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Press: Hunt for a solution to persecution of Christians  

12 July 2019


The Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, introduce the review

The Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, introduce the review

THE General Synod did not much trouble the papers, although the Daily Mail picked up a good, rather discreditable, nugget about the gap between its aspirations and the actions that it is prepared to fund: “Church of England leaders have rejected a plea for worshippers to pay to retrain refugees so they can work in Britain.

“The plan called for each of the 42 dioceses to ‘provide the financial support’ for at least one qualified refugee — such as a doctor, lawyer or teacher — to gain their accreditation in the UK.

“However the Refugee Council charity indicates that retraining a refugee doctor costs £25,000 — meaning the Church could have faced a total bill of £1 million.

“The General Synod meeting in York last night dismissed the idea. . .

“The Synod agreed to back more English language teaching and to ‘support refugees in accessing the workforce’ — but they did not promise money to back their support.”

This is the kind of story that will damage the Church among Mail readers, who derive a fierce pleasure from the belief that it is only shame that keeps people from selfishness, and that benevolence towards strangers is unnatural and almost unknown in the wild. This is close enough to the truth that the Synod should have been more careful about encouraging it.

THE report by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, on the persecution of Christians got a rather better showing, but only in the context of the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s campaign to become Prime Minister, since he had commissioned it.

The resulting coverage does nothing to increase respect for politicians: “Jeremy Hunt has pledged if he wins the leadership election to develop a term for anti-Christian hatred equivalent to Islamophobia and antisemitism and impose sanctions on countries that persecute Christians,” The Times reported.

So, he’s going to sanction Saudi Arabia, is he? And then start a diplomatic fight with the Modi government in India, stand up to China, and lecture Pakistan as well?

The persecution of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere is a dreadful thing, but government inaction has nothing whatever to do with what Mr Hunt denounced as “misguided political correctness”. It is based mostly on powerlessness, and, where we have any power, on a determination not to let considerations of human rights interfere with profit, as in our relations with Saudi Arabia and China.

ACROSS the Atlantic, there were two interesting religious developments. The first was covered in The Economist’s excellent Erasmus blog, which looked at the most recent bout of infighting among American conservative Evangelicals.

Quoting John Fae, a history professor at Messiah College, in Pennsylvania, the blog divides Trump-supporting Evangelicals into three: “First, a section of the mainstream religious right whose origins go back to the 1980s; second, a cohort of independent ‘charismatics’ who claim the gifts of the Pentecostal tradition (visions, miracles and direct revelations from God) but do not belong to any established Pentecostal group; and third, advocates of the ‘prosperity gospel’ who resemble the second category but put emphasis on the material rewards which following their particular version of Christianity will bring. What defines all these ‘courtiers’ is an insistence that loyalty to Mr Trump must be unconditional.”

On the Left, the faith in human will-power which drives the prosperity gospel is expressed in New Age enthusiasms. The standard-bearer for these in politics is Marianne Williamson, who is running as a Democratic presidential candidate. The New York Times had a wonderful examination of her beliefs by Sam Kestenbaum.

Ms Williamson made her name as the interpreter of a book by Dr Helen Schucman, who had been working as a research psychologist in 1965 when she heard a voice. “It urged her to take dictation. ‘This is a course in miracles,’ it said. ‘Please take notes.’” So she started to do so, and, over the next ten years, these notes grew to a 1300-page book, which she came to believe had been dictated to her by Jesus.

“The book drew from older traditions like Christian Science and New Thought,” Kestenbaum explains. “Reality, it taught, was illusory; conflicts dissolve when one realizes the power of love and forgiveness. This change in perception, the book’s narrator says, produces miracles.

“It opens cryptically: ‘Nothing unreal exists. Nothing real can be threatened. Herein lies the peace of God.’”

Ms Williamson wrote a much shorter account of how the book had changed her life. This was picked up by Oprah Winfrey, who read it in 1990 and told her television audience that she had experienced 157 miracles herself since doing so. Kestenbaum quotes some of her wisdom: “The cause of your excess weight is fear, which is a place in your mind where love is blocked.” “Many people fail to manifest money because on some deep level they don’t think they should.” And, all the way back to Christian Science, “Disease”, she wrote, “is loveless thinking materialized.”

I will never be poor again, now that I have read these words. I will just understand that I am failing to manifest money — an entirely different thing.

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