Sunday, November 09, 2008

Monk See, Monk Do-- The Disgrace of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre






There are few places that better demonstrate both the diversity and the divided character of Christianity than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. So divided are we, that in order for anything to go on in that Church which likely stands over the spot where Jesus was crucified, the keys to the front door have been held by a Muslim family for centuries, because of course the Christians who have staked out turf in this building couldn't decide who should have the keys! The most recent and visible evidence that the church is a 'many-splintered' thing is the fight that broke out yesterday in this historic church between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks. Here is the link to the story.

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1488655367/bctid1909210367

Notice that Christians couldn't settle matters themselves so the Israeli riot police had to come in and break things up--- a total disgrace. I wish I could say that real Christians don't behave this way, but since I have seen it with my own eyes in my own church, sadly I am unable to say this. It is too easy to write this off as non-born again folks behaving badly.

In fact this sort of thing happens between equally sincere, equally devout Christians. This is the opposite of being the light of the world and the salt of the earth. This is bearing witness to the darkness of human fallenness and the stinking carcass of our sin.

It may be hoped that the parties involved in this disgrace will repent, and then apologize to each other. In the meantime the Jesus who died on the cross on this very spot shakes his head and says--- "I died for this? I died so my followers could behave like this?" I think not.

So lets review: 1) the Muslims opened and shut the doors of this church yesterday; 2) the Israeli Jewish police came and stopped a fracass in the foyer of this church; and what did the Christians do while Jews and Muslims were watching--- 3) THEY PUNCHED EACH OTHERS LIGHTS OUT!!!

Father forgive us, for we know not what we do, nor how terrible our witness to a watching world is.

BW3

18 comments:

Krissi said...

Wow. This makes me sad.

B-W said...

A sad commentary, but thanks for sharing it nonetheless.

Philip and Briar said...

Guess it just stands as a testimony to the sin nature of humans, that even the saved are not free from it's grasp on humanity. Christians can't live out Holiness all the time. However, this event is still really sad.

cpapashley said...

As is often the case, there is probably a lot more that has happened at lower levels of conflict between the two parties involved that has not been dealt with in the biblical manner....therefore we see a wonderful example of "category 5" conflict.

I agree with Krissi and yourself Ben, a sad sad reality that can be ever present in the church environment, as we live in the tension of now and not yet....

Rob Penn said...

This is me being a sad Rob.

Steve Pressley said...

They've done that again and again, haven't they? Christianity Today reported a similar occurrence in 02, except it involved Ethopian Orthodox and Egyptian Coptic monks who threw white plastic chairs at each other.

Do Jews and Muslims brawl with each other? I was listening to a CD conversation between Mars Hill Audio's Ken Myers and a professor named Bernard Lewis. Lewis said while Muslims may fight one another, it's never over anything regarding their religion.

Wish I could attend your book signing. I am ordering multiple copies of The Lazarus Effect for a study group in our church in the new year. Have you prepared a guide of some sort, for those looking at interfaith relations?

John H said...

Yikes. Depressing and unedifying stuff. (The actual situation, not your post!)

According to John Julius Norwich's history of Byzantium, the reason for a Muslim family holding the keys is not simply because of inter-Christian acrimony.

Apparently the first Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem (one of the early caliphs, IIRC) visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on his arrival in the city. When the time came for him (as a Muslim) to pray, however, he left the church in order to avoid the building being seized by his followers as a mosque. Instead, he prayed in the church porch - which (confirming the wisdom of his actions) was promptly taken over by his followers.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Steve:

I have not done that, but its an excellent idea, and I will propose it to someone who could definitely create such a thing.

BW3

Kevin Schriver said...

Thanks for also pointing out the irony of this action on this spot and the history of it. It does amaze me to what degree we Christians can find that which divides us, instead of getting on with the real matters of the Kingdom. We do indeed "fiddle, while Rome is (and other places are) burning." Kevin

Brian Baker said...

