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Press: The Times targets Assad’s C of E apologists

02 November 2018

SYRIAN PRESIDENCY

The delegation from the UK meets President Assad in 2016

The delegation from the UK meets President Assad in 2016

THE TIMES got hold of the official view of the trips to Syria organised by Lady Cox (News, 20 April) and it was remarkably salty: “The Rev Andrew Ashdown . . . is ‘a very public Assad apologist’ who ‘peddles the worst of the regime propaganda’ and that ‘he and his cabal offer the regime plenty of unwelcome opportunity to criticise UK policy and present the Church of England and Lords as on-side . . . [his] views were the worst of regime propaganda and cannot be taken as honest’.

“A diplomat who met Mr Ashdown said: ‘Clearly he had swallowed much of the regime’s narrative.’ His beliefs are ‘not irrelevant in this post-truth, online community, propaganda-influenced world’. . .

“Lady Cox, a longstanding champion of humanitarian causes, was dismissed by officials as someone who ‘basically parrots regime propaganda’.”

Mr Ashdown told The Times: “I have never said that the Syrian government is blameless. There has been violence on all sides. I have never claimed that the Church of England is ‘on-side’. On the contrary, I have always made clear that I am visiting independently. . . My views are based on what I have personally seen, heard and witnessed.”

The only strange thing in the story is that it was consistently presented as if British policy in Syria mattered. The lead was “A ‘cabal’ from the Church of England and the House of Lords has undermined British foreign policy by going to Syria and ‘parroting’ President Assad’s propaganda, memos released by the Foreign Office warn.”

Surely the objection to parroting Assad’s propaganda is that it is morally corrupting rather than that it influences British policy. More important is what the regime says about the visitors: as the document observes, “When Lord Carey and his wife joined a trip in 2017, the regime media portrayed the visitors as a ‘House of Lords and Anglican Church’ delegation.”

I’m sure he wasted no time in disabusing them.

 

IT WAS a good week for Evangelicals in the financial press: The Economist wrote about church-planting by Holy Trinity, Brompton. This contained news of an extremely worrying heresy: “Their success lies in repackaging Christianity to appeal to the young, says Bishop [Ric] Thorpe [the Bishop of Islington]. Harbour Church’s main morning service starts with pastries and micro-brewed Brazilian coffee.”

Coffee before the service? There is even a hint that it might be decent coffee. Such a practice cannot be part of the faith once delivered to the saints. Depending on the quality of the pastries, I think this might account for the statistic quoted that 38 per cent of parishioners in HTB churches in London had transferred from other congregations.

Over at the FT, there was a long and rather moving piece by our own Madeleine Davies on why she still calls herself an Evangelical. The meat of it dealt with the corruption of white Evangelicals in the United States under President Trump, but this is familiar to Church Times readers and Greenbeltish people.

But part of it was news to this audience: “After evensong last month, a priest from a different wing of the Church asked me why I considered myself evangelical and I found myself talking about my childhood. After my mother died when I was 12, it was people in an evangelical church that rallied round and, significantly, helped me to reconcile what had happened with my faith. They never attempted to explain away this horrifying event, but they offered practical help to my family and, drawing on scripture, affirmed my belief in resurrection and heaven.

“Certainty can constrict, but it can also feel like blessed assurance, like standing on very solid earth.”

 

HARRIET SHERWOOD, in The Guardian, had actually travelled around the states looking at Evangelical resistance to Trump and she found it — in a parking lot.

“In a church parking lot in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Rev Vince Anderson was pouring sweat as he pounded his keyboard and belted out his ‘dirty gospel’ anthems. Taking aim at a string of Donald Trump’s policies, Anderson repeatedly roared: ‘I don’t think Jesus woulda done it that way.’

“The afternoon rally was part of a 30-city tour organised by Vote Common Good, urging Christians to use their votes in next month’s midterm elections to flip control of Congress to the Democrats.”

She also talked to the Revd Tony Campolo and Bishop Michael Curry: Campolo was pessimistic and Curry upbeat. But there was a fair amount of detail about the other side. Something called “The Faith and Freedom Coalition” is spending “$18m to target 125 million conservative Christian voters in 19 key states, and is partnering with 30,000 local churches to distribute ‘voter education guides’ comparing candidates on key issues.”

I don’t know how this compares to the efforts originally made to get Trump elected, but it does make me hope that Napoleon wasn’t thinking of American Christianity when he said that God was on the side of the big battalions.

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