Welcome vs Accommodation ...Santa, Sweden, and you!

Welcome in English. Vilkommen in German. Bienvenidos (Spanish), and Baruch Haba (Hebrew)... it all indicates open arms and open doors. I like that. We have made welcome a major part of our activity and purposes here in Sydney at our bookshop. Welcome matters to those who often feel outside, whether being outside is real or imagined. Can 'welcome' go too far?

What about this which happened in Sweden in 2018? The Bishop of Stockholm has proposed a church in her diocese remove all Christian symbols including crucifixes and instead put down markings showing the direction to Mecca for the benefit of Muslim worshippers.

Here's the article.

"The bishop indicated all airports and hospitals already had multi-faith prayer rooms, and converting the dockyard church would only bring it up to speed. Regardless, the announcement has aroused protest." (from the article)

The difference, of course, is that a church is not a multi-faith prayer room. It's designed to represent. When people think 'prayer rooms' at airports and hospitals, they think that it's ok for a (Muslim, Jew, Zoroastrian, Baptist) to pray there. Maybe you have gone into one of those open spaces. I certainly have. And I find it a safe and worthy place for prayer.

Come to think of it, I wonder if the bishop would recommend that the word "prayer" be removed since prayer implies talking to God, and atheists would feel unwelcome there. If it's inclusion she wants, then a 'meditation' room or even "quiet room' would be a better term so that no one feels excluded.

But this would be madness. 

The local priest at the Seamen's church declined to obey the bishop. When asked whether she would be removing the cross from her church, Kiki Wetterberg responded: “I have no problem with Muslim or Hindu sailors coming here and praying. But I believe that we are a Christian church, so we keep the symbols. If I visit a mosque I do not ask them to take down their symbols. It’s my choice to go in there”.

I remember being told I could not preach at a Christian school here in Sydney some years ago. Why? After all, I had a very good reception in my previous visit. What was the reason the chaplain gave? Some Jewish parents who send their child to SCEGGS (Sydney CHURCH OF ENGLAND Girls Grammar School) were offended and voiced their offense. The authorities accommodated the offended parents and refused to allow me to speak about Jesus in their school. That is madness. There are Jewish schools in town. There are secular schools in town. If a Jewish parent wants to prevent their child from hearing about Jesus in school, send your child elsewhere! But the school wimped out, and thus didn't represent their own name and values.

Accommodation is not the same as welcome.  Every bishop takes a vow at the consecration, no matter what denomination s/he serves, to uphold the denomination and the creeds of the church. In this case, she represents the church. The church pays her salary. The church is right to expect her to stand up for their tenets and values. But the Swedish church should be disappointed with her. She is failing. Maybe she should go work for the airport or hospital as a chaplain. 

Christmas brings out more protests from some evangelicals. It seems that some are protesting similar things about churches having Santa Claus and Christmas trees at this time of year. Protesters allege that Santa is an anagram for Satan and that he is a poor substitute for the God of the Bible. Churches say they are trying to bring in families, especially children, for whom Christmas is all about the jolly, red-bellied, bearer of gifts. And thus, they accommodate the commercial-driven St Nick who knows if you've been bad or good. 

Having a petting zoo or a visit from Santa doesn't worry me if the church makes clear that Jesus is the reason for the season. But I understand the disgruntlement of the opponents. 

What do you think? Should the use of Santa's secular stuff, or Muslim arrows be allowed in churches? Should Jewish parents require Christian schools to accommodate their wishes? Should Christian kids attending Jewish schools request communion be served or the reading of the New Testament be included in biblical studies?

No matter what you conclude in these matters... you are welcome to church this weekend and Christmas. You can watch Carols in the Myer Bowl or from St Paul's in London.  God opens His arms to all people. You want to see His welcome? 

Diego Velasquez painted this crucifixion scene. Yeshua's arms are open wide, to bear the sins of the people. To bear my sins. To bear your sins. You want welcome? God welcomes you. He longs to be in relationship with you. Won't you receive his love, even today?

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. "(John 3.16)


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