By Charles Gardner —
I believe it is important that we pay tribute to Sir David Amess, brutally assassinated at Leigh-on-Sea while looking after the interests of his constituents there.
The incident is being treated as a terror attack, and it could be said that the dedicated, long-serving MP has indeed been martyred.
Though investigations are continuing, it seems that radical Islam was quite likely a motive behind the murder, and that this devoted Christian may have been a target due to his religious views and/or his indefatigable and longstanding support for the Jewish people.
Like William Wilberforce two centuries earlier, the Southend West member fought for many causes over his 38 years in Parliament including the plight of Israel and Holocaust education.
He had described one of his proudest moments as the unveiling of a statue devoted to a man who saved the lives of up to 100,000 Jews.
The 1997 event, in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, took place outside Western Marble Arch Synagogue and was in honor of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who risked his life to rescue Hungarian Jews from the death camps before mysteriously disappearing, presumed dead, at the hands of the Soviets as World War II drew to a close.1
Yes, we are living in times of terrible violence and wickedness, comparable to the days immediately preceding the flood of Noah’s day when God saw that “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen 6:5). For Jesus himself said that the days leading up to his return would be “as in the days of Noah” (see Luke 17:26f).
And the terror we are now witnessing is particularly focused on the tiny state of Israel, along with the Jewish people in general, and those who support them – especially so-called Christian Zionists.
Sir David, a devout Catholic opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion, was also a leading member of Conservative Friends of Israel who stood shoulder to shoulder with Southend’s Jewish community, describing them as his ‘friends’ who had felt very vulnerable over the past two years in view of rising anti-Semitism.
Addressing Parliament on Holocaust Memorial Day back in January this year, he said he hoped the government would continue to support the work of the Community Security Trust in striving to protect the Jews living among us.
“I have never understood anti-Semitism,” he said, adding that “it is simply not acceptable to stand by and do and say nothing when genocide happens. For evil to prevail, all it needs is for good people to remain silent.”
At Southend, he has taken part in an annual tree-planting event to commemorate those who have suffered in this way. He also had the honor of laying a wreath and planting a tree at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
Poignantly, in view of Sir David’s concerns, it was at Leigh-on-Sea that a very significant revival took place in 1835 sparked by non-Conformist minister Ridley Herschell, a Polish-born Jew who was among the pioneers of the modern Messianic Jewish movement embracing Jews who follow Jesus.
Herschell was warned to expect a tough time from the hardened fishermen of the village. But with little else by way of entertainment available, they turned up to hear the evangelist, apparently “just to see what a Jew looked like”.
One of the toughest of these men, Michael Tomlin, was so moved by what he heard that his wife thought he was drunk when he returned home. But through tears he explained: “Betty, my life has been changed; the Jew has been telling me of the love of God and Jesus Christ and how he could alter my life.”2
Like the apostles Simon and Andrew before him, Michael became a ‘fisher of men’ and was eventually invited to build a church in the area and become a Methodist minister.3
It was both tragic and poignant that Sir David should have ended his days on earth serving his constituents in a Methodist church so close to the one Tomlin founded at Whittingham Avenue, Southend.
Despite his non-Conformist credentials, Herschell retained an affection for the Roman Catholic Church throughout his life. He ended his days at Trinity Chapel, Marylebone, in London, not far from the statue of the man who rescued Jews for which Sir David had campaigned.
Herschell was among the founders of the Evangelical Alliance and of Christian Witness to Israel. One of his five children became an MP – not long after Jews were first allowed to enter Parliament – and eventually Lord Chancellor of England and the first Baron Herschell of Durham.
But his most precious legacy was the fruit of his gospel preaching.
My prayer is that Sir David’s family will know the comfort of Jesus at this very sad time, which was the very thing that won the young Herschell to Christ in the first place.
He was living it up in Paris when, almost accidentally, he encountered the truth about Jesus by reading a passage from the book generally considered forbidden to his people – the New Testament.
Some purchases he had made at a shop were, rather irreverently, wrapped up in a page torn out of a large Bible, which contained an excerpt from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, specifically the phrase “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4).
It just so happened that Haim, as he was known at the time, was in great need of comfort, having lost his beloved mother far from home and being unable to witness her burial.
We pray “the God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3) will surround Sir David’s family.
1 Wallenberg issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory (Wikipedia)
2 All Love – a biography of Ridley Herschell by Geoffrey Henderson, published by HTS Media in 2006
3 Ibid – you can also read more about Herschell in Charles Gardner’s new book, To the Jew First, shortly to be published by Christian Publications International