Andrew Brown: Media elite turns on religious broadcasting 

03 November 2017


Iconic: the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove (left) is interviewed during a broadcast of Radio 4’s Today programme from Wigmore Hall in central London last week

Iconic: the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove (left) is interviewed during a broadcast of Radio 4’s Today programme from Wigmore Hall in central Lon...

I AVOID the problem with Thought for the Day by not listening to the Today programme either. I find the remorselessly adversarial spirit of the interviews dreary. About once every three weeks, something is said on it which seems important, sometimes for as long as till lunchtime, and, in that case, I can always tell colleagues that I was in the shower, and listen to the relevant bit on the iPlayer.

But it is still an astonishing demonstration of the inbred concerns of the media elite that The Times should devote a leader to calling for its abolition. “Religious broadcasting has tried to keep up with shifts in public sentiment but found it hard. This may be because a majority of Britons do not consider themselves reli­gious, but it doesn’t mean that there’s no call for a change of pace on the radio as the coun­­try brews its second cup of tea.”

The Daily Telegraph ran a piece in its defence; The Guardian, meanwhile, did not comment at all, supposing that the 500th anniversary of the Reformation was a more significant moment in world history.


THE Swedish Lutheran Church was in trouble of its own: it has a staff of 64 in the com­­mun­ica­­­tions department, 63 of whom failed to stop the other one from tweeting out an animated gif of a Baroque Jesus twinkling with his fingers with the caption “When Taco Friday finally comes around!”


THERE was quite a lot of coverage of the curious case of Felix Ngole, a fundamentalist from Cameroon who had been studying for a degree in social work at Sheffield until the university was made aware of one of his post­ings on Facebook.

In this, he had apparently “upheld the bib­lical view of homosexuality”, his barrister, Paul Diamond, said when Mr Ngole sued the uni­versity for throwing him off the course. Now the presence of Mr Diamond on your legal team is not a leading indicator of success: I can’t offhand remember a single case he has won of all the many he has brought, in an attempt to prove that Christians are discriminated against. But it does seem to raise wor­rying issues of principle if remarks made in private discussions on Facebook can be used against you two years later.


Mr Diamond and his employers, Christian Concern, say that there is no point in having the right to freedom of expression if the con­­­sequence of expressing your beliefs is that you lose your job. I would have thought that this depended rather on the beliefs and the job. It is perfectly legal to hold that polygamy is a desirable state of affairs, and that slavery is ordained by God. It is even possible to find biblical passages defending both practices. But to post them as biblical injunctions — or even, more plausibly, as Qur’anic injunctions — that should be obeyed today would disqualify you from teaching or social work.

The words that Mr Ngole posted were nowhere quoted in the reports. If he merely said that the Bible condemned homosexuality, or that he did not believe in gay marriage, I don’t see that that should lead to his losing his job, provided he did not act on these beliefs. If, on the other hand, he argued that God said that homosexuality was an abomination and punishable by death, with the implication that we today should take the same view, then the University of Sheffield was entirely right to conclude that he was unfit to be a social worker.

In a nice twist on debates about “radicalisa­tion”, he is now reported to be working vari­ously as “a supply teacher” and “a teacher of religious education”.


JUST how far the Ngole attitude can go was shown by a document put out by the Roman Catholic diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, offering pastoral guidance on the funerals of gay people. The closet is to close over them more completely than the grave. “There should be no mention of the ‘partner’ either by name or by other reference (nor reference to the unnatural union) in any liturgical booklet, prayer card, homily, sermon, talk by the priest, deacon, etc. . .

 “A great risk for scandal and confusion is for the name of the celebrating priest and/or the parish to be listed in any public (e.g., newspaper) or semi-public obituary or notice that also lists the predeceased or surviving ‘partner’ in some manner. This can’t happen for obvious reasons.”

Clearly, whoever wrote this knows a lot about the subject.


THE New York Times had a fantastically over-written story about the babies who died in a home for unmarried mothers in Tuam, in County Galway. I thought that it was pretty unfair to the Roman Catholic Church, but if you treat unmarried mothers as the diocese of Madison treats gay people, you will rouse hatreds that take centuries to quench. The Pope gets this, as does the Archbishop of Canterbury. But those people calling for a new Reformation over sexuality might remember just how much hatred the last one unleashed into the world.

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