Many words have been expended on the British Methodists' decision last month to launch a boycott of all Israeli products from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, giving that church the dubious honour of being the first Christian denomination in the United Kingdom to do so. Some delegates reportedly wished to go further, and launch a full-scale boycott of the Jewish State. The Methodists are even considering whether or not to countenance the very concept of Zionism.
Needless to say, no country except Israel was singled out for criticism. The Methodists' decision has been widely seen as antisemitic, and had been condemned by a wide range of people and organisations within and without the Jewish community. The Board of Deputies of British Jews, not renowned for speaking out lightly, issued a forceful denunciation. Even Rabbi Danny Rich, head of Liberal Judaism, and hardly a tub-thumping Zionist, was unhappy. A masterly op-ed in the Jerusalem Post (4 July) by the magnificent Robin Shepherd was headed 'The banality of Methodist evil'.
But here's the thing. The Methodist Church in Britain is a church in meltdown. Its 'Statistics for Mission 2005-2007' - the latest statistical report available - shows that between 2004 and 2007 its membership dropped from 294, 000 to 267,000 (a decline of 9% in only three years). Every other statistic was in a state of absolute rapid decline, in some cases of breathtaking proportions. The Methodists' average Sunday attendance figure fell from 280,000 in 2004 to 230,000 in 2007 - that's a decline of 18%.
The working- and lower-middle-class members who have traditionally constituted the church's core seem to be voting with their feet, leaving the church ripe for takeover by radical extremists. Indeed, throughout the English-speaking world churches with a left-liberal agenda are in decline. Secular socialists are generally athiests or agnostics, and so belong to no church. And within the leadership of those churches only leftwing activists, clerical and lay, remain.
The good news for supporters of Israel is that, by contrast, the fundamentalist churches are growing - in Britain, in Canada, and in the United States. And their adherents tend to be Christian Zionists.