South African retailer Woolworths’ decision to lure Muslims customers to the tradition of consuming hot cross buns has sparked a furore amongst some Christians. Hot cross buns are associated with the Christian religious period of the Good Friday and Easter Weekend. Like Easter eggs these buns are mostly sold around the Easter period. Retailers around the world stock these and other symbolic items purely for commercial reasons. They do not sell them in order to honour the significance of this weekend but to exploit its economic benefit. In Woolworths’ case they had their buns stamped with the halaal symbol in order for them to be suitable for Muslim consumption. They did not foresee the backlash they would get by doing this because they did not see the irony of having a halaal certification on something associated with one of Christianity’s holiest days.
So serious is this in some people’s minds that they have called for Christians to boycott Woolworths. Other Christian groups disagree with this position. Both the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the South African Council of Churches are quoted in last week’s City Press as distancing themselves from this militant position. Their view is that these buns are not a requirement for salvation and do not represent any biblical signs or sacraments. In fact of 263 polled in City Press on this subject, 52% of respondents said Christians were over-reacting and only 39% said Woolworths was insensitive to Christians. The remaining 9% were in support of Muslims right to consume this confectionary product.
Woolworths has subsequently apologised for offending some Christian sensitivities but I think this is nothing but a storm in a teacup. The consuming of these buns, pickled fish and Easter eggs is not done to honour our Lord but caters to pagan traditions that have been allowed to hijack this period of the Passover. This is similar to Christmas trees and giving of gifts that are associated with the period meant to honour the birth of our Lord. What we have done around these periods has nothing to do with the Lord but everything to do with us and our worldly tendencies.
In the Old Testament we see that God gave the Jews both moral and ceremonial laws. The moral laws govern the relationship between God and His people and also among people themselves. It is in this category that the 10 commandments are found. The ceremonial laws, however, governed things like what people ate, wore, and things related to ceremonial cleansing. In degrees of importance moral laws are more important than ceremonial laws. In other words it is more important to God how you relate to Him and others than how you eat and what you wear. In fact how you eat and what you wear should be influenced by your relationship with Him.
While Muslims eat food that is “halaal”, Jews are supposed to eat foods that are “kosher.” For food to be kosher it has to satisfy certain requirements which include it not having ingredients derived from non-kosher animals and the slaughter of animals has to be done in a certain ritualistic manner. Similarly for food to qualify as “halaal” it is has to conform to certain Muslim requirements. For instance, animals slaughtered are made to face the Ka’aba which is a shrine in Mecca where there is a black stone and are also slaughtered in the name of Allah. Halaal certification bodies charge a fee to food producers who want this halaal symbol on their products.
You have noticed that almost all the food we consume has this halaal symbol so you can imagine how much money these certification bodies make. I would have expected us to look at things like these in a holistic manner instead of making an issue with hot cross buns that have nothing to do with the cross. Also the moral laws that cover things like the honour of God’s name, the sanctity of marriage and human life should receive more attention from us. How many of these outraged Christians actually spoke out against blasphemy against the Lord, pornography, and abortion, etc.? Which one do you think offends God more? That millions of babies have been aborted in the world or someone has tampered with our much loved but meaningless religious symbols and insignia?