Church's Christmas Display Raises Eyebrows - TribPapers

Church’s Christmas Display Raises Eyebrows

Asheville – Christmas time, for Christians, has been about celebrating the birth of their Messiah, Jesus Christ. Churches all over the area celebrate with Christmas plays, nativity scenes, and choirs sing carols, old and new. However, All Souls Episcopal Church in Biltmore, better known as the All Souls Cathedral, has raised a few eyebrows with its display.

The display, a collection of debris with small signs with QR codes with one large sign reading “Christmas is canceled in Bethlehem,” has certainly gotten some attention. “We’ve gotten a bunch of angry emails” about the display, said the Reverend Will Bryant. Asked about the catalyst for the display, Bryant explained, “We were inspired. There were a whole bunch of these [displays] kinda popped up all over the country. I think the first one that actually popped up was in Jerusalem itself. The church there did what we think is inspiring and a profound message. They made this nativity scene with all the characters surrounded by rubble.”

While many see these kinds of displays as political statements in support of Hamas or the Palestinians’ cause of ridding the Holy Land of the nation of Israel, Bryant says it is not. “It’s not a political statement. It’s not us saying we support Palestine or Hamas. It’s not us saying we’re against Israel or Netanyahu. It’s us saying, ‘This suffering of innocent people in the Holy Land goes against everything we worship as Christians, and the killing of innocent people is wrong, and what should be a time of hope and peace for the world is cast into rubble in war right now.'”

Bryant said the church leadership was approached by a group of young people (20 to 30-year-olds) inside the church’s congregation who were inspired by the displays, had some energy, and wanted to create something similar. “So the dean of the cathedral, the Right Reverend Sarah Hurlbert, gave the green light for this group of young people to take it wherever they wanted.”

He did say, “We did look at the messaging and what they were going to put up [and] just made sure there was no partisan politics involved, but we trusted them to come up with a really profound and powerful message, and they did.”

Asked how long the church would leave the display up, Bryant said, “Until Epiphany,” which is a Christian feast day celebrating the revealing of God’s incarnate as Jesus Christ that ends Saturday, January 6th. “It’s when the three kings came to see the newborn Jesus, and there’s this tale of these kings bringing gifts, recognizing that this baby in their midst—this seemingly ordinary human—was actually the Divine,” explained Bryant.

Asked if he wanted to add anything, Bryant said, “I just want to make sure people understand this is not anti-Semitic…people assume because we’re calling for a ceasefire that we’re somehow anti-Israel, or pro-Hamas or pro-Palestine. We’re not picking sides. We don’t want to kill innocent human beings. War is bad. Killing is bad.”

Asked about the assault on Israel by Hamas that led to this war, Bryant said, “It was terrible. I think the whole world watched in horror when all that unfolded, and we were praying for peace… Will more bloodshed solve all of this? I think the last 80 years would say no.”

While Bryan says, the display is not political or taking sides, at least one of the articles that the smaller signs link to with a QR code does seem to be taking the Palestinian side.

The QR code closest to the larger sign reading, “Christmas is canceled in Bethlehem,” links to a article that indicates that Israel is engaged in genocide. “How can we celebrate when we feel this war — this genocide — that is taking place could resume at any moment?” said Palestinian Lutheran pastor Munther Isaac in the article. It also quoted, “Event organizer David Katibah [who] emphasized the ‘urgent and critical’ need to hear Palestinian perspectives.”

Nowhere does the article, or people quoted in the article, call for an understanding of the Jewish perspective, where more than 1,300 men, women, and children were killed in the October 7th attack on Israel.

While people and churches like All Souls keep praying for peace and a ceasefire, others say a ceasefire is just a chance for Hamas to rearm and continue the fight. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would not stop until there was no more Hamas. Pro-Palestine protestors say there will be no peace until Palestine is free from the river to the sea. Still, others say there will be no peace until the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, returns.

Reporter’s note: The article quotes from the web page published November 30th, 2023.