Press Column

August, and standards are slipping everywhere. In the Daily Telegraph’s media page there is a half-page article asking "Can you love Jesus and journalism". It is one of the purest examples I have ever seen of the total inability of evangelical Christians even to notice the other world, ,let alone to communicate with it; though not the best example; that emerged later in the week (see under Alpha). The Daily Telegraph is a very odd paper in which to ask this particular question. It is edited by Charles Moore, who, while he might think it an impertinence actually to love Jesus, certainly tries to follow him; and has certainly not done his career any good by his interest in theological questions. The letter pages gain much of their batty charm (in the non-Jamaican sense) from being edited by an elderly Catholic. The paper employs a full-time religious affairs correspondent whose duties are almost entirely concerned with Christianity. It has a vision of the monarchy which is profoundly religious. And it’s the biggest-selling broadsheet in the country.

None of this, of course worries Rob Brown, the author of the piece, because the Christians at the Daily Telegraph are not the right sort. Instead, the whole thing is obviously pitched at American newspapers, and American Christians. This at least produced one of the most ludicrous prophecies I have ever read. It comes from a former radio journalist in Sydney, who has now quit to evangelise others: "One journalist leading another journalist to Jesus is like putting beads on a string. Eventually we shall raise up a generation of journalists who will not only weep for the nations but bring about a massive culture change in the world’s newsrooms." It would be rather a large culture change. If anyone has ever wept for his nation in an Australian newsroom, it was only when the cricket results came in.

You might find a journalist weeping for the nation today in the offices of Alpha News, I suppose. Someone emailed me the really spectacularly ethical job they did on Nick Cohen’s attack on the television programme: he said it was a public scandal, which the ITC should investigate, that such propaganda was being broadcast: they quoted him saying: "’Alpha: Will it change their lives?’ is an ITV serial which starts tonight and runs for the next 10 weeks on what is meant to be a public service network. The title's question mark is superfluous. No one has dared broadcast a comparable programme on British TV before..."

But it turns out that even the bit they so selectively quoted was inaccurate. The programme has disappeared entirely; after one week, it was shifted from mid-evening to midnight; after that it seems to have gone out once more in the small hours, and now it is nowhere on the schedules at all. It would be hard to devise a more spectacular proof of the theory that Alpha, like most evangelism, appeals only to evangelicals.

The diametrically opposite attempt to appeal to non-Christians is Richard Holloway’s. He had a couple of long and sympathetic interviews in the broadsheets to plug a performance at the Edinburgh Festival. The Independent had him telling a story about Lionel Blue watching a young man with a very old one in a gay sauna in Amsterdam and concluding that this was "the most powerful experience of the sheer gratuitousness of God’s love he had ever seen." The Bishop thinks that Jesus would have come to same conclusion as Rabbi Blue. I do wish he had shared this insight with the Lambeth Conference in 1998 . He told Pat Kane, in the Independent that it was that Conference which had brought him to loathe the church: "It was nasty, twisted — there were closeted gay groups of priests who were the most vigorous conservatives of all .. I said to Jeanie at 5am one morning, ‘I’ve got to leave’. It was a deep-down wise decision and I haven’t missed it for a second."

Valerie Grove, in the Times got much the same account of the Lambeth Conference from him: "the air was filled with a gleeful hate paraded in the name of Jesus … I was scunnered, as we say in Scotland, a deep revulsive emotion inside."

It’s very good to know that at least one bishop at Lambeth seemed to be attending the conference at which the press found itself, as opposed to the one in the press releases. Victoria Combe’s Telegraph interview with the Rev’d Martin Kelly, a gay priest in Southwark diocese, and former chaplain to two Cambridge colleges, who has announced he is leaving the church because of the Lambeth resolutions. That’s the effect they were meant to have.

Bishops are not the only people trying to reinvent religion in August. The Washington Post had a big feature "Good for the soul — and the bottom line" about spirituality in the workplace. Given the morals of American business practice, this sounds promising: if Jesus had had an MBA he’d have kicked out only the unprofitable moneychangers from the temple, but it would have been just as spiritual. Sure enough, one of the examples was a Texan retail chain called "The container Store". It’s contribution to modern spirituality is a daily meeting called "the huddle": "employees meet just before the store opens to discuss how best to implement a ‘solutions-based’ approach to selling such products as closet organisers and kitchen accessories.. .. a company co-founder explained that solutions-based selling means determining and addressing the full scope of a customer’s needs, as opposed to simply giving customers what they say they want. The approach satisfies the ‘moral imperative’ of doing the right thing for the consumer, he said."

This was pretty much the approach taken by Lionel Blue’s young friend in the sauna, too.

What a relief to turn to Yorkshire, where none of that sort of thing goes on. Indeed, nothing much of anything goes on, so when an old lady leaves most of her money to the local church, it makes 14 paragraphs in the Yorkshire Post, and in their midst a trylu immortal quote from the Vicar whose church has been rescued. "We have been blessed beyond our wildest dreams and it’s really all down to the Yorkshire Post — and Jesus."

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