Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In Israel, even baptism can be controversial

When we think of baptismal controversy, things like infant baptism vs believer baptism or sprinkling vs immersion come to mind. But in Israel, the simple act of opening a religious baptismal site causes political controversy.

An article in Ynetnews focused on the clash between Israel's Vice Prime Minister and Tourism Minister over plans to officially open a baptismal site just east of Jericho. But the clash isn't over the opening a Christian baptismal site. Both want it open to tourists. Rather, they are arguing over whether simply to open the site or to have a public ceremony to open it.

Sounds like a petty dispute, but it's actually a very serious subject. Since the baptismal site is in land captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, it is disputed territory. The Tourism Minister is worried that holding a public ceremony will cause an international controversy and damage relations between Israel and the very churches it wants to attract to the site. The Vice Prime Minister (who is also Minister for Regional Development) believes the site will benefit the area, and he wants to use the official opening ceremony to help promote it.

The amazing part to me is that the site is already open to tourists. And, perhaps even more importantly, I'm not sure I would want to conduct a baptism least not one that might involve immersion. By the time the Jordan River reaches this area it is not very clean.

Our groups might stop at the site to take pictures, but we'll still go to Yardenit--just below the Sea of Galilee--to do out baptisms!

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