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Journalistic sins of omission

17 April 2015

Jesus and Bible a "sort of handy guide": the Prime Minister in the Mail on Sunday

Jesus and Bible a "sort of handy guide": the Prime Minister in the Mail on Sunday

THE almost complete lack of coverage in the British press of the three big Christian stories of the early week shouldn't really shock me but it does.

Let's see: we have the schism breaking out in Battersea - which, though it sounds a bit like G. K. Chesterton, might actually matter. Who knows? Perhaps the Napoleon of Notting Hill will one day be crowned by the Athanasius of Battersea Rise. Then, surely related, there is the conference vigorously promoted by Christian Concern which is trying to rehabilitate "conversion therapy" for gay people.

Finally, the Pope puts out a remarkable Bull that absolutely crushes the traditionalist suggestion that Vatican II was just a passing hiccough in the life of the Church. And he seems to have made his position on the marriage of divorcees entirely plain.

The only mention of any of this which I could find was something in The Independent on the reparative-therapy conference, which seems to me, frankly, the least important of the three. It may be that homophobia is the new creationism, in the sense that it is a deliberately unscientific doctrine that serves as a reliable shibboleth to separate the elect from the rest of us. But as a serious position it is discredited even within Evangelical Christianity in this country.

Online, Ruth Gledhill had a report on the Anglican split in Christian Today. The Spectator did have a piece on the possibility of a Roman Catholic split, but that came out before the papal Bull. None the less, it is noteworthy that it came from the editor of the Catholic Herald, Luke Coppen.

"Talk of an outright split would no doubt horrify Francis. But he seems happy to live with a degree of internal tension others would find unbearable. One of his favourite sayings is '¡Hagan lío!' - Spanish for 'make some noise' or 'stir things up'. That was his advice to Argentine youngsters not long after his election, but it could also be his episcopal motto.

"Yes, he's an austere, saintly figure who rises at 4.30 a.m. to pray. But he's also a mischief maker. As a young priest, he soothed relatives' crying babies with dummies dipped in whisky, and taught swear-words to his godson. As Pope, he has joked about kicking officials 'where the sun doesn't shine' and playfully suggested that his pontificate may be over in a few years."

If it is not, and there is a publicly acknowledged relaxation of the rules on communion for the divorced and remarried - obviously, they are a dead letter in practice in most of the Western world - it's very hard to know where the conservatives could go, or what they would do.


MEANWHILE, The Spectator continues its discussion of the job ads at the back of the Church Times. First, a reader in Basingstoke wrote in:

"Wanted: parish priest. Sir: Quentin Letts could be voicing the problem we have in our group of parishes (four churches). There hasn't been a vicar for 18 months. We have done very well, with all manner of folk taking the services, and in one of the smallest we manage three Book of Common Prayer evensongs a month. At the last parochial church council meeting I suggested we advertise in something other than the Church Times for a change. I thought the Horse and Hound, The Spectator, The Lady and our local newspaper might bring forth someone of note. My idea went down like a lead balloon."

Then a kindred soul from Hereford replied: "Horse and Vicar? Sir: Anne Fisher should not give up on her idea of advertising other than in the Church Times ([The Spectator] Letters, 4 April). My dear late grandfather once placed an advertisement for a horse in Horse and Hound and added as an afterthought that if a vicar happened to be reading, he would be glad to hear from him. The result was the best appointment to his local church that my grandfather ever made."

The obvious retaliation would be for Quentin Letts's parish to enquire whether anyone has a horse to go with their vicar.


FINALLY, two lovely examples of United States journalism's way with headlines. The Washington Post had: "Christianity is growing rapidly in El Salvador - along with gang violence and murder rates", though there was very little in the article to suggest a causal link either way.

And, in The New York Times, a really good story about the refusal of ultra-Orthodox Jews to accept airline seats next to a woman had everything you could want: anecdote, analysis, and real shock value. Intercontinental flights have been delayed by this on numerous occasions in the past year, apparently. The story was entombed under the dullest headline possible: "Aboard Flights, Conflicts Over Seat Assignments and Religion."

Let's see the headline when a Muslim fundamentalist pulls the same stunt.

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