Tim Dieppe comments on the news that one school changed the lyrics of ‘Away in a Manger’ to make them ‘more inclusive’.
It was over the weekend that a primary school has told pupils not to sing ‘Lord Jesus’ in the familiar Christmas Carol Away in a Manger. The word ‘Lord’ was removed from the lyrics of the carol and changed to refer to ‘baby Jesus’ instead.
Children at the school were told last week that the words would be changed just before a nativity ‘celebration’ for infants at the school. One parent tells how her children were very upset after school by the change of words.
Christmas carols are often very clear about who Jesus is. There is no ambiguity. Every time Jesus is named in Away in a Manger he is called ‘Lord Jesus’. He is not just a baby, and not a normal baby. He is a baby who is Lord – even as a baby boy. Five times in three verses, the carol says, “Lord Jesus.”
If Jesus is not Lord, then he is not Christ, and there is no reason to celebrate.
The words of two other more modern carols were also changed by the school. The words ‘Jesus our Saviour’ in the carol Love Shone Down were changed to ‘Jesus the baby’. Again, if he is not our saviour, then there is no reason to celebrate Christmas. In another carol Come and Join the Celebration, the words ‘there’s a new king born today’ were replaced with ‘there’s a baby born today’. But we are not celebrating the birth of just another baby. We are celebrating the birth of King Jesus.
It was the news that a new king had been born which disturbed King Herod and all Jerusalem when the Magi reported it (Matthew 2:1-12). Herod recognised that a claim to kingship is a claim to obedience and honour. He did not want to acknowledge another king and sought to kill the baby.
Jesus’ claims, and the claims of the Christmas carols, are just as offensive now as they were then. The carols claim that Jesus is Lord – which means he should be worshipped and obeyed. That Jesus is our saviour – meaning that we need to be saved, and without him we are not saved. That Jesus is King – all authority belongs to him, and he rules over all creation.
You may not have realised it, but carols like Away in a Manger, and many others besides, make startling statements about Jesus. These claims that Jesus is Lord, King, and saviour, are absolutely core to Christian belief and the Christian message. In our world of political correctness, these are potentially offensive claims. All religions are not equal and do not agree on these central claims about Jesus.
The mother of the children is quite : “If he was just a baby boy named Jesus, there wouldn’t be a celebration in the first place. He is our Lord and Saviour and King of all Kings – that’s the whole point.”
The motivation of the head teacher at the school is clear. Ms Khatun wants the carol service to be ‘inclusive’. For it to be inclusive, references to Jesus as Lord, saviour, or King need to be excised.
Last year it is reported that some 60 children did not attend the carol service and nativity organised by the school because of their religious beliefs. That is their right. No one should be required to attend a Christian act of worship or to sing songs which they do not agree with. Other arrangements can be made for these children.
Instead, the head teacher decided to cut out the central message of the Christmas story from the carol service and nativity. It is an extraordinary thing to do. What kind of nativity is it that manages not to refer to Jesus as King or Lord or saviour? Why all the fuss over the birth of a baby to relatively poor Jewish parents a couple of millennia ago? What is left to celebrate?
To remove the lordship of Jesus is to remove the core of the Christmas message. Without that the carol service and nativity is no longer a Christian celebration at all.
Respect and tolerance
The school is in Chingford, which is in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. According to the 2011 census, 48% of the residents identify as Christian, and 22% identify as Muslim (compared to 5% nationally). Another 18% identify as secular. The school website says that it promotes British Values, including mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs. It is not respectful, however, to change the words of traditional songs to remove their central message. This is actually disrespectful and intolerant.
Would the school change the wording in a Muslim festival to remove all reference to ‘the prophet Muhammad’? I doubt it. Neither should they. It would be disrespectful. Christians would not refer to Muhammad as ‘the prophet’ and should not be expected to do so. Christians are quite clear that Muhammad was not a prophet. Islam, respectively, is quite clear that Jesus is not Lord, King, or saviour. Muslims should not have to sing those words. That is what respect and tolerance looks like. Deliberately altering a traditional song so that it doesn’t say Jesus is Lord is disrespectful to Christianity.
Diocese endorses sanitising carols
The church which hosts the school carol service and nativity is located in the Diocese of Chelmsford. The current Bishop of Chelmsford, Bishop Stephen Cottrell, has just been announced as the next Archbishop of York. A spokesman for the Diocese of Chelmsford, is reported as saying: “The service maintains the traditional Christian message of the joy of Christmas in a way that can be celebrated by everyone, including those of other faiths and none.”
What is left of a ‘message of the joy of Christmas’? As the well-known carol says:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
The reason for joy is that the Lord has come, and that he is King. Without these truths, there is no reason for joy. A carol service which denies that Jesus is Lord, King, or saviour is not a Christian service at all. It is actually anti-Christian.
There is nothing that “can be celebrated by everyone, including those of other faiths and none.” People will always disagree. That is their right. But this church is happy to offend Christians and deny Christ in order to be politically correct.
It is shocking that the Church of England is happy to host a carol service which goes out of its way to avoid saying that Jesus is Lord or king or saviour. It is apostacy to endorse re-wording songs to avoid saying that Jesus is Lord. There is no more central claim in the Christian faith. Without this there is nothing left for the Church to proclaim. No reason for hope or joy at all. It is no wonder that Church of England attendance has precipitously declined.
Those wonderful carols
I love carol services. One reason is the wonderful content of the carols themselves. My favourites are Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and O Little Town of Bethlehem. Profound truths are involved. It would take a lot to change the words of these carols to deny Christ. No doubt it could be done. What better way to conclude than with a verse from Hark the Herald which is rich in content?
Christ, by highest heaven adored:
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the new-born King!