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Welby reports from the front line in Pakistan

02 December 2016

ALEX CLIFFORD @alexmarkcliff

Page-turner: The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, was spotted reading what appears to be the Archbishop's book, on the London Underground, last week

Page-turner: The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, was spotted reading what appears to be the Archbishop's book, on the London Underground...

THE Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, was photographed last week on the Tube reading the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book Dethroning Mammon: Making money serve grace (Bloomsbury, 2016). No one, so far as I know, has commissioned a review to celebrate this.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Welby himself wrote the diary in the New Statesman, and, like all readers of diaries, I turned first to the bits about me. “Tuesday I went to meetings and read paperwork until late. A lunchtime gathering with journalists was, as usual, fun and stimulating, with a frisson about the consequences of ­honesty. I hope I don’t get into too much trouble.” Not unless you make a habit of it, Archbishop.

The passages about his trip to Pakistan were rather more rewarding. “After a breakfast meeting, we headed to the packed Raiwind Cathedral. Rounding the corner at the back of the shoeless procession, I glanced up at the roof and saw guards cradling Kalashnikovs, looking down at us like an ambush scene in a 1960s western.

“The service was excellent, moving and powerful, with wonderful music, all local in tone and pitch. Then to the Cathedral Church, a Liverpool-like structure — new Gothic, red-brick and huge. It contains the Taxila cross, which dates from before the 3rd century. There was a Christian presence here 1,400 years before the British arrived.

“We travelled to the church in Youhanabad where we found a huge security presence. A bomb went off here 18 months ago and was followed by a riot in which 42 Christians were arrested for a lynching. Tragedy upon tragedy.”

Reading his accounts of courage and endurance in the apparently endless cycle of atrocity and revenge, I had a horrible thought: perhaps the reason these virtues are so prominent in countries such as Pakistan is that there is a war of sorts going on there. Perhaps there are some virtues that do not flourish in peacetime nearly as well.

But, if there is a war, it is terribly one-sided. There was a throwaway statistic in the the Archbishop’s piece which is worth brooding on: about 3000 to 4000 members of the security forces have died in the current fighting — and at least 20 times as many civilians: the figure given was 60,000.

It is a number that makes one astonished at the resilience of the state. Pakistan has about three times the population of the UK; so the equivalent figure here might be 20,000. I wonder how this country would feel if terrorists and the security forces (in so far as they could be differentiated) between them had killed 20,000 people in the past ten years.

 

AND so, hurriedly, to the farcical portion of the week’s news. For the past fortnight, we have been hearing all about how the ruthless manipulation of social media is able to win elections and smash up the whole world political order. So it is a relief to note that GAFCON has not quite got the knack of it.

A Twitter account calling itself @gafconuk appeared last Friday, and tweeted (twote?) busily for most of the day on such subjects as the wickedness of homosexuals and the total depravity of the Church of England. The style had a certain fascination: there was a link to a piece by George Conger about his part in the machinations that led to the production of the Lambeth 1.10 Resolution, which brought back the memory of that meeting like sick to the back of the throat.

Then, all of a sudden, there was a tweet from the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon (last heard of leading the rebel forces in Tunbridge Wells) (News, 2 September), denouncing the @gafconuk twitter account as a fake. The official GAFCON Twitter account, @gafconconference, then announced that @gafconuk was not authorised, even though it had earlier given it a “warm welcome” and retweeted with approval the opinions of the People’s Liberation Front of GAFCON.

Offstage there were a couple of dull thuds and a whimper, and then order was restored: @gafconuk tweeted: “Ownership of this account has now been transferred to the Gafcon Uk task force. Stay tuned for more updates from Gafcon Uk.”

The sense that the whole organisation consists of earnest 14-year-old boys has seldom been stronger.

 

OVER in the Roman Catholic Church, they do these things with more style. The conservative revolt against Pope Francis’s decision to let the local church recognise some second marriages in practice continues to rumble on on the web: the traditionalist Kazakhstani Bishop Athanasius Schneider (his parents were ethnic Germans deported by Stalin from the Ukraine to the Far East) had a tremendous pop at the liberal bishops on the blog Rorate Caeli.

The wicked liberals had, he said, accused his fellow conservatives of being “Witless, naive, schismatic, heretical, and even comparable to the Arian heretics. . . Such . . . merciless judgments reveal not only intolerance, refusal of dialogue, and irrational rage, but demonstrate also a surrender to the impossibility of speaking the truth, a surrender to relativism in doctrine and practice, in faith and life.”

This is the stuff to give the troops: none of that managerial nonsense about a “task force”.

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