O Little Town of Bethlehem

Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury), Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor (Archbishop of Westminster and RC Primate of Britain), Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian (the Armenian Primate of Britain) and David Coffey (head of the Baptist World Alliance) have just returned from Bethlehem. They are hoping to raise the profile of the situation faced by Arab Christians in the Middle East.

Bethlehem used to be a town with a slight majority of Christians. Now less than a quarter of the population are followers of the God who spent his first few human days in a local cave laying in a feed trough. At any point where the Muslims haven’t made life difficult, the Israelis have.

But it is not just in Palestine where Christians are facing trouble. It is even worse in Iraq since the overthrown of Saddam. That was my one qualm about the invasion. Like many people, I foresaw that Christians would not have the same protection they had experienced under the secular Ba’athist regime. Were the democractically elected new government in Iraq powerful enough, Christians would probably still be safe.

However, the insurgency of those who wish to impose either a Sunni or Shi’a sharia state has led to a difference result. Each side may hate and kill the other, but Christians are still easy prey.
The vicar of St George’s Church in Baghdad told The Times:

All my staff at the church have been killed. They disappeared about a year ago and we never saw them again. Of the rest of my congregation, most say they have been targeted in some way or have had letters delivered with bullets in them. People forget, or the Islamic groups don’t realise, that Christianity was in the Middle East before them and therefore they see Christians as being part of the Western coalition military presence. Things have got considerably worse since the Iraq war.

As we open our presents and sit down to big Christmas dinners with not the slightest chance that Muslim gunmen will kick open our door and kill us, let us remember those who live in harms way – where just being a Christian is a dangerous thing.


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