We should expect better, but sometimes you just have to despair.

A link to a BBC website this morning led me to the following quote by the Editor of the Church of England Newspaper (sic):

Editor of the Church of England Newspaper, Colin Blakely, said dioceses across the country were facing serious problems that were partly due to declining church attendance. He said: “With such a massive drop in the number of people going [and] the number of people who are giving to the church – that’s going to affect all sorts of things.” Three dioceses had already been merged in the north of England because of declining revenues, he said.

This little organ really should change its name as it is not the ‘Newspaper of the Church of England’. That aside, and allowing for the possibility that the editor has been either misunderstood or misinterpreted, what he says is decontextualised nonsense and the last bit a downright lie.

First, projections to 2057 assume nothing happens between now and then – that you can draw a straight line from now until then. Just take a moment to reflect on that.

Second, that numbers affect money, and that this “affects all sorts of things” is such a bland truism that it beggars belief it was even said.

Third, and most seriously, three dioceses in the north of England have not been merged and finance is not the driving factor in proposals to merge three dioceses. In fact, finance rarely comes into it. It is about a pile of other stuff – like better support of clergy and parishes, more flexibility of development of clergy, etc. – and not about money. None of the three dioceses has financial alarm bells ringing.

So, my question is: is the quoted editor going to demand a retraction?

This lazy reportage, in which disconnected factors are linked together, owes everything to the inability of some journalists to avoid squeezing everything into a single assumed narrative: that church is defined by ’emptying pews’ and everything we do is aimed at stopping people leaving or saving money.

It’s enough to make you weep.

When I got tweeted the other day from the BBC to ask for a comment about an article in the Church of England Newspaper, I hadn’t read the piece and didn’t comment (other than to ask if they know anyone who actually reads or takes seriously the CEN).

I have now read the piece in question and can’t believe (a) that it ever got written and (b) that the CEN actually published it. The editor claims he didn’t actually read the article, but would have asked for the language to be toned down if he had. Leave aside the question of an editor not reading what goes into his (very short) organ, but how did such an article ever get published anywhere?

Basically, it compares the gay lobby in the UK with the advance of the Nazis in the 1930s. It speaks of the ‘gay Wehrmacht’ and the ‘Gaystapo’. This sort of nonsense clearly doesn’t take seriously a rational, theological or humane argument about sexuality, but merely shocks by its sheer awful ineptitude.

You would have to be brain dead to write this stuff and think that anyone in their right mind would not think it outrageously stupid. What did the CEN think it was publishing it for? Or, for whom? It is less Allo Allo and more a mockery of the gruesome bits of Schindler’s List.

Alan Wilson has done a good piece on it, so I won’t repeat or rehearse it. This sort of thing needs to be ridiculed, not argued with. But, I will shine a light on it from a different angle.

World War Two ended in May 1945. British people haven’t moved on. Our sole point of reference for anything to do with Germany is that war. History teaching has been dominated for decades by Hitler and the rise of fascism from 1933-45. Our tabloids still invoke stereotypes from war comics every time we play Germany at anything sporting. The mocking chants at international football matches of ‘two world wars and one world cup – na na na na na’ demonstrate the poverty of our understanding and the puerility of our cultural references. This is not something we should be proud of.

It is why some of us are concerned to promote the learning and effective teaching of modern languages in the UK – and to urge a history curriculum that moves beyond the easy dramatics of the Nazi period and allows Germany to grow up. I wonder what any young Brits might understand of the thinking going on in Berlin about the Euro and the EU this week – incomprehensible without some understanding of German post-war development, economic structure, political sensibilities and cultural engagement.

When Alan Craig wrote his ridiculous article he obviously didn’t consider the reality of the Nazi experience in Europe or think about how his spurious and offensive comparison might be interpreted. Or maybe he did – which is far more worrying.

Suffice it to say, despite its name, the Church of England Newspaper does not reflect the Church of England most of us know. It should apologise.

The problem with returning from a stint of incommunicado foreign service – even for just a week and a bit – is that you have to catch up with the news in one go. So, I’ve been whipping through the Church newspapers, glancing off websites and other journals and now find myself wishing I hadn’t bothered. Here’s three examples of what I found that don’t fill me with joy, but do reflect on the posts I published since my return from Zimbabwe on the freedom to think aloud and aspects of criminal justice:

1. A couple of weeks ago Stephen Kuhrt wrote in the Church of England Newspaper about the impact of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans on the Diocese of Southwark. He drew attention to a sermon by a preacher at Fairfield Church (part of Richard Coekin’s Co-Mission network, known locally as the Diocese of Dundonald) inwhihc his church, Christ Church, New Malden, was accused of having lost interest in mission because it had strayed from the Gospel (or words to that effect). In last week’s copy of the CEN the aggrieved preacher retorted with a remarkably either disingenuous or naive counter-complaint. He writes:

Richard [Coekin] is a forward-thinking leader who in the years I’ve known him has never said anything against Stephen or Christ Church, New Malden, despite previous attacks on him, and it wouldn’t occur to him to do so.

Richard certainly is a strong leader, but I am boggled at how people can be so revering of him that they cannot recognise the truth of his failings. I’m afraid Philip Cooper, the said preacher, needs to listen to people who have worked with (as I have in my capacity as Archdeacon of Lambeth from 2000-2003) or related to Richard Coekin locally. Richard criticised Christ Church, New Malden, in precisely the terms used by Mr Cooper to me on more than one occasion. He was also reported to me by a member of a mission team several years ago as having done so on more than one occasion publicly and in a way that made the identification of the church not hard to discern.

