IF A church in Boston announced that it was renting space to a self-described peace group whose leader hung nooses from trees in former slave-holding states, the interfaith community would be outraged, the church would be condemned, and the wisdom of its pastor and governing council would be called into question, with good reason.
Any organization led by someone who would display an image with such a bloody and violent history would immediately be repudiated by people of good will. Virtually everyone knows that a noose hanging from a tree is a prelude to a lynching. Its display is a vile act intended to intimidate African-Americans and other minorities into submission. It is a vestige of the Old South that has been discarded by all but the irredeemably racist.
Sadly, Old South Church in downtown Boston is playing host to just such a group this weekend - with one slight difference. Instead of displaying a noose during a time of racial tension, the leader of the group in question - the Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center - invoked the anti-Semitic trope of Jews as Christ-killers during the second intifada, when Palestinian suicide bombers were murdering citizens of Israel.
The portrayal of Jews as Christ-killers has contributed to untold violence and hostility toward the Jewish people, but for some reason, Old South Church is allowing Sabeel and Ateek, an Anglican priest from Jerusalem, the use of its worship space.
For the past three decades, Sabeel has billed itself as the voice of the beleaguered community of Palestinian Christians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Israel. Over the years, Sabeel has been successful in convincing well-meaning, but largely ignorant Christians in the United States and Europe that the Palestinian people are innocent sufferers and the Israeli government their brutal oppressors.
The centerpiece of this effort can be seen in the hostile rhetoric of Ateek. For example, his 2000 Christmas message portrayed Israeli officials as Herod, who, according to the Christian gospel, murdered all the infants of Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus. In his 2001 Easter message, Ateek wrote, "The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily" and that "Palestine has become the place of the skull." And in February 2001, Ateek compared the Israeli occupation to the stone blocking Christ's tomb.
With these three images, Ateek has figuratively blamed Israel for the attempted murder of the infant Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus the prophet, and for blocking the resurrection of Christ the Savior.
In the context of Christian-Jewish relations, language like this - which has preceded and justified the killing of Jews for nearly two millennia - is the equivalent of a noose hanging from a tree in the Old South. Its use during a time of violence can only serve to justify continued violence against Israeli civilians. Sadly, Ateek's defenders have said that he is merely using the "language of the cross" to describe Palestinian suffering, but in fact, he is describing Israeli behavior.
Taken to its logical end, language like this suggests that the only solution to Palestinian suffering is Israel's elimination, which Sabeel called for in a 2004 document that stated the organization's "vision for the future" is "one-state for two nations and three religions."
To make matters worse, Ateek has invoked the notion of the wandering, defenseless Jew as a good thing by writing that Jewish statehood contradicts the Jewish call to suffer. This type of language has been regarded as taboo by responsible Christians since the Holocaust, and its reemergence in Ateek's writing is as ominous as a noose hanging from a tree.
This is not peacemaking; it is demonization. Such language might have been tolerable in the Old South, but not today.
Not in Boston's Old South.
Dexter Van Zile is the Christian media analyst at CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.