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Church sign blames Jews for Jesus’ death

DENVER, March 2 — The sign in front of Lovingway United Pentecostal Church reads, “Jews killed the Lord Jesus,” a passage from a letter written by Paul the apostle some 1,900 years ago. Underneath the quote is the single word, “Settled!”, an unequivocal statement reflecting a highly-charged and very contemporary concern — that a new film would unleash a wave of anti-Semitism. The sign, which appeared Tuesday evening, Feb. 24, the day before “The Passion of the Christ” opened in theaters across the country, is an apparent reference to Mel Gibson’s controversial cinematic depiction of the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life. Many in the Jewish community both locally and nationally believe the movie is anti-Semitic and could spark flames of anti-Jewish sentiment. Because the road by the church is a well-traveled thoroughfare, the billboard in front of the church is easily visible to motorists. When the local branch of the Anti-Defamation League asked Lovingway’s pastor, Rev. Maurice Gordon, to remove the sign, Gordon refused. ADL Mountain States Regional Director Bruce DeBoskey spoke to Gordon early Feb. 25 and explained that the sign is extremely offensive to Jews. According to DeBoskey, Gordon said he was merely quoting from the Christian Bible, a right he staunchly defended. “I just hope the community responds to this in such a way that it makes him seriously rethink his actions,” DeBoskey said. The ADL also issued an official statement criticizing Gordon’s conduct. An emergency protest rally organized by Colorado Jews for Jewish Identity and activists in some Christian communities drew some 200 Jews and Christians that night in front of Lovingway Church. Earlier that day, however, the ADL, the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council, the American Jewish Committee and the local Jewish federation released a joint statement saying that a protest rally was not “in the best interests of the Jewish community” because “the vast majority of local Christian leaders do not blame Jews for Jesus’ death and a rally could only fuel a media circus.” Gordon did not return repeated calls on Wednesday. Gordon and Rev. Philip Day, pastor of Boulder United Pentecostal Church, recently held an unsuccessful book burning event in Boulder in an attempt to destroy certain books dealing with mysticism and the occult. Rev. James R. Ryan, an executive with the Colorado Council of Churches, issued a public statement Feb. 25 condemning the Lovingway sign. The council “is extremely disturbed that the Lovingway United Pentecostal Church has chosen to place a message of judgment and division on their outdoor sign,” Ryan wrote. “It is ironic that a church named ‘Lovingway’ would advance such an attitude of hurtfulness.” “The Colorado Council of Churches wishes to make it clear that this one congregation does not speak for the vast majority in the Christian community,” he said. “In fact, we stand in direct opposition to the message on this sign and its implications.” When Fran Maier, interfaith officer for the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver and chancellor and special assistant to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, was told of the sign, Maier said he found it “very disturbing.” “This is of great concern to us,” said Maier. “A sign like the one you describe would be really offensive to Catholics.” “Although this does not change our view of the movie, we are emphatic in our support of the Jewish community. Blaming the Jews for the execution of Jesus is a blasphemy, wrong, and un-Christian,” he said. Maier, who has seen “The Passion” twice, said that only a minority of Christians might react negatively toward Jews because of the film, which he does not think is anti-Semitic. “A few people will read things into this film or Scripture that feed their particular discriminatory points of view. People can take religious texts and twist their meaning. When you are touched by religion, you can turn to love or strange ideas. However, the charge of deicide against the Jewish people is as wrong as saying all Europeans or all Germans were responsible for the Holocaust,” he said. “I’m confident this film does not want to assign collective blame.” Maier said than when he watched the film he saw “none of the things that would encourage any reasonable person to have any resentment against the Jewish people. I was with 1,400 Catholics, and there was not a hint of resentment against the Jewish people.” Cheryl Morrison, director of Israel outreach at Faith Bible Chapel, could barely express her outrage regarding the sign. “No one killed Christ,” she said. “He died for my sins — willingly. If you change that, you change who he is. Lovingway is tragically distorting who he is. I can’t believe that any Christian living in modern-day America — especially any Christian leader — would distort” Jesus’ story. Morrison, who found out about the Lovingway sign when a Jewish friend notified her via e-mail the morning of Feb. 25, said she was especially shocked because she’d just seen “The Passion” at a special screening the night before. The film “is such a powerful statement of God’s love,” she said. “When people start placing blame, they have no clue of their own sin. How mean-spirited can you be?” At about noon on Feb. 25, “Passion’s” opening day, a local resident, Ami Ship, took it upon herself to use a ladder to scale the sign and remove the word “Jew” from its marquee. “Hateful messages like that promote anti-Semitism,” she said in an interview. That night, protesters showed up at the peaceful rally in front of the church. Among the speakers denouncing the sign was Bill McCartney, former University of Colorado football coach and founder of the men’s Christian group Promise Keepers. By nighttime, the church had changed the sign’s wording — and message: “G-d so loved the world that he gave . . . and he’s still giving,” it said. By last Friday, the Lovingway sign again had been changed. “I am deeply sorry for offending the Jewish people whom I love,” read the latest message. It was signed “Brother Gordon.”