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Press: News desks want to know, is the C of E woke?

15 July 2022


THE Telegraph, the Mail, and The Times all carried the news that the Church of England no longer knows what a woman is. It’s a story that shows how important context is to understanding what people are trying to say. There was nothing untrue in the Bishop in Europe’s statement to the General Synod that the Church had never before needed to define something so self-evident, but the question might come up as a result of the Living in Love and Faith process (does it stand for Living in Loathing and Fear?).

Had I written a news story about it, it would have been about what Kaya Burgess of The Times and Gabriella Swerling of the Telegraph wrote — not much to see here, move along, folks. (As far as I can see, the Mail just picked up the Telegraph’s story). But that’s not really what readers or news desks want. So, in The Times, the headline was “Church fails to say what a woman is”, and, in the Telegraph, “Church of England: there is ‘no official definition’ of a woman”.

All this is because, in the world beyond the Synod, the Tory leadership campaign has required every candidate to promise to eradicate wokery, as well as to lower tax, win the Ukraine war, and complete Brexit by unmooring Britain from the continental shelf and floating off to Atlantis.

Outside the Synod, the question means, and was meant to mean, “Is the Church of England woke?” The honest answer would be, No, because it’s asleep. Most parts of it haven’t begun to think about this and don’t much want to either. Thinking about gender as well as sexuality is just going to be too much. I know personally two trans women priests and one more by repute. But whether or in what sense they are actually women is a question that the Church has left unasked as well as unanswered, since they’d be qualified for the job either way.

THE Telegraph’s tradition of prurient court coverage is almost the only thing to survive the changes of the past 30 years. So it was that the next day it carried the fullest headline of all the national papers: “Tory MP Jamie Wallis fled car crash ‘in leather mini-skirt, high heels and pearls’”. The Times omitted the high heels, while The Guardian went with “Tory MP Jamie Wallis banned from driving for failing to stop after crash”. None asked whether the Conservative Party has a definition of a woman.

THE most interesting foreign religious story was the assassination of the former Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, apparently because the suspect’s mother had been bankrupted after handing all her money over to the Moonies. The FT did the story deadpan: “South Korea’s Unification Church said on Monday it was baffled by reports the man suspected of killing former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was motivated by anger against the group.

“The head of the Japanese branch of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, often known as the Moonies, confirmed that the mother of suspect Tetsuya Yamagami was a member of the church.

“But branch chair Tomihiro Tanaka declined to comment on suggestions large donations by Yamagami’s mother had put the family under severe financial stress, and said gifts to the church from members were voluntary.”

It turns out that there are 600,000 Moonies in Japan, and the group was introduced to the country by Abe’s grandfather, another Prime Minister. Since then, it has made generous donations to the Liberal Democratic Party, presumably to encourage anti-Communism.

I remember being sent on a Moonie-funded freebie round South-East Asia in 1981 with about 100 other journalists, most of the American provincials. The idea was to fire up the Americans with anti-Communist fervour and encourage them to lobby to sell arms to Taiwan, but many of the journalists lacked fervour. All through the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea itself, my room-mate kept me posted in quite unnecessary detail on the progress of the infection that he had picked up on our first night in Bangkok.

Of course, the American Right was, or seemed to be, a lot less crazy in those days. Today, when, according to Harper’s Magazine, half of the Republican Party and a fifth of all registered Democrats believe that there is a child-sex ring at the top of the Democratic Party, nothing should really surprise us.

But, still, a Roman Catholic bishop praising a video that calls his own Pope “A diabolically disoriented clown” is worth at least a raising of the eyebrows. The video that Bishop Joseph Strickland, of Tyler, Texas, recommended to his followers went on to say that Pope Francis “knows that it is it’s his job to destroy this Church because he has to get rid of true religion . . . [it] is all being gradually undermined by the Francis experiment, which of course is just a continuation of the experiment of the Second Vatican Council.”

Bishop Strickland later clarified his position. It had not been his intent to disparage the Pope, he explained, and left the original tweet up.

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