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Press: Telegraph gives both barrels to ‘Christmas ban’

10 December 2021

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IF YOU were making a map of power in the Church of England today, would you put the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), above or below the Bishop of London — or, perhaps, just off to one side, but at the same level? It is a nice illustration of the disconnect of conventional religious reporting from the realities of the world that the appointment of the Revd Nicky Gumbel’s successor, the Revd Archie Coates, has gone entirely unremarked in the secular press.

If you want a look at the sort of news that does get reported, you might consider the Pope’s visit to the Greek island of Lesbos. For The Guardian, the story was simple. Helena Smith, the paper’s excellent Athens correspondent, told the story simply: “Pope Francis has returned to Lesbos, the Greek island long at the centre of Europe’s refugee crisis, to offer comfort to asylum seekers and harsh words for a continent that has all too often rejected them.

“While in Cyprus, his first stop, the pontiff condemned what he described as the ‘slavery’ and ‘torture’ often suffered by those fleeing war and poverty.

“‘It reminds us of the history of the last century, of the Nazis, of Stalin’, he said. ‘And we wonder how this could have happened.’”

Of course, this has no relevance at all to the policies of the British government; so the Telegraph found a more reassuring angle on the horrors of the 20th century: “Pope compares EU to dictatorship for attempts to ban Christmas.”

Some EU apparatchik had issued, and almost immediately withdrawn, a document suggesting that the word Christmas should be avoided, for fear of giving offence. Obviously, a much more important story than children drowning in the Channel or Afghans being slaughtered in Kabul, because of the cold-blooded incompetence of the British government — and the Telegraph gave it both barrels. “Trying to ban such Christian terms amounted to ‘a fad, watered-down secularism,’ Francis said. ‘It is something that throughout history has not worked. In history, many dictatorships have tried to do these things. I’m thinking of Napoleon, the Nazi dictatorship, the Communist one.’”

 

SO, WHAT sort of a Christian is the Prime Minister responsible for our border policy? Canon Giles Fraser had a shot at answering this on UnHerd: “[This] sort of dandyish bullshitter has to be very careful with religion. Because at some point religion demands precisely the kind of moral seriousness — sincerity of heart — that Boris despises, or is at a loss to know what to do with.”

He went on to tell an extraordinary story (found on YouTube) about a group of Extinction Rebellion pilgrims who bumped into Mr Johnson at the farm shop outside Chequers in 2019, and — not knowing what else to do — sang to him there. The PM was entirely discombobulated by their sincerity and directness.

“This, by the way, is the reason evangelical Christians used to get such good results in posh public schools,” Canon Fraser writes. “Here is a group of emotionally damaged children, who have suffered a kind of privileged abandonment, who have learnt to manage the absence of necessary motherly love — though this management is inevitably unstable and difficult to maintain. Suddenly, they are offered a kind of love — a ‘hand on the shoulder’ — that is as emotionally direct and all-embracing as they might imagine motherly love to be. It is a religion of the heart, so to speak, for those whose hearts are a source of pain. Some retreat from this offer, appalled. Others embrace it with huge transformative joy, and it marks them for the rest of their lives.”

And this, Canon Fraser concludes, is why Boris Johnson and Justin Welby get on so well: “They have similar demons. But they react to them in totally opposite ways, running in different directions.”

 

MY OWN scepticism about Charismatic Christianity extends to its statistics. Is it really likely that the second-largest Christian broadcasting network in the world reaches two billion people? This was the figure quested in The Washington Post article about Daystar, a network based in Dallas, Texas, led until recently by an energetic vaccine sceptic, Marcus Lamb, part of Donald Trump’s circle of Evangelical advisers.

When, in due course, he himself came down with the virus, his son explained that “There’s no doubt in my mind that this is a spiritual attack from the enemy. And he’s doing everything he can to take down my Dad.” After Pastor Lamb’s death, his widow announced that he had “100% believed” in the remedies that he peddled, and “We still stand by those, obviously.”

Yet miracles still happen in Texas. The Post also reports that a plumber renovating the lavatories in Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Houston removed a loose tile and found in the cavity behind it $600,000 in cash and cheques, which appear to have been stolen from the church in 2014. The plumber handed in all the money to the church authorities, and is known only by the name he gave a radio station — “Justin”.

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