OOF. Dame Moira Gibb’s report on the Peter Ball scandal was horrible news for the Church of England, no matter how you read it, and it was widely and consistently reported that way, too.
The Daily Mail, for which Lord Carey has over the years written 17 op-ed articles in his position as an exemplar of morality, did not hesitate to put the knife in. “Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey colluded with senior clergy to protect a paedophile bishop, a damning report revealed yesterday,” was its lead.
I don’t like to think of the scrum now forming to take his place there as the author of pieces such as “The black day that Christmas finally died”; “Why I’m voting for Brexodus”; “Why don’t we teach migrants we are a Christian country?”; “How can it be a hate crime to show your faith in Christ?”
But there was no other way to spin the report for The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, the Express, the Mirror, or The Sun (”Quit call to Carey over perv coverup”), all of which covered the story from the angle of cover-up and collusion.
The Mail diarist “Ephraim Hardcastle” suggested that Lord Carey be expelled from the Royal Victorian Order by the Queen. That is gratuitous. One thing the former Archbishop did absolutely right was his apology, which was straightforward and honourable: “I accept the criticisms made of me. I apologise to the victims of Peter Ball. I believed Peter Ball’s protestations and gave too little credence to the vulnerable young men and boys behind those allegations. I regret that after Peter Ball was cautioned I did not place his name on the Lambeth list.”
HORRIFYING though the Peter Ball story is, it was entirely dwarfed by a coruscating AFP report on the fate of adolescent boys in Afghanistan, who are abandoned by their families if they are raped, and, once discarded for being too old at the age of 17 or so, have to eke out a living as dancers at parties and prostitutes after them. At least in England the victims were not abandoned by the whole of society like that.
THE New York Review of Books had a review of a study of Chinese religion by Ian Johnson, The Souls of China: The return of religion after Mao (Allen Lane), which was independently recommended to me by a China-watching colleague here. The statistics quoted in the review are astonishing: “Official surveys have revealed that there are half a million Buddhist monks and nuns in 33,000 temples, and 48,000 Daoist priests and nuns affiliated with 9,000 Daoist temples. The great majority of Protestants are members of underground or ‘house churches.’ Assuming these are at least approximately accurate figures, around a third of the country’s 1.3 billion people admit to a need for a faith to sustain them.”
But what makes the book sound really worth while is the subtlety and sympathy with which believers are approached. He quotes a sermon by Wang Yi, a former human-rights lawyer who now pastors a church on the 19th floor of an office block in Chengdu: “Auntie Wei was someone I think it would be fair to call a simple woman. She was a mother and had a hard life. She raised two daughters mostly on her own. Her husband had died young. . .
“She was not someone who heard the word wansui [long live] too often. If she heard it, she would have thought it applied to China, or the Communist Party, or Chairman Mao. . .
“I tell you that she can hear wansui now because she is wansui; she is immortal because of Jesus. It’s not the government that can confer this word. It’s God, and it’s by how we live our daily lives. It’s the choices we make despite the immoral society we live in. . .
“Auntie Wei was one of our sisters. We loved her. But it’s she who possesses eternal life, not the government. She created it for herself by living a good life, by being our sister in the church, and resisting the immorality around her.”
Wang is now setting up a seminary, where people will be taught New Testament Greek and church-planting. It is extraordinary the way in which the patterns of the 16th-century European Reformation are repeated centuries later in countries where they would have been unthinkable.
Still, it is quite clear from the figures that traditional Chinese religion, with its lack of systematic theology and preference for ritual over doctrine, remains far larger than all forms of Christianity combined.
BACK in this country, the other Church of England story to catch the newsdesks’ imagination seems to have started in the Financial Times, which ran a story on the scheme to replace or supplement the collection plate with a contactless card terminal, so that casual visitors would be able to pay without effort: “Starting this summer, around 40 churches will be equipped with handheld terminals to process card payments — up to the value of £30 — with a view to offering the system to every diocese next year.”
This was widely picked up, as is often the case when the Church does something sensible, but I liked the FT explanation that Harvest Festivals and Christmas were the two “box office” occasions in the church year when the system would get properly tested.