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Press: The problem of nuisance calls

15 March 2007

by Andrew Brown

Porn in the air: Jonathan Petre’s report in The Daily Telegraph on Monday

Porn in the air: Jonathan Petre’s report in The Daily Telegraph on Monday

LAST WEEK I wrote about godly mobile phones; so it is good to be able to start with ungodly ones — the most interesting story in the mainstream press this week. (There are possibly more interesting stories outside the national papers and outside Britain, but we will get to them in a minute.)

Jonathan Petre’s story on Monday really caught my imagination: the Chancellor of the diocese of Chelmsford, George Pulman QC, has turned down an application from a church in Chingford to erect a mobile-phone mast.

This looks quite stupefyingly parochial, but it isn’t. “In his judgment, Mr Pulman, a QC who also sits as a deputy High Court judge in the Family Division, became the first Chancellor to refuse a faculty on the grounds that ‘revolting and damaging’ pornography could be transmitted by the network. He said that it was ‘no part of the work or the mission of the Church’ to facilitate or gain financial advantage from the transmission of pornography.”

The Chancellor has to be right about his facts. If a mobile can transmit and receive videos, some of these could very well be pornographic. My mobile can certainly browse the web, and that is full of revolting and damaging stuff.

But there’s the rub: the web. If it is immoral for a parish church to put up a mobile mast that might be used to transmit pornography, then it must follow that it is much more immoral for the Church as a whole to profit from such technologies. In 2005, the most recent accounts for the Church Commissioners available online, they had invested £92.3 million in Vodafone, £22.5 million in BT, £15 million in O2, £9.3 million in Qualcomm. . . At a rough count, the Church of England has at least £150 million invested in telecom and internet companies, all of which must be involved in the transmission of pornography.

I doubt, somehow, that this case will lead to massive disinvestment by the Church Commissioners. It might, however, be something more to discredit the apparatus of church law. I wonder what the final fees will be for all the lawyers involved.

ONE MIGHT envy the relative simplicities of Christianity in the United States, where a recent poll, reported in USA Today, found that half of all high-school seniors (sixth-formers) believe that Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple.

THIS IS perhaps a little more realistic than the belief of American conservatives that their Church is uniquely liberal about gays. If it is possible for any story about gays and the Church to be interesting, something I sometimes doubt, then there was one last week, but entirely out of the mainstream press.

Christopher Morgan, writing one of his intermittent columns in The Church of England Newspaper, mentioned that far more clergy had gone into civil partnerships in England than in any other part of the Anglican Communion. “A priest about to enter a civil partnership thought it would be courteous to tell his diocesan of his plan. The diocesan in turn asked his suffragan, himself widely rumoured to be gay, to contact the priest. And of course the conversation never touched on the private aspects of the relationship.”

This was followed up by Damian Thompson in his blog, with a claim that there are currently 20 gay bishops in the Church of England. This seems entirely plausible. Two of them, we know, were ordained by George Carey, who knew at the time what he was doing.

The conclusion that both men drew from this is that there was no point in further argument. The unofficial settlement of the Church of England is entirely liberal and in favour of civil partnership. This may be strong meat for The Church of England Newspaper to offer its readers. But it is also a little hard for the mainstream papers to admit. The line that the Church is divided about gays makes for simple, comprehensible stories. They won’t go away just because they are in important respects untrue.

This is not just because of the manifold depravities of journalists and homosexuals. It is also because the official policy of the Church is dishonest. It actively denies facts known to any honest observer. So long as it is considered part of a bishop’s or archbishop’s duties to stand up in public and tell palpable lies, this story will remain news.

AND SO the serious American story: The Washington Post and The New York Times reported last week an attempted coup at the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents about 30 million people. Its chief Washington lobbyist, Richard Cizik, has been promoting environmentalism as a Christian cause. The big groups of the televangelical Christian Right — Focus on the Family, and so on — demanded that he be sacked to make room for someone who would concentrate on real sins, such as gay marriage.

What’s astonishing is that they failed. If James Dobson can’t get an Evangelical spokesman sacked, the end times must be near indeed.

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