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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bring on the noise

It makes for a 'living church'

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A few random thoughts on a warm summer day, while waiting (vainly) for some rain to fall.

Watching and reading the news about the riots in Great Britain, I find myself wondering why nobody wants to make a link between the looting and violence and declining interest in religion in that country.

The usual reasons were proffered: a sense of entitlement, social exclusion, broken families, government spending cuts, racism, rap music, consumerism and social networking. But nothing was said about whether this might be one consequence of how Britons are turning away from religion.

The closest anyone came to it was Prime Minister David Cameron, who described the events of early August as a "deep moral failure." He promised to fix this failure by returning the country to "a stronger sense of morality and responsibility."

Problem is, you can't get morality just anywhere. It's not for sale in the mall, politicians don't like to talk about it and schools were told to stop trying to promote it long ago.

One place that has a long history of promoting a sense of right and wrong is religion -- things like don't steal, think of others before yourself, be kind to strangers.

A few years ago, University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby noted that while people can be good without God, believing in God and going to worship services on a regular basis makes being good easier.

To the extent that people today are saying goodbye to God, he said, "we may find that we pay a significant social price." This is something people in Great Britain might be realizing only too well.

Closer to home, last week's Faith Page carried an article about an All Nations Bless Israel International Conference in Winkler. Also on the page was an announcement for an Israel Blessing Tour.

Reading it, I found myself wondering: Why are there so many tours and events to bless Israel, but none that want to bless Palestine?

A search of the Free Press website shows more than 50 announcements for "bless Israel" or "Israel blessing" tours on the Faith Page since 2004. A similar search for "bless Palestine" turns up zero results.

Many Christians have had a soft spot in their hearts for Israel. That's OK; there's nothing wrong with wanting God to bless that nation, or any nation, for that matter.

But why no tours to visit Christians in Palestine? You'd think there would be more interest, considering that Palestine is home to the first Christian church and that Christians in the two places share a common faith.

Truth is, Christians in Palestine could use some help. In 1948, Christians represented 30 per cent of British Mandate Palestine. Today that figure is only 1.25 per cent in Israel and the Palestinian Territories -- and declining. Christians there often feel they have no option but to leave due to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which affects Arab Christians just as much as Arab Muslims, economic instability and lack of opportunity, and rising Islamic fundamentalism.

In July the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, convened a conference in London to discuss the crisis facing Christians in the Holy Land.

Among other things, the conference recommended that Christians in Europe and North America consider a "new template" for touring the Holy Land -- one that would focus not only on Israel, or on seeing historical sites, but also encounter "living Christian faith communities" in the region.

Otherwise, warned Fouad Twal, the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, all they will experience is a "spiritual Disneyland" -- a place full of "glittering rides and attractions, but empty of its indigenous Christian population."

Finally, this last thought: When I was young and single, I remember complaining to my pastor about how much noise some young children made during church services.

"I don't mind it at all," he told me. "That's the sound of a living church."

His comment came back to me in June when news broke about how a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy was removed from Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C.

According to the reports, the boy and his mother were asked to leave because he was a "distraction" during the Easter service -- apparently he voiced his praise to God in a way that was unsettling to others.

After the story broke, Elevation Church issued a statement clarifying that the boy and his mother were "not removed from our church. They were escorted to a nearby section of our church where they watched the service in its entirety."

The church went on to say that it's their goal to "offer a distraction-free environment for all our guests."

It's easy to jump on the pile and criticize Elevation Church for what may have been a misunderstanding. But the incident raises questions about their idea of worship and what and who it is for.

Two thousand years ago the disciples tried to stop Jesus from being distracted by children who wanted to see him. Said Jesus: "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God."

It's a lesson Elevation Church seems to have forgotten. Let's hope a group of British street thugs looking to change their lives never shows up there for a service -- there's no telling what kind of distraction that might cause.

jdl562000@yahoo.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2011 J13

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