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
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