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Press: Amazon scoop ricochets around the press

21 September 2018


The biosphere domes at the Amazon headquarters in Seattle

The biosphere domes at the Amazon headquarters in Seattle

THE only punch really to have landed on the Archbishop of Canterbury last week was planted by our own Madeleine Davies. Such a sweet girl, I always thought; but she picked up the Church Commissioners’ investment in Amazon the day after he had denounced the company; and her story, largely uncredited, ricocheted around the press.

It is worth picking up on one point in the defence that the company offered her: “All permanent Amazon fulfilment centre employees are given stock grants, which, over the last five years, were equal to £1000 or more per year, per person. Employees are offered a comprehensive benefits package.”

What this means, of course, is that the employees with stock options have been rewarded with a literally vested interest in screwing their fellow workers, since the price of the stock depends on the markets’ supposing, among other things, that Amazon is screwing the maximum possible amount out of its casual labour. This is what the stock market understands as productivity.

There was also a neat letter in The Times from the Revd Ray Anglesea: “What the Most Rev Justin Welby did not disclose was how many of his cathedrals are zero contract hour employers and how many cathedral employees have no job certainty, no sick or holiday pay, and no maternity cover. My own experience of working in a cathedral bookshop (which was on the whole an enjoyable time despite the contractual hours) was that shifts could be cancelled before the cathedral clock struck the hour for morning prayer.”

Otherwise, the attacks took two drearily obvious forms: the Church should stay out of politics (which was, literally, the conclusion of a Daily Telegraph leader), and that it was ageing and shrinking, and so should be ignored. That would, perhaps, be more compelling an argument were it not made by print newspapers, whose readership is shrinking and ageing even faster.

THERE was other news, though. The Guardian had a wonderful piece of Evangelical salesmanship, in a piece about a Korean Pentecostal church whose (female) pastor had been filmed physically beating her congregants, and encouraging them to asssault each other in some cases. “In a lengthy statement, a spokesperson for the Grace Road Group did not deny beatings occurred. The spokesperson said Shin Ok-ju ‘has biblically rebuked people by publicly reproving them so that they would turn back and no longer sin’.

‘Threshing floor is written throughout the whole Bible. . . Grace Road Church alone has carried out the perfectly biblical threshing floor,’ said the spokesperson.”

AT THE far end of that particular spectrum is an Irish gay activist, Tiernan Brady, who campaigned successfully for same-sex marriage in both Ireland and Australia. Next month, he hopes to bring the struggle to the Vatican’s synod on families.

For some reason, the Financial Times stuck him into the slot where people are interviewed about their houses. One is tempted to diagnose performative heteronormativity, but maybe some editor really wanted the story and there was nowhere else they could get it in.

He is obviously subtle, as well as a successful politician. When the interviewer brought up the removal of same-sex-headed families from the brochure for the congress on families that was staged in Dublin as the Pope visited, Brady replied, “‘Suddenly everybody focused on the fact [that the pictures] were removed. What I thought was interesting was someone put them in. Someone in the Vatican put those pictures in. So there’s something going on there. . . You can’t be a Church that campaigns against the sons and daughters of the men and women who are in your pews, because they won’t understand it.”

And this, of course, is precisely the means by which the C of E came to a partial recognition of the gay people in its midst.

ONE of the most astonishing religious stories of the week came in an unusual package: an obituary in The Washington Post of a Dutch woman who had fought the Nazis as a teenager. Raised in a communist family in the 1930s, Freddie Oversteegen and her older sister Truus joined the Resistance. The leader told them “what we’d actually have to do: sabotage bridges and railway lines,” Truus Oversteegen told an anthropologist quoted by the paper. “We told him we’d like to do that. ‘And learn to shoot, to shoot Nazis,’ [the resistance leader] added. I remember my sister saying, ‘Well, that’s something I’ve never done before!’”

The younger sister, Freddie was the first to shoot a Nazi. After that, the sisters developed a technique: they would lure soldiers and collaborators out of bars, ask if they wanted to go for a little walk in the woods, and shoot them there. But the real kicker is the end of the obituary, which quotes something that she told a journalist a few years ago: “‘I’ve shot a gun myself and I’ve seen them fall. And what is inside us at such a moment? You want to help them get up.’”

She coped with it, she said, after the war, by getting married and having three children.

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