we should take note how far things have come.

In Bethlehem Unwrapped, we even have a minister who is willing to stand up and be counted. Since I’ve noted the religious and secular Samantha Power types who adopt patriarchy as their natural habitat, women who stand up deserve a shout out.

So, hats off to Reverend Lucy Winkett, Rector, St. James’s Piccadilly. Here is the way she addresses her sponsorship of the event:

St James’s Church welcomes you to Bethlehem Unwrapped 23rd December 2013 – 5th January 2014. At Christmas, we sing about the “little town of Bethlehem”. This Christmas, we are hosting a festival celebrating the people of Bethlehem today and drawing attention to the Barrier that affects every aspect of daily life. The wall in our courtyard is a replica segment of the wall that surrounds Bethlehem. It is 8 metres tall because the real wall is 8 metres. It obscures the view of this historic church because that is what has happened to Bethlehem’s holy sites and historic places.

In 2009, Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem issued a joint appeal to Christians throughout the world to understand and help to alleviate the desperate hardship the wall has caused. It is a daily disaster for ordinary Palestinian families. In hosting this festival, St James’s Church joins the movement in Bethlehem known as “beautiful resistance”, celebrating the culture, music, food and humour of those who live behind the Wall. St James’s stands in solidarity with the universal call for a just and sustainable solution for both Palestinians and Israelis. The stated aim of the wall at its inception in 2002 was to protect Israeli citizens from terrorism. St James’s Church opposes all forms of racism including anti-Semitism and supports the right of the State of Israel to exist with secure internationally recognised borders.

This wall is symbolic of walls all over the world that divide and confine peoples, restricting free movement and dominating the imagination of those who live behind them. We believe that bridges not walls are the only lasting foundation for peace. On Sunday 5th January at the end of the festival, the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, the Wall itself will be transformed into a symbol of peace and hope.

We join with people of all faiths in praying for the day when the Wall will come down.

If only church folks in America would hear Reverend Winkett’s words. Better yet if they saw their own churches so wonderfully unwrapped, it might empower them to ask how America contributes to injustice in the (un)Holy Land.

Of course, there would be the usual charges of anti-Semitism. It goes with the territory. Yet both the One State discourse and the BDS movement are gaining traction here. It’s a matter of time until the churches walk the extra mile in Palestinian shoes.

I do hope that the Reverend’s theology is progressive all around, unlike some of the best known anti-Zionist British clergy on the scene today. You know the clergy who take Jews to task for Zionism while spouting retro-theologies where there’s no room in the Inn for Jews – except as straying precursors to their wonderful Cross-adorned clerical black shirts. At least, as far as I can see this isn’t true with Reverend Winkett.

In the coming year let’s demand an end to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim boxes some would like us to re-inhabit. Our burgeoning justice club – welcome atheists! – can’t afford divisions anymore.

So bravo for Bethlehem Unwrapping. A positive note to start our New Year.

Still the challenge remains. When will a similar unwrapping take place in (Christian) America?

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and

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