Saturday 13 December 2008

Vicar bans carol in empty anti-Israel gesture

Rev. Stephen Coulter is a man who knows. He knows that one side (guess which one) in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is responsible for all the problems, and he knows what's right for his parishioners. After a visit to the West Bank, Coulter has banned the carol 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' from all festive services in his parish of Blandford Forum, Dorset. He thinks that the words 'How still we see thee lie' are too far removed from life in today's Bethlehem, and is reported as saying that where shepherds once watched their flocks by night, security guards now watch over the people.

No doubt criticisms can be made of Israel's security presence in Bethlehem, but any balanced explanation of the situation in the city would need to mention the continuing threat of Palestinian terrorism, and the growing influence of militant Islam in the area.  At the same time, if you were one of Rev. Coulter's parishioners and were looking forward to a spot of carol singing this Christmas, wouldn't you be a little irked that your vicar had decided - not suggested, mind you, but singlehandedly decreed - that one of your favourites was off-limits?

We need to be a little wary about this story - it appeared on a page in yesterday's Telegraph that was packed with similar 'whatever next' stories about the supposed decline of the traditional Christmas - a staple genre of conservative papers at this time of year. However, if true, it confirms some of the things I said in these recent posts about the peculiar combination of absolute moral certainty, dangerous political naivety, and empty gesture politics (particularly where Israel is concerned), that characterise the words and actions of many on the Christian 'left'.

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