Dave at Big Circumstances points to an article in Christian Today that gives a scene almost reminiscent of those kitsch manger displays with Santa Claus suddenly thrust into the nativity/crèche scene, bowing down to the manger. Westminster Abbey in London, site of the coronation of every crowned king or queen of England since William the Conqueror (11th C.), has added Hindu Snowmen, a Jewish Temple, and a Chinese Dragon to the nativity scene. I didn’t even know the Hindu had snowmen.
Dave asks, ‘What are they playing at?’ I have to ask the same thing. What does this message say if we simply include other characters in the front of our churches? During the whole stamp controversy, I asked what does it mean by putting Jesus on a stamp as some spokesman for the government. How does the presence of snowmen and dragons affect to the message of Christmas? According to the article, the canons at Westminster want it to be a message of peace and good will toward all people.
But, the message of peace and good will is the particularity of the birth of Jesus and the whole Christmas story (I would include the birth of John the Baptist in this as well). Yes, the birth is a sign that God will bring peace, but the birth with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is the way in which God has chosen to bring this about. The angels promise peace and good will is because of what happened in Bethlehem, not expressing a general wish that peace and good will can come and oh we have this baby born as a sign that maybe this wish will come true. For Christians, snowmen and dragons are not the cause of peace. They distract from the message.
This has often been called the ‘scandal of particularity’ of the Christian message. I join those who put the snowmen and dragon on the lawn of the Abbey in their hope for peace and good will to all people, but I see this as less a general hope. The hope offered is the one who has been born. God acted decisively in human history by taking on flesh and becoming one of us to reconcile us to God. That will continue to play out in human history as Jesus’ disciples continue the work Jesus did as he grew up. This would include intentional dialogue with those of other faiths, but not blurring the distinctions between us.
Two other thoughts: I wonder what those of other faiths think of us just taking their symbols and crashing them with ours? Perhaps they are OK with it. Perhaps they don’t share the mixing of symbols that the Abbey staff believe to be a no-brainer. But it usually seems to be Christians who do this – pick up some symbols of other faiths and throw them with ours as acts of unity. (I would really like to hear about these Hindu snowmen – I usually associate Hinduism with India, a country I do not associate with snow at all. Maybe this is more my ignorance, though).
My other thought concerns the Abbey itself. It’s more national shrine that church. Do I see them speaking for Christianity anyway? It’s one of my favourite London tourist attractions – and it is that: a tourist attraction. It’s known more for it’s connection to the coronations and the monarchy than it’s religious aspects. So, on another side, I’m really not bothered what the Abbey does. It would concern me more if Westminster’s Methodist Central Hall (across the street) did this.