THE DAILY TELEGRAPH continues to pursue the John Smyth story with a praiseworthy ferocity that other papers do not even try to emulate (Comment, 17 February, News, Press, 10 February).
Monday’s update was remarkable: “It has now emerged that a number of senior figures at high-profile evangelical organisations were told of the claims but did not alert the authorities.
“David Fletcher, an Iwerne trustee who oversaw an investigation into the alleged assaults, said he told the Church Society, a powerful voice on the evangelical wing of the Church of England, about the claims in 1982.
“David Jackman, then a senior minister at a leading evangelical church also admitted he was told about the allegations at the same time. Mr Jackman went on to become head of the Proclamation Trust, which helps train evangelical preachers. . .
“Mr Jackman, who is a director of Keep Marriage Special, a group launched by the Church Society that claimed that letting same sex couples marry would lead to the legalisation of incest, said he believed he had acted correctly in not notifying police.”
As if that were not enough, the paper goes on to say that Jamie and the Revd Sue Colman, a millionaire power couple connected with Holy Trinity, Brompton, are separately being looked into by the Charity Commission for their charities’ funding of Mr Smyth after he left the country for a fresh start in Zimbabwe (where a young man was found dead in his swimming pool), and later South Africa. “Mrs Colman apologised for the donations but said her husband had not told her about the claims against Mr Smyth.”
I am not quite sure whether the Church should be more worried about these stories emerging, or about the fact that no one seems to find them particularly remarkable. I know that there is a crisis in religious reporting, but this is surely an astonishing tale.
IN QUITE another part of the forest, there were two thought-provoking pieces about what drives young men to volunteer for Islamic State. Nazia Parveen, The Guardian’s industrious North of England correspondent, found that 16 jihadis had grown up in the Moss Side district of Manchester. Quite a number of them were, to judge from their names, converts, among them Jamal Udeen al-Harith, formerly Ronald Fiddler, who died as a suicide bomber in Iraq.
Ms Parveen talked to Maurice Core, a boxer who has for years been training young men in the Moss Side area: “Core, who is used to gangs bringing their troubles to his premises, says what is pulling these youngsters toward terrorism is something very powerful that he does not understand.
“‘The former light heavyweight champion also knew al-Harith. His sister, Maxine, worked at the gym. ‘Again a completely normal family. Ronald would come in sometimes — he was a nice lad. I can’t begin to understand what draws them [to terrorism]. I work hard here to try and steer them on to the right path but what is happening in their private lives can sometimes take over.’
“‘Moss Side has always been linked to a gang culture but now that is dying. I can’t say for sure whether [Islamic fundamentalism] is a new home for youth who want to be part of a gang but something is drawing them towards it. Something that is out of our hands.”
The interesting thing here is that, although there is a great deal of religion in Moss Side, what seems to be driving young men is contact with charismatic friends. This is related to the way in which Facebook is used to influence voters with “fake news”: again, we trust — or want to trust — what our friends tell us.
PROSPECT magazine had an interesting take from Arthur Snell, who, er, “worked for the Foreign Office” before being named head of the Prevent programe in 2008. “Converts to Islam represent a small proportion of global Muslims but are significantly over-represented among Islamist terrorists.
“Joining IS is like joining a street gang: it gives a sense of belonging, of purpose and camaraderie. But, unlike a criminal gang, IS also gives its adherents the chance to believe they are warriors in an epic global battle.
“When we start to see radicalisation as a social problem, touching on mental health, self-esteem and loneliness, we may start to be better at identifying and preventing the Ronald Fiddlers of the future.”
The interplay here between ideology and social position is what gives both of them life and fire. It shows how futile it is to write about religion as if it were solely a matter of doctrine, and not something to do with imagination, hope, and fear.
These are all the things that make it worth while, and at the same time the ones that make it dangerous. There are atheists who claim that religion is something we should outgrow, but I worry that we’re not grown up enough to handle it.