Press Column Saturday 11 November 2000

Thereís not much that could make you feel sorry for a Radio 1 spin doctor, but if anything could, it is an interview that the Guardian carried with Tim Westwood, the son of Bishop Bill Westwood who has, since the age 19 or so, pretended to be a black urban gangster hip-hop DJ. When he got shot last year, some people thought it was the seal of success on his efforts (though the Daily Telegraph published a letter suggesting it was his Call to ordination. Others, less kind, fastened on the wildly divergent accounts he has given for his age, from 32 to 47. Anyway, he was wheeled out in the company of a BBC marketing droid named Paul to plug a new radio station. In the words of the Guardian reporter, he is "To his half-million fans he is the face of hip-hop Ö the white, faintly wrinkled, public-school educated face of hip-hop, straight outta Lowestoft, in his bright red van with his name painted on the side."

IN his own words, " ĎSome of the mediaís feeliní me. I donít know, man, some cats donít understand hip-hop. Thatís their issue, man.

ĎIím a DJ, man. Talk to me about music, man. Thatís who I am., man. Iím not aí ó he spits the word, Ďpersonalityí.

"But he has got a van outside with his name on it in three foot high letters. He hesitates. ĎThatís just a hot truck, man. Come on. Thatís a lot of flava, man. A lot of flava. Paul? Are you feeliní me, Paul.?í

"Paul seems ambivalent."

The whole interview is a gem. I quote it partly for that reason; partly to show that Bill Westwood was by no means the most ridiculous figure in his family, but mostly as a service to poor beleaguered Dr Beaver. Next time anyone asks about out-of-touch bishops being chauffeured round in Jaguars, he can reply "Thatís just a hot truck, man. Come on, thatís a lot of flava, man. Are you feeliní me, Ruth?" and so on. Or perhaps, at racism awareness workshops, the Archbishops will be taught to deal with all questions this way, in a bid to show how young and streetwise they are.

The two Archbishops going on race awareness courses made the front page of the Telegraph and dwarfed in all the papers the potentially more embarrassing news that the number of stipendiary clergy is falling almost as fast as Sunday attendance. This was good news management; the Times, however, made better use than the Guardian of a silly advice booklet for Synod members. One of its many plonking suggestions is that they make an effort to stay awake in the debates: this was run next to a picture of Dr Carey "wrestling with his consciousness", as the caption had it, during a Synod debate two years ago.

The other story to have made the front page of the Daily Telegraph was Prince Charles attacking Common Worship in a book edited by Peter Mullen. This was a bit thin even for a Monday front page story, considering that the piece was a reprint of a lecture delivered eleven years ago, so that he was actually attacking the ASB. What was sloppier, though, was the leader, which repeated the lie that the new liturgy refers to Compline as "debriefing the day with God" and Confession is "dishing the dirt on ourselves." Leaders of this sort really are beyond parody, though their tone of ineffable world-weary superiority is still worth quotation "If the Alternative Service Book sometimes appeared to have been dreamt up by a committee, then Common Worship seems to have been written by a breakfast television presenter. Dreariness has given way to vulgarity." Of course the Synod could with equal justice pass a motion deploring the Telegraphís redesign in exactly the same terms. In fact, I urge it to do so.

For the tabloids, the big news of the week was the refusal of Canon Andrew night, in Swansea, to baptise a baby "Maximus Lucius", after Russell Crowe in the film Gladiator . As the Star has it: "friends, Romans and countrymen Ö lend me a clean nappy. "It is a very distinctive and striking name and will give him a great lift" said mother Venetia, 25, who saw the film twice while she was pregnant. Canon Knight told the paper, "if she came to the church as often as she goes to the cinema, this might not be a problem."

I was stung by Nicky Gumbelís letter, suggesting I had misrepresented his views on the ultimate destination of most of the human race. So I went round to HTB and picked up a copy of the leaflet he recommended. I am happy to say that I was wrong: It is now quite clear that he does not believe that all gays and all non-Christians will go to hell. I am sorry if I gave that impression. But what does he believe? The leaflet is silent on the fate of those who have heard about Jesus but remained unconvinced. It does, however, explain that "We need not fear that God will be unjust. He will be more just than we are, not less. On Judgement Day, every right-thinking person will say of Godís judgement: Ďthat is completely justí."

Not all of us have the assurance of being right-thinking people that is granted to HTB, but there is hope even for wrong thinkers later on, where he says that "Abrahamís descendants (spiritual as well as physical) will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. I donít know how much sand there is on the seashore, but I have checked out the number of stars in the sky, and, to a first approximation, there are very great many: ten followed by 21 zeros. Since there are only about 6bn people alive today, and there have been fewer that 10bn humans ever, this means that Abraham was assured that the number of souls who will be saved is around a billion times greater than all the souls who have ever lived. I hope this calculation will dispel some worries about the imminence of the Millennium.

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