Press Column

There are very few things an Archbishop of Canterbury could say to get into the papers on Budget Day but Dr Carey’s speech that day to mark the progress of the Decade of Evangelism came over as so spectacularly defeatist that it might have got in even without the phrase "allergic to religion", which made the headline in the Daily Telegraph. I think that the underlying problem was one of jargon. The greatest difficulty of the evangelical sub-culture is that it uses words in ways that make no sense at all except to the committed. A phrase like "the church is one generation away from extinction" may act like Henry V’s speech at Agincourt on the sort of people who go to conferences at Swanwick, firing them with unquenchable courage and the knowledge that the whole future of Christianity in this country depends on their success in transmitting it to the next generation. But to the outside world it sounds more like the Dauphin’s speech before the battle: "Well, mes braves, we’re only one day away from annihilating defeat and giving up half France to the enemy.".

Certainly Andreas Whittam Smith, in his column in the Independent, read the speech as evidence of complete demoralisation: "In what sense does the Archbishop mean his statement to be taken? Even the full text of the speech fails to make it plain. Perhaps it is a statement of the obvious … or is Dr. Carey making a forecast, predicting that on present trends the decline in membership will shortly put the viability of the Church of England in doubt? He is certainly gloomy. ‘We live’, he says, ‘in a society with something of an allergy to religion’ and then adds a curious rider — and ‘even to serious thought’. I cannot help but highlight this last phrase. It is such a ridiculous comment. There is no evidence for it. It is just petulance.

"I think the Archbishop is rattled, The decline in membership, the bruising row about the ordination of women, which still rumbles on, the discovery that the Church Commissioners had mismanaged the Church’s capital — all these factors have depressed his spirit … Dr Carey went to the conference on evangelism to provide a lead. Instead, or as well, he made visible his own demoralisation. He keeps on repeating that the church is one generation away from extinction, partly as a warning, and partly because that is exactly what he thinks."

I don’t know whether Eileen Drewery’s beliefs demonstrate Dr Carey’s thesis or disprove it. At the launch of her autobiography she announced that God will "do something spectacular in retribution" for the sacking of Glenn Hoddle. What, like letting England win a match? The report of her remarks in the Mirror made it clear that she was extraordinarily lucky to get away with her opinions for as long as she did. She believes, for example, that smoking marijuana opens you up to demonic possession "I hear a lot of people saying, ‘I’ve been smoking dope for years and I’m fine. But they’re just lucky that they have not been near a lost spirit at the time." Schizophrenia she put down to demonic possession and she also claimed to have exorcised an eight-year-old girl and saved her from suicide.

This stuff must have been fairly widely known when she was the eminence grise behind a winning team, but no one took any notice until the team started losing, at which point her beliefs suddenly became offensively cranky. Probably the moral is that the only place where the English have a lively belief in God is on the football field, or in the boxing ring, where Evander Holyfield’s confidence that God would look after him was rewarded by a draw which guarantees a lucrative rematch. . It would appear that the instrument of providence in this case was a judge from New Jersey, who, alone on the planet, scored the match to Holyfield.

If only the Church peddled something generally agreed to be useful, like machine guns. These were the foundation of the Rev Sun Myung Moon’s wealth; and with the increasing economic problems in South Korea he has moved his arms interests to the USA, where he is now the proprietor of a factory that makes easily concealed automatic pistols — it will be remembered that the clergy in Virginia recently won the right to wear them under their robes — as well as ever-popular Tommy gun. This all came out in the Washington Post, whose rival, the Washington Times, is also owned by Moon, and which had been running a campaign against the attempts by mayors of big cities to sue gun manufacturers. The Express had the fullest coverage, but the juiciest quote came in the Guardian: "Soldier of Fortune magazine says the [Moon’s automatic] is well suited for ‘close-range high stress, rapid-fire desperation shooting when all else has failed’."

It sounds like the sort of thing the Bishop of Liverpool might have appreciated in Stringfellow’s nightclub, whence he was taken by a BBC film crew. The Sunday Telegraph report, by Jonathan Petre and Martin Wroe, whetted the appetite for the upcoming film: Bishop Jones was apparently placed on a bar stool and invited to argue with Peter Stringfellow without watching the "exotic dancers" writhing out of their clothes a couple of feet away. Just as frantically as he was avoiding eye contact with the girls, Stringfellow was avoiding contact with his arguments: "We both live in a fantasy world, Bishop. The idea that God will answer your prayers and guide you through life is your fantasy. Mine is that God created beautiful women to be looked at."

Bishop Jones also talked to a porn actress "a former choirgirl and the daughter of a bellringer", who said "The bishop and I are in the same business. We both want to give love to people, whoever they are, whatever they do." It is certainly a different way of looking at things: up till now I had always supposed that it was not bishops but journalists whose profession was whoring. I must just remind myself every time I sit down at the keyboard that I am trying to give love to people, whoever they are, whatever they do.

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