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Press: Grab some prayer from a Christian billionaire

01 February 2019


A Grab taxi in Hanoi, Vietnam, last year

A Grab taxi in Hanoi, Vietnam, last year

THE news of Asia Bibi’s freedom came through as I was writing this column. You may know more about whether she is safe and well, by the time you read it, but it is too early to do anything measured here, except, for those who wear hats, to throw them in the air.


OTHER than hers, the Asian religious story that caught my eye came from Singapore, where a reporter for Bloomberg News, Yoolim Lee, broke her neck when her taxi crashed: “The first thing I remember about the accident was the sound of thunder. The second was realizing the sound wasn’t thunder, but my head banging against the window. We’d sped through a junction where my driver was supposed to stop and had collided with a black Mercedes-Benz.

“A moment later there was another loud noise — the sound of a second car, a Honda, crashing into my door. The contents of my blue purse scattered in every direction.

“When it was over, I couldn’t move my upper body. I was in more pain than I’d ever experienced, my left side felt numb, and it was hard to breathe. . . I tried to scream, but no sound came out.

The taxi had been supplied by Grab, a wonderfully named competitor to Uber in the “ride hailing” business: essentially, the rapid supply of cheap unlicensed minicabs to anyone with a smartphone. The founder and driving force is an Evangelical Christian, Anthony Tan.

“Youthful and fit, with thick, dark hair, Tan is outgoing — he’s always greeted me with a hug — and very determined. . . Like many CEOs, Tan sometimes talked about ‘servant leadership,’ but unlike any I’d met, he defined the concept in theological terms. ‘If Jesus can wash his disciples’ feet, then who am I?’ he once asked me. One of his favourite lines, ‘We are so blessed,’ was a sort of catchphrase among employees.”

You can see that someone is blessed. The company is presently valued at $14 billion, and Mr Tan is only 35.

After the crash, he came to see the reporter in hospital, bringing flowers and nourishing soup. He took her hand and prayed aloud for her, but when she asked for details about her driver — like how long he had been with the company and what his record was like — Mr Tan said that he had had a memo but couldn’t find it on his smartphone. The company paid her $S20 compensation.

When she was largely recovered, she tracked down her driver, who turned out to be 70 years old, and ruined by the accident. Grab had fired him; his insurance hadn’t covered all the costs of repairing the car he’d rented; and he’d paid a $S200 fine and had his licence endorsed.

Seeing him, she was moved to forgiveness, but, on her way home, she wrote in her notebook some of what the accident had cost:

“Me: left vertebral artery. Driver: livelihood + S$3,700 in fines and expenses. Grab: S$20, the refund they’d given me after the accident.”

When next she saw Mr Tan, at a media event, he took her to a private office and said that he could not stop apologising for the pain he had caused her.


THE other notable apology of the week was, of course, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s apology for — well, what, exactly? It was not an apology for paying off “Carol”, who had made the original allegations against George Bell. It appeared to be an apology and expression of regret for making public her allegations. Was it also an apology for the fact that she had been compensated for something which the Church now seems to believe did not ever happen?

If the Bishop is to have a statue in Canterbury; if the buildings once named after him are once more to be returned to their original names; if Chichester Cathedral can once more refer to its bell tower without shame — then the obvious corollary is that the Church should not have believed “Carol”.

There is, of course, a case for compensating her for the brusque way in which her allegations were at first brushed off. And it is easy to understand, given all that we now know about the diocese of Chichester, that, when these stories were coming to light, there was a reasonable presumption of guilt over anything that the diocese had done about child abuse. But the story still leaves a bad smell.


FRASER NELSON interviewed the Archbishop for The Spectator, and didn’t really lay a finger on him. There is one breathtaking moment: Archbishop Welby says that if you are over 70 you are eight times as likely to go to church than if you are under 30, and this is a huge challenge.

Nelson goes on: “I ask if he thinks rising secularism is also a challenge: that young people who go to church are seen not just as weird but as potential bigots and homophobes. It’s not a story he recognises.”

Hang on: this is a story that he very obviously recognises. He may not wish to admit its existence, but that is another matter. Then, he told Nelson that “Bishop Bell was — is — one of my great heroes.”

Perhaps Welbyology ought to become a recognised discipline, as Kremlinology once was.

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