THIS has been one of those weeks in which there is a disconnect between the secular and the church political coverage of what’s going on. Twitter, the BBC religion department, and the various Anglican blogs have lit up with the safeguarding crisis; but, between the real news of the mercenaries’ mutiny in Russia and the confected news of children pretending to be animals at school, there was no room for what seemed to enthusiasts to be the most important story of the week.
The Mail, for instance, carried a wire-service report of the announcement that the Church Commissioners had set aside £150 million for survivors of abuse, but nothing on the next day’s sacking of two members of the Independent Safeguarding Board (News, 23 June). The Times had one story about it, The Daily Telegraph nothing, despite its dogged pursuit of the Soul Survivor scandal (16 June). The Guardian had nothing at all.
THE Telegraph found room, though, for a kerfuffle over St Paul’s, when the cathedral’s website was found to have described Winston Churchill as a racist and imperialist.
Why on earth did anyone feel that they should apologise for this? Churchill was undoubtedly an imperialist, and, by today’s standards, a racist, too, as well as a disastrous Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was also a great man, a magnificent war leader, arguably the only one who could have kept the fight against Hitler going until the Americans and Russians joined in to actually win it. He deserved his Nobel Prize for Literature quite as much as many of the other recipients.
But it is ludicrous to pretend that he wasn’t a convinced and practising imperialist as well. So were almost all his contemporaries. So are many conservatives today, even if the more intelligent ones have transferred their allegiance to the American empire, which has the merit of actually existing. Some transferred their allegiance to the Russian empire, instead (not all of them worked for The Guardian or The Observer). It is only now that the British Empire no longer delivers its benefits to Britain that its moral shortcomings are evident to everyone.
THE TIMES carried a magnificently silly piece by A. N. Wilson. “I think the key factor in the decline of the C of E is the suicidal decision by the Church Commissioners to sell all the parsonages to the likes of Jeffrey Archer,” he wrote. “They thereby brought an end to the clerical caste and compelled the clergy to live in nasty little modