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Press: Private Eye sets sights on new finance chair

28 April 2023

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THOSE stories that do make the national press about the workings of the central church authorities really don’t make an attractive picture. Private Eye had a brief note about Carl Hughes, John Spence’s successor as chairman of the finance subcommittee of the Archbishops’ Council (News, 6 April), and thus possibly the most powerful man in the Church of England.

A friend who had served on the General Synod once said to me that the greatest frustration of his time there was that the Synod had never found a way to hold Mr Spence accountable for anything. So long as it doesn’t, it cannot debate the decisions which shape the life of the clergy and affect the decline of the Church far more than anything to do with sexuality.

The Eye story adds to the Church Times’s coverage of Mr Hughes’s appointment the astonishing claim that he received a £2-million salary to be an independent non-executive director of En+, an energy firm part-owned by a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, who was sanctioned by the UK Government in March of last year. Three weeks after sanctions were imposed, Mr Hughes resigned from the board of the company. The £2-million figure seems unlikely, even for an accountant employed in the service of a Russian oligarch. The Eye has also dug up a letter that he signed in the long war against same-sex marriage.

What it misses, that the Church Times story brought out, is the way in which his appointment continues the analysis of the Church’s decline as essentially a business problem, to be solved by investing in a successful salesforce, while cutting administrative costs. Perhaps it is inevitable that those on the inside should understand the problem in that way; you certainly cannot run anything without that sort of analysis. But it seems to miss the qualities that make the Church attractive to outsiders in a way that nothing else can be.


THEN there was Gabriella Swerling’s excellent, and very damaging, scoop in The Sunday Telegraph: “The Church of England is obstructing its own safeguarding panel by denying them their own computers, refusing to share data and treating them with ‘hostility’, whistleblowers have told The Telegraph. . .

“The ISB’s [Independent Safeguarding Board’s] only two board members have come forward to claim that their experience working with Church officials is ‘an uphill battle and unnecessarily challenging’.

“In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, who founded the Karma Nirvana charity which aims to end honour-based abuse, and Steve Reeves MBE, executive director of Global Safeguarding, raised the alarm. They claim there has been ‘clear interference’ with their work, a ‘lack of transparency’ and a ‘reluctance to provide information’ meaning that at times they have been ‘met with hostility’.”

Ouch.


OUTSIDE the confines of the C of E, Elle Hardy — whose book on Pentecostals, Beyond Belief (C. Hurst & Co.), came out in late 2021 (Press, 19 November 2021), had an excellent long read about a deliverance ministry in Arizona. Four thousand words on Christianity in The Guardian, and the word “sex” appeared only once, and “gay” not at all — truly, we are still living in the age of miracles. It’s a piece that brings to life Marx’s phrase about religion being the heart of a heartless world — but it is written entirely without sentimentality, and with a certain respect for the outcasts she writes about.

She started her research on Zoom, led to a chat group from a Facebook post. Some people definitely prefer to be delivered that way: “Brother Joshua still attends a local church, but he agrees that undergoing deliverance online is something more — and it seems to work. ‘I personally find it easier over the phone or remotely,’ he says. ‘Fear or rejection demons will get people to clam up, so they’ll withhold — they’ll fear manifesting or vomiting.’”

One thought that occurred when I read this piece was that demonic belief is more realistic than most of Anglo-American pop culture, in that it allows people to understand their inner selves as an arena of conflict. What you might call Instagram culture denies this altogether: when you become “your best self”, you are delivered from doubt, double-mindedness, and all the other accoutrements of humanity. In the world of “influencers”, the obstacles you have to overcome are all the fault of other people. Against this, understanding your own weaknesses and difficulties as the result of demons may well be a help to fighting them.

Then there is, of course, the financial aspect, without which none of this makes sense. “Most often: participants wanted to wean themselves or loved ones off medications like antidepressants and insulin. The promotion of anti-vax ideas in cosmic right and prophetic Christian circles is almost a given, but it seems that increasingly, so too is a rejection of conventional, life-saving treatments.

“All too often, [Brother Joshua] is preaching to a choir who can’t afford health insurance and prescriptions. In this light, deliverance from evil takes on a whole new meaning. People have to have faith because they can’t afford not to.”

It’s really worth taking the time to read.

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