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Nothing new to report on clergy private lives

27 January 2017

Not a done deal: the Sunday Times head­line this week

Not a done deal: the Sunday Times head­line this week

HOW journalism works, from the bottom upwards: The Sunday Times runs a story that starts: “Church of England bishops are pro­posing to turn a blind eye to gay clergy who breach its rules by having sex.”

It does not say which bishops, or how many, or suggest in any way that this might already be the policy, as it has been for decades, in many dioceses. If you read on, you will learn that the proposal is to be considered by the House of Bishops, and, if it gets through there, by the General Synod. So, not quite a done deal. The headline, however, is clear: “Church to draw veil over sex lives of clergy”.

The Mail Online added a fascinating twist: “Under the current system, gay members of the clergy are asked to be celibate, change jobs or seek a promotion to become a bishop when they are ordained.” And then topped it with even more confusion: “The House of Bishops will tomorrow discuss proposals to overhaul the system so homosexuals will not be asked about their private lives when they join the church.”

It’s all very puzzling, and I suggest that it be reduced to a simple and clear policy for gay clergy: “Cross your legs, or cross your fingers”. There. You can fit that on a T-shirt, or make it the chorus of a rap song to reach younger ordinands. There will now be a short, reverent pause while I try to imagine the video, featuring the Archbishop of Canter­bury.


THE Mail Online, incidentally, now posts 1200 stories a day, produced by 350 jour­nalists, along with 10,000 photographs and 650 videos. So even when there are 120 mentions of Kardashians on the front page, it is still only ten per cent of the cover­age.

This might explain why there is no recognised category of “fake news” in this country, as there is in the United States. We already have the Daily Express, whose front-page stories are written on exactly the prin­ciples of American “fake news”: whatever will sell the most advertising gets up there, and all involved think with at least half of their minds that this is just entertainment.


MOST of the serious news of the week came from the United States, of course. Time published the full text of the sermon preached before Donald Trump on the morn­­­­­­ing of his in­­­augur­ation.

It is often said that establishment makes the Church sycophantic. But the alternative to an Estab­­lished Church is one where the ruler gets to pick his own sycophants from a much wider pool. Or should that be deeper?

The profundities of grovel plumbed by the Baptist preacher the Revd Dr Robert Jeffress have no obvious parallel in English preaching: “God has raised you and Vice-President-elect Pence up for a great, eternal purpose.

”When I think of you, President-elect Trump, I am reminded of another great leader God chose thousands of years ago in Israel. The nation had been in bondage for decades, the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God raised up a powerful leader to restore the nation. And the man God chose was neither a politician nor a priest. Instead, God chose a builder whose name was Nehemiah.

”And the first step of rebuilding the nation was the building of a great wall. God instructed Nehemiah to build a wall around Jerusalem to protect its citizens from enemy attack. You see, God is not against building walls!”

It is the wholly predictable result of the Trump presidency that the survivors will, for the most part, regard Christ­ianity as both dis­cred­ited and disgust­ing when it is put to such purposes.

In case that sounds hyperbolic, consider what the incoming administration’s assault on healthcare will actually mean: hundreds of thousands of people dying every year of entirely curable diseases to keep taxes down for the healthy. The latest estimate I have seen (from Harvard) is of between 35,000 and 45,000 deaths every year as a result of the assault on Obamacare. The Republicans in the Minnesota House of Representatives have just voted to exclude from compulsory insurance schemes maternity benefits, hospital births, child health services, addiction services, mental health, diabetes, and cancer.

I have often been shocked by the strategy of Sunni extremists in Pakistan who assassinate Shia doctors preferentially because to kill a doctor is by extension to kill many of his future patients. But I cannot see any great moral difference in that policy from this one. How can a nation come to hate itself so much? How can a Christian bless such a programme?

One answer is that they could not do it without the services of my own trade. We may not be able to open people’s eyes to the truth, but we can arrange most comfortable blind­folds around them — and our financial future depends increasingly on our ability to do so.

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