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Reviews >

Down-to-earth approach

ABSOLUTELY BULGING with news this week. The first noteworthy story was on George Pitcher’s Telegraph blog, where he became the only person, so far as I noticed, to get any further with the story about two US Evangelicals who were told by a Muslim police community-support officer (a “Blunkett Bobby”) to stop preaching in a Muslim area of Birmingham.

First, one of Pitcher’s readers found the mission statement of the Church they came from: “We are not ecumenical, Charismatic, Arminians, Calvinists or denominational.” Then someone found the actual tract they were using, which did, indeed, tell all their listeners that they were going to hell.

That would mean, in Pitcher’s terms, that “the police were acting sensibly to defuse a threatening situation and a potentially abusive religious act.”

NONE OF THIS got into the print versions of the national papers, yet it is surely germane to a story, which, like Paul Eddy’s General Synod motion on evangelism, has been used to build up a feeling that the Muslims are taking over, and that no Christians are resisting.

What really fuels the resentment surrounding these stories is the feeling of unfairness — narrowly and falsely, that Muslim preachers in a “Christian” area would not get a hard time (remember here Ruth Gledhill’s increasing discomfort when she wore a hijab in Twickenham); but broadly and truthfully in that Christians have a much tougher time in some majority-Muslim countries.

RIAZAT BUTT was sent by The Guardian to a conference on tolerance in Mecca, which produced a nicely dry sentence in her copy: “The event, the biannual meeting of the Muslim World League, a non-governmental organisation engaged in the propagation of Islam, has been described as an interfaith conference, although its location makes it strictly off-limits to non-Muslims.”

JEREMY CLARKSON, in The Sun, picked up on the unfortunate Bishop of Stafford: “Like his boss, the Canterbury clown Rowan Williams, Mr Mursell is nothing more than a bonkers bishop, as stupid and as dangerous as the mad mullahs we hear so much about.

“Over the years, religion, and the wars it causes, has killed more people than any other single thing. It is more dangerous than riding a motorcycle, naked, at 186 mph, through a razor-blade factory.”

Driving cars, of course, has never killed anyone, at least anyone who matters.

STRAIGHT OVER the page on that day’s Sun was an entire spread on Dr Sentamu’s parachute jump, undertaken, the paper explained, for the benefit of our injured soldiers (who don’t, of course, fight in any cause related either to religion or the price of petrol). Perhaps it’s odd to describe as sure-footed someone who jumps out of aeroplanes at 13,000 feet, but Dr Sentamu’s feeling for the dramatic gesture has been absolutely flawless in his time at York. I can’t think of another religious figure who could unite The Sun and The Guardian — and even the Church Times press column — in his praise as he does.

Whether it is more frightening to jump out of an aeroplane than to go on the World at One or the Today programme live is a question that only those who have done both can answer; but if something goes wrong, you will be remembered as a martyr and not as an idiot only if you chose the parachute jump.

THE SAME DAY, the front page of The Times had been entirely taken up with a straightforward and perfectly true Ruth Gledhill exclusive about the Von Hügel Institute’s report on the place of Christianity in British public life. She also had a very affecting obituary of Chris Morgan in the paper.

Ah, Chris Morgan. There’s not much to say about the reactions to my piece last week — anyone seriously interested can look on my blog and the links from there — except that they show that journalists on the whole have no idea what it is like to be treated as we treat civilians. I wrote about him exactly as I would write about anyone else, and on a basis of rather more knowledge than we have about 99 per cent of the people whose lives we describe. Also, I got the facts right.

None the less, there are clearly a number of journalists who felt that to write about one of their own, newly dead, in terms we wouldn’t scruple to use on live people (see Clarkson above), was distasteful.

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