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Press: Pay-off won’t save Christ Church’s reputation

28 January 2022


BEFORE we get on to the Anglican stories, a reminder that wilder and wackier things happen outside the Church of England. My favourite came from Georgia, where the Orthodox Church has shown remarkable flexibility in its fund-raising strategy: “Just ahead of the new year, residents of Georgia’s remote mountain region of Svaneti gathered in a church to make a solemn oath upon an icon of St. George: that they would not mine cryptocurrency,” reported the news website Eurasianet. “Svaneti is best known for its towering, snowy peaks, picturesque stone-hewn hamlets, and strict traditional code of honour. Increasingly, however, it is also known for cryptocurrency production.

“Some residents have been taking advantage of a government program providing free electricity to mountain regions, with the aim of keeping the remote communities alive, and using the subsidized power to churn out virtual money in their medieval towers.”

Bishop Anton Gulukhia of Vani-Baghdati was caught running 50 bitcoin miners and is wholly unrepentant. “‘If I have them, then God bless; if not, may God give them to me,” he told the TV network Mtavari Arkh, according to the report. “Is it a crime to have them?” Perhaps he is auditioning for a job as faith tsar in Downing Street.

IN OTHER global news. Kaya Burgess of The Times had the scoop on plans to give a larger formal vote to other Provinces in the choice of an Archbishop of Canterbury (News, Leader comment, 21 January). As far back as George Carey telling the UN General Assembly in 1996 that “the World-wide Anglican Communion . . . has very great potential as a player on the international scene”, the temptation to promote yourself to the status of World Spiritual Leader has been hard for the archbishops of Canterbury to resist. A therapist would call it a retreat to grandiosity.

gave a lot of space to the review of the John Smyth scandal commissioned by Winchester College (News, 21 January), and used the obvious money quote: “The inner circle of the Christian Forum which formed around Smyth in the 1970s and early 1980s shares many features of a cult. Its members showed signs of what would today be described as radicalisation.”

It is this quote, more than anything else, that will choke off public-school Evangelical culture over the next decade; for no school will in future want anything remotely cult-like on its premises. How “Bash” Nash would writhe in his grave to hear his boys described as “radicalised”, almost as if they were Muslims and not gentlemen at all. But since there’s a reasonable chance that our next Wykehamist Prime Minister will be a Hindu, this reflects only the wider collapse of the imperial Christian Establishment.

THE Christ Church, Oxford, saga has now twisted itself into a Gordian knot that cannot be cut even with millions of pounds. The Financial Times story by Henry Mance, who obviously has good sources among the dons, set out the problem: “The head of one of Oxford university’s grandest colleges has indicated that he will agree to step down after a long-running dispute in a deal that includes a £1.5m pay-off and the settlement of a sexual harassment claim against him.

“But the woman who has complained about his conduct said she wanted the investigation ‘to proceed unimpeded and without interference’, posing a dilemma for the university and the Charity Commission, which are pushing for a rapid resolution.”

For the Dean, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, to be offered a clean million-and-a half-pounds, net of tax, along with all his costs paid, is a truly remarkable victory, and one that shows how much more the Governing Body thinks it has to lose from a proper Charity Commission investigation. But this precipitous retreat may have come too late to save anyone’s reputation. It may even have come too late to save the system under which Oxford colleges conduct themselves as self-governing oligarchies under charity law.

In Oxford, though, greed is mitigated by custom and a sort of decency. In Liberty Baptist University, the stronghold of the Falwell dynasty, no such restraints applied. Jerry Falwell, Jr, who founded it, was sacked last year. His crime was not to endorse Donald Trump, nor to walk on stage in front of his students carrying a pistol and tell them: “If more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in.”

No, it was the discovery that he had been an acquiescent husband while his wife conducted a long affair with a pool attendant in Florida. The Falwells even bought a sleazy Miami hotel with the pool boy and two associates, both named Jesus. When the affairs, business and otherwise, unravelled in the media, Mr Falwell was sacked. The university is now suing him for $40 million “to claw back his eight-figure severance package”, Vanity Fair says.

Of course, there is no hint of shame in the 10,000-word story. As Mr Falwell says at the end of it “The religious elite has got this idea that somehow their sins aren’t as bad as everyone else’s.”

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