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Arkansas Catholic
Little Rock, Arkansas
July 15, 1990     Arkansas Catholic
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July 15, 1990

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rr~ur- Iv ~lMV'~|~l..~r~ ~,.r~lnULlk. JUI~I 1~, 17 By Deborah Hilliard Eureka Springs - " condemn the Great Passion Play is to condemn the Word of God." So wrote Charles F. Robert.son in a letter warning "Christian Friends" that the Elna M. Smith Foundation which produces the play was "under attack" by the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis and the American Jewish Committee. He warned that Catholics and Jews were attempting to "close down" Eureka Springs' largest employer. Robertson, president of the founda- tion, wrote the letter to potential sup- porters in 1984. In closing, he asked for money. "The pressures of those who would close us down" were working a hard- ship on the foundation, he wrote. "We need large gifts as well as modest gifts .... Please send as generous a gift as you possibly can." The St. Louis archdiocese and the AJC were but two of the many ecumeni- cal groups to express concern about the play, which virtually obscures the fact that Jesus was a Jew, and less Scriptural than its producers claim. Rev. Vincent Heier of St. Louis, vice president of the National Association of Diocesan Ecumenical Officers, and Harriet Bogard, an area director for the American Jewish Committee, were hardly interested in "shutting down" the play in 1984. Rather, they were helping to any Jews of later times. The Catholic (crisp and shiny white robes, as opp0S to lay the groundwork which would Church teaches that Jesus Christ died to the multi-colored robes of his peel contribute to the establishment of by the sin of all humankind. hndSa opposed to the garish garb] guidelines for producing and viewing Robertson, however, now insists that e anhedrin). He speaks differen] i such plays. (See sidebar, this page.) 2thout theblood curse, the play would He is not at one with, but a thing Over the years, ecumenical groups fMl apart, from his Jewish community. ] t have asked the Smith Foundation to If we took it out, our whole play Apartness was the order of the I show more sensitivity to Christians and would fold," he says. " 'stlfr the June 12 production. While Peterson, wife of the foundataon !1 'c Jews concerned about the play's script The line has been removed from a and staging. The foundation's leader- number of passion plays in the U.S., '] 'ship has steadfastly refused, gau,bUt nOtwestfrOmGermany,the onethein Oberammer-patriarch of In the play, Jesus is simp] The Blood Curse passion plays. That play's producers, llnidentlfiable as a Jew. ]" " I Causing the most concern is the however, have been in intense dialogue ---------------------'- "blood curse," the line in Matthew with Catholics and Jews for years, "-" '" " and Robertson'sdaughter, was assur', , which has long been used as a cartemaking extensive and substantive els welcome" at blanche Scriptural justification for the changes (like removing the horns from park, at least one man was told to le. , persecution of Jews: His blood be upon the Jewish characters, for starters) which " Ral s a. candidate for l us and our children. The so-called have pleased both religious communi- tenet governor ~ a background l curse,, uttered not by God but by the ties. For 350 years, the people Of the fies,-was expectedt crowd, appears only in the Gospel of German village of 5,000, have depended wait at the base of the giant Christ] f Matthew, whose author was at odds with upon the tourists who come to see the the Ozarks statute for the run-off f production. In 1990, about 200,000 of tion returns, Kay Peterson exfflaine J those viewers will be American. "We asked him not to come, she i Pharasaic Judaism about which group constituted the true people of God. The Second Vatican Council empha- sized that guilt for Christ's death is not attributable to all Jews of Jesus' time or More than a quarter-million people pay an average $9 per ticket to see the Eureka Springs production on "Mount Oberammergau" in northwest Arkansas. Though viewers of the Arkansas play don't see Jews with horns, what they do see is much more subtle, and ecumeni- cal groups continue to be concerned. A "separated" Jesus In the play, Jesus is simply unidenti- fiable as a Jew. He