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Press: Save the Parish sharpens counter-messaging

20 January 2023


ONE of Conquest’s laws states that every organisation is run by secret agents of its opponents. For a body such as the Church of England, almost all of whose opponents are also members, this principle has complicated outworkings. But it looks as though Save the Parish formed a tactical alliance with Vladimir Putin and — of course — the Vatican to pull off the announcement that the Church Commissioners are to pay £100 million in what are certainly not reparations for slavery, except that they look exactly as if they are (News, 13 January).

This story first surfaced in the papers for last year’s Lambeth Conference (Press, 29 July). In one of the least-read sections of the Lambeth Calls was a demand for the establishment of a committee to “establish and publish holistic theologies of redemptive action and reparation”, and for the Archbishop of Canterbury to use his position on the Commissioners to “ensure that their response to the Church’s historic links to colonialism and slavery” were shaped by the views of this committee.
The proposed responses included identifying “criteria, communities, and programmes that would serve a Communion wide witness to redemptive action.”

The Commissioners told me then that the resolutions of the Conference were purely advisory, and, so far as I know, the proposed committee never existed. But the policy seems to have been decided anyway. All that has changed is that Save the Parish has sharpened its counter-message. When first I asked the group’s chairman, the Revd Marcus Walker, for comment in the summer, he came up with: “It seems beyond bizarre when we have active, live issues right now — including, for example, the Church of Hong Kong’s backing of a government actively engaged in slavery right now — to be focused so much on the 18th century.”

But, for the Telegraph last week, Fr Walker’s line was rather less academic: “Suddenly, the Church has money. After decades of telling us that there is no money to fund the churches and priests who keep the Church alive on the front line, suddenly they’ve found £100 million behind the back of the sofa.

“How can the Church have the brass neck ever to ask for another penny from its parishes again?”

Harriet Sherwood, in The Guardian, asked the interesting question where and how the money could be spent: “The C of E acknowledged on Tuesday that £100m was a large sum in a time of ‘significant financial challenges’. The amount may be generous but it is likely to spread thinly across educational and other projects in west Africa and the Caribbean, where the fund’s activities are expected to be focused.”

Charles Moore, in the Telegraph, took the view that profiting from slavery was abhorrent, but that the Church’s real crime was profiting from the Reformation.
I’d love to know how giving to the Church correlates with newspaper readership. Both The Guardian and the Telegraph, in their different ways, do whatever they can to discourage giving. A reader of both papers will learn that their money goes to a bloated, racist, sexist, and yet oddly woke bureaucracy that has simultaneously betrayed 2000 years of Christianity and remained stuck in the Dark Ages. Yet still they give. Can it be that they get something else out of church than policy positions?

ONE of the oddities of The Guardian’s style book is that, while the staff are deeply divided over who counts as a woman, and all actresses are known as actors, women priests are always described as “female”. So, the piece by the Revd Martine Oborne, who chairs Females and the Church, denouncing the translation of the Rt Revd Philip North to Blackburn (News, 13 January), was full of linguistic contortions: “[The Bishop of Lancaster, Jill] Duff isn’t the only female clergy member to welcome North’s nomination — many no doubt know of his gifts and, despite not fully recognising their orders, how he has been supportive of female clergy in the past.”

What caught my eye, though, was the attack on “mutual flourishing”. Mrs Oborne described it as “an open wound” in the Church. At the risk of angering a lot of my friends, this is absurd. The position of the Church of England is that good Christians can disagree on this, and remain good Christians even when they are clearly wrong. Bishop North is not being preferred as part of a rather squalid deal with an organised pressure group, as the flying bishops are; he has been chosen, for the third time, because enough of his colleagues believe that his gifts in other directions outweigh his mistaken opinion about women. Of how many other bishops could that be said by their opponents?

NO WONDER that so many are turning to Satanism. The Daily Star, which plagiarised the Truss/lettuce comparison from The Economist, picked up a good Sunday Telegraph story for another memorable front page. “Youngsters are increasingly ditching religion and turning to Satan worship, according to top boffins” was the Star’s summary. The real news line, though, was buried a long way down in the Sunday Telegraph piece: “Contrary to the stereotypes, only a fringe minority of Satanists actually worship the devil.” Is nothing sacred any more?

Professor Nicholas Humphrey objected to the description of his 1998 lecture on parental control as “Nick’s Fascist paper”, quoted by Andrew Brown last week (Press, 13 January). We have agreed to post his paper online so that readers can judge for themselves on the basis of what he said. Read the paper here — Editor

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