Believe it or not, I have a respect for Coekin and his leadership qualities despite my antipathy to the disingenuous way he goes about things in relation to the diocese and his representation of his own victimhood. But it is wilful hagiography of the worst kind to portray Richard as almost infallible on these matters and to not want to hear inconvenient things about him. Why can’t they just admit that he gets things like this wrong, as the rest of us do, and apologise?

Rowan Williams2. Today I read Martin Beckford’s piece in the Telegraph about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s participation in a forthcoming Channel 4 programme about belief. The Archbishop speaks of ‘hell’ as being:

… stuck with myself for ever and with no way out… Whether anybody ever gets to that point I have no idea. But that it’s possible to be stuck with my selfish little ego for all eternity, that’s what I would regard as hell.

The article is fine. But go down to the comments on the online version and then it starts to get scary. Some people – who clearly think of themselves as Christian – clearly need help. Why is it that people outside fo the Church often find Rowan Williams thoughtful, insightful and painfully honest, whereas people inside the Church (who disagree with him) like to denigrate him?

I wrote the other day about the danger of ‘leading’ people (such as politicians) not being free to speak the truth, but constantly to be saying what other people want to hear and always in a very safe way. I remember him saying at a conference: ‘When people ask me to lead, what they really mean is: ‘say very loudly what I want to hear’.’ The Archbishop, albeit quoted briefly and (inevitably) out of context in the article, is at least interesting as well as being honest. Clearly, some of the commentators would prefer him to be dishonest and just tick their boxes in their language. Thank God he doesn’t.

FernandoTorres3. But, if that isn’t enough for one day, I then read on the BBC website that where I live is one of the 20 burglary hotspots in the UK. This is a pity because Croydon is a fantastic place to live – a place of real civic and social ambition. And I haven’t heard a burglar alarm go off on my road in the six years we have lived here…

Oh well. At least Fernando Torres has signed his new contract for Liverpool…

OK, I’m back from Germany and enjoying trawling the German media coverage of the Kirchentag in Bremen. I’ll write some more about some of the ideas floating around my mind following the Kirchentag itself and the subsequent academic conference in Paderborn once I get some head space. But, given the ‘lively’ response to my earlier posts about the MPs expenses and newspaper exposure/coverage of it, I was glad of a view from abroad. A bit of distance always helps check one’s perspective and conversation with press people in Germany was both welcome and instructive. This afternoon I got back and thought I’d catch up on the English coverage.

ParliamentForgive my amazement, but the first article I went to was in the Daily Telegraph and was entitled MPs’ expenses: politicians and church leaders defend Telegraph’s investigation. Senior politicians and church leaders have urged the Telegraph to continue its investigation highlighting the MPs’ expenses scandal. Nothing surprising there, I thought, and nearly passed on. But, call me pedantic – I decided to read the piece. And that’s where the problems began.

There was strong opposition to a call from Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for an end to the “systematic humiliation” of MPs, which he claimed was undermining democracy. Politicians from all the major parties defended the two and a half weeks of revelations by The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. They echoed the growing sense of public anger and said that greedy MPs, not the newspapers, were to blame for the scale of the scandal and the damage to Parliament’s reputation.

The writers go on to quote two MPs who disagree (to differing degrees) with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Norman Tebbit who sort of possibly agrees with him. But, I was still waiting for the ‘church leaders’ to voice their opposition to Rowan Williams and their praise for the Telegraph. Er… am I missing something? George Carey is not a church leader – he is retired (apparently). Michael Nazir-Ali talks complete sense, but doesn’t appear to contradict the Archbishop – if anything, he reinforces the Lambeth line. Vincent Nichols also gets a look in, but doesn’t disagree with his ecumenical colleague across the Thames.

Then we are off to the BNP and some poll suggesting that people would like to be able to vote for ‘independents’.

Can anyone explain how the headline is supported by the article? Or am I right to come back from Germany with a continuing suspicion of the stuff still being dripped in the UK?

newspapersAnd, before the accused start getting upset again that I am hitting the wrong target, let me repeat what I have said all along: there is no excuse for the MPs’ behaviour and change is urgently needed; but the media cannot simply run away from a challenge to them. Why is it not legitimate to question more than one practice at a time?

A further example? In the Church of England Newspaper I am accused of hitting the wrong target. ‘Bishop Nick Baines … seems to think it is mostly about the way the press has handled the story, rather than the wrongdoing on the part of Parliamentarians.’ Utter nonsense. ‘As well as’ would have been accurate; ‘rather than’ is simply misleading.

 

So, Liverpool have drawn Chelski again in the European Champions League and I am sure Chelsea are more worried about it than Liverpool. Should be interesting, anyway – especially in forcing my Chelsea-supporting clergy to carry on praying for me despite my obvious heresies and sins.

But the footie is a side show to other stuff going on. How about this for today’s ‘weird journalism’ prize? Today’s issue of The Church of England Newspaper has a whacking great headline on the front page of today’s issue that says: ‘Wycliffe Hall fails inspection report’. The second paragraph of the subsequent article says this: ‘The inspection team concluded that [the theological college is] fit for preparing candidates for ordained and licensed ministry.’

wycliffe-hallNow, I am quite broadminded, but this is just one more example of crass CEN ‘journalism’. I watched the shenanigans at Wycliffe Hall during the last couple of years with sadness, incredulity and diminishing confidence and my questions have not been allayed by the inspection report (which I have read in full). But, this sort of ridiculous reporting indicates that even if the college has come out better than expected, the ‘newspaper’ just looks silly. Wycliffe Hall did not fail its inspection; several areas were highlighted for further development and attention in order to bring it up to scratch.

Does the CEN have any purpose any more?