Press Column

Perhaps the silliest and most embarrassing thing that Dr Carey ever said in his time as archbishop was that "the Anglican Communion, with 70m members and growing fast, has very great potential as a player on the international scene." Two things reminded me of the remark this week, three if you count a twisted sense of humour, and one was the plan to amalgamate all the theological colleges into a single campus. The second was a reminder, from the Washington Post, of what it would really mean to be a player on the international scene.

The Post had got hold of a memo from Ralph Reed, who used to run the Christian Coalition, a right-wing lobby group whose mailing lists more or less define the moral majority. Now he is the head of a lobbying firm, and in this capacity he wrote to the collapsed and disgraced firm of Enron just before the last presidential campaign, offering his services. He boasted that he could get the "faith community" and "religious leaders" lined up to help Enron’s lobbying campaigns. "We have built a formidable network of grass-roots operatives in 32 states.

"[Our] long history of organising these groups makes us ideally suited to build a broad coalition." He wrote. So here is a man who can get God on your side and then let the world know about it: "We have the capacity to generate dozens of high-touch letters from an elected official’s strongest supporters and the most influential opinon leaders in his district. Elected officials and regulators will be predisposed to favour greater market-oriented solutions" — you have to love "market-oriented" in this context, where it actually means using the power of the state to transfer a monopoly to the people who can afford to enrich politicians — "if they hear from business, civic, and religious leaders in their communities." I stuck the italics in, but have you ever wondered what the market rate for a letter on energy policy to the local MP from a vicar is I this country? For writing, and getting signed, twenty letters from respectable people to each of the 17 members of Congress dealing with deregulation, Reed suggested a price of $170,000, which works out at a minimum of $500 — say £350 — per signature. If a particularly diligent religious leader had written to all seventeen members of congress (and why should God want him to stop with one?) then I reckon he would be looking at £7000, to be split with Ralph Reed of course. Not even the Daily Mail offers word rates quite like that.

Not that he neglected journalism: for a mere $25,000 more, he would write letters to the editor and even op-ed articles, which would be signed by one of his stooges, and then, once printed, "blast-faxed" to politicians to persuade them that there was a popular movement under way. Then, for another $30,000, he would use the right-wing radio network to get the message out to "faith-based activists" that God wants energy deregulation.

These, then, are the workings of a real player in the greatest and perhaps the most ostentatiously Christian democracy that the world has ever seen. There is one final detail which makes me despair: for $79,500 more, Reed offered a telemarketing campaign which would cold-call people and — if they believed I energy deregulation — offer to put them straight through to their local congressman. Can you imagine a country so beaten down by cold-calling telemarketeers that when one of them called and asked his victim in turn to cold-call a third party, the victim might agree? And where the victim, if he agreed, could be expected to repeat the script he was given, rather than saying "Congressman Snopes, I would like to report that an evil lobbying firm has just asked me to call you on this issue, and I suggest you disregard any other apparently spontaneous calls you get about it"?

At this point my meditations were interrupted by some earthshattering news from the British Red Cross, which is delighted to announce that its new communications supremo is going to be the Rev Dr Bill Beaver, who seems to have dropped the Rev in his latest rebranding. In fact they scarcely mention his successes at Church House: Dr Beaver, they say, " brings a wealth of experience to the post. As Director of Communications at Barnardo's, he was responsible for a major re-branding and publicity campaign in the 1980s. He went on to hold key marketing and communications posts at National Westminster Bank and the Industrial Society and was most recently Director of Communications for the Church of England."

I cocked an ear for some acknowledgement of this news from the C of E: the muffled tolling of the bells of St Mary’s up the road, perhaps, or even a press release. But for an hour or so there was nothing, though the morning’s post had brought the Church Times a fresh photograph of Dr Beaver without anything else in the envelope. The email announcement finally arrived from the Church about an hour after the Red Cross had put their story out. Of course, as director of communications for the Red Cross, he will have the inestimable advantage that there are no full-time charity correspondents in the national press; no independent charity newspapers, and in general no one whose job it is to interfere with the business of communication.

Meanwhile, the Spectator had an interesting article on a resurgence Christian anti-semitism in the guise of hostility to Israel; but though it was written by Melanie Phillips, the first people she quoted in support of her thesis were Rowan Williams and Colin Blakely, the editor of the CEN. She dig up some fairly horrifying quotes: a priest in Virginai Water arguing that "The covenant between Jews and God was conditional on their respect for human rights. The reason they were expelled from the land was that they were more interested in money and power and treated the poor and aliens with contempt." Presumably it was as a reward for their respect for the human rights of the Canaanites that God gave them the Promised Land in the first place. What makes all this even stranger is that the cover illustration, showing a cleric burning an Israeli flag, gives the falg-burning vicar the stock figures of anti-semitic caricature.

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