is dressed differently "but if he does we won't turn him Jesus loves everyone." As she spoke, I learned later, dad was a line of deputies standing at t~ park entrance. Forbes was denied J try. Later that evening, in answer ] [ reporters questzons, Robertson de q the presence ofKu Klm but within a dozen feet of him were tacks, emblems and bumper promoting the KIGL A h'feline sampler of C mM L.K. Smith: * 1942 - founded "The Cross and the Flag" to preach his dream of "a White Christian America." * Addressed the Silver Shirts of America (fascists) by saying "we're going to drive that cripple (Franklin D. Roosevelt) out of the White House." * 1947 - organized the "Christian Nationalist Crusade" call- ing for deportation of Zionists, disso- lution of all "Jewish Gestapo Organiza- tions" as well as forced shipment of blacks to Africa and liquidation of the United Nations. * 1964 - after a career of organized and lucrative hate, comes to Eureka Springs and buys a plot of land, in the name of Charles Robertson, on which will stand his "Sacred Projects," his vehicle to immortality. * 1970s - overweight and elderly, Smith announces a "New Holy Land," which will take more than $25 million and 25 years to complete. It will be built by the tax-exempt Elna M. Smith Foundation. a sampler of Smith's philosophy, from "Jews and Reaction." an undated tract: * "Some years ago the international Jewish machine moved in on this little village [Oberammergau, Germany] and tried to persuade the promoters of the production [of the Passion Play] to change the theme and remove those passages which indi- cated that the Jews brought about the nailing of our Savior to the cross .... They will doubtless attempt the same .vicious attack on the Passion Play which is about to be produced on Mount Oberammergau in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.... * "Many documents and statistical tables have been produced to demonstrate that six million Jews were not killed by Hider...." * One example of the "Jew-controlled press"was the "Jewish machine" which moved in to smear Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who "died a martyr with a broken heart." The Jews "even made a bad word of his name" and people were accused of "McCarthyism." Further, "no evil in the history of abortive statesmanship is more to the discredit of the character of those who promoted this evil than the con- spiracy to destroy the great Joseph McCarthy." * "For some years [the Jews] have carried on a strong campaign inside the Catholic Church designed to alter the original dogma of the Church concerning the deity of "[The Jews are] brought about the Lord." those people who crucifixion of our Christ, the authority of Scripture, and the dramatic situ- ation surrounding the crucifixion of our Lord. They have nagged Cardinals and Bishops and even the Pope and his staff until today there is a feeling inside the Catholic Church that a herculean attempt is being made to establish Jewish controls over Roman Catholic policy." * "Right when the Negro began to present himself as America's Number One domestic problem along with trea- son, it became increasingly obvious to the American people that prominent Jews were financing these agitations...." * "[The Jews are] those people who brought about the crucifixion of our Lord." * Smith warned that, after the public read "Jews and Reaction," that "temperate men like myself will not have enough influence to restrain the hands of those whose re- action isn't so temperate, issuing a call-to-arms against "the enemies of Christian civilization. DKH Three excellent publications fer guidance for viewing and ating passion plays: "Criteria for the Evaluation Dramatizations of the Bishop William Keeler, for Catholic-Jewish Relations; ops' Committee for and Interrelig Conference of Catholic Bishops' 1988. (Publication #211-X, of Publishing and Promotion Sere ices, U.S. Catholic ConferenCe' Washington, DC.) "No Place for Hate: A Christi#! Viewer's Guide to Oberammerg t and Other Passion Plays," Dr.I onard Swidler, Professor of Cath'[ lic Thought and Interreligious Dia'| logue, Temple University; Nationali Conference of Christians andJe#1 1990. (NCCJ, 71 Fifth Avenue, NeatI York, NY, 10003.) ,J "Passion Plays in the Unlte0i States," Samuel Weintraub; Inter"1 LreligiousAffairs Department, Thtl American Jewish Committee, 1986 ! (AJC, 165 E. 56th St., New yorl i