Steve Pressley:

I would like to know where Bernard Lewis is getting his information, as Muslims have a long history of fighting each other over the precepts of religion. Indeed, the Shiites (Twelvers and Seveners et. al.) Sunnis, Druze, Alawites, and other sects have all fought each other over religious issues. Moreover, in Islam, religion and politics are generally one in the same. An ideal Muslim state will be governed by Islamic ideals and pious Muslim leaders.

Of course, it is impossible to generalize and say "Muslims" believe this or that. The different sects of Islam shown above represent only a fraction of the different branches, and disagreements abound among them all. This is why there will never be a unified Islamic nation (umma) coming to take over the world, which so many individuals seem to worry about here in the states.

I suggest reading: Ira M. Lapidus. "A History of Islamic Societies." 2d ed.United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Ira Lapidus is a former professor at UC Berkeley.

-Brian

Angie Van De Merwe said...

This atmosphere is only accentuated by exclusivist claims to "truth". Exclusivist claims do not breed open communication, listening, honesty, tolerance, compromise, diplomacy, and commitment to the other, but railings of "truth", accusations, etc....and fundamentalists of all types of religions are guilty...And I think, when it comes to Christians, it is the text that becomes the problem....

Ben Witherington said...

Angie I would have to disagree with you on that. The Bible is not the problem. The fundamentalist mindset of fallible humans is. And the interesting thing is that there are fundamentalist liberals just as there are fundamentalist conservatives.

BW3

Dave said...

OK, I'll bite. Can you describe a fundamentalist liberal?

Was at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre earlier this year. The in-fighting as it were has prevented much upkeep and maintenance. What should be the most glorious of Christian sites is less than so.

JPH said...

Yeah it really is sad. When Brooke and I were there, it made us sick. Each of the six sects of Christians represented at the church have their own section of the church that they are required to take care of. Fights break out all of the time between them if "boundaries" are crossed.

In fact, my friend Wyn said that once while he was there he walked across a freshly mopped floor in the Greek Orthodox section and on into another section. The G.O. man went ballistic on Wyn about how he was tracking Greek water into a different sect's area and how much trouble he would be in later for it happening.

Also, if you look at the church from the front, there is a ladder about 2/3 of the way up in a window. It has been there for hundreds of years because none of the sects knows whose responsible for it.

And, as Michael pointed out, the ironic thing is that a Muslim decides whether or not he is going to open the doors each day.

Ben Witherington said...

Fundamentalism is a mindset that is closed, and feels very sure of its opinions, or at least longs to do so. There is a lust for certainty, absolute certainty, even about things one cannot have such a certainity about, at least on a historical or intellectual level. When I was a Harvard there was a professor at the Div. school who read Donald Guthrie's Intro to the NT and declared: "This is very well done and well researched but when I discovered he took the conservative view on every book of the NT, I was certain that he was wrong." That would be a fundamentalist liberal! As I have said-- it is not a theological viewpoint, its a mindset.

BW3

Angie Van De Merwe said...

and the mindset is formible because through experience, over and over, one learns that the "other" does not respect boundaries, which dissolves trust, which is the basis of relationship.

I would think that boundaries are certainly to be respected, as it regards another's life, in whatever choice that life decides to commit...so it is really not about religion or belief as it is about proper respect and regard for another. The social contract does seek to rectify the differences through negotiation and compromise. It is nothing but international relations and diplomacy.

gullchasedship said...

I wouldn't get too worked up about it. At least they're not bombing each other.

José Solano said...

As we well know "Christians" have been killing and slaughtering each other for a long time and in many places. It appears to be quite the pastime for Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox. Not much difference in this respect from Muslims, Incas, Buddhist, etc.

This brawl has a lamentably comical aspect because of the elaborate robes and long beards lending an aura of greater holiness. It can be seen also as the ultimate irony in that it takes place on the supposed place where the prince of peace gave his life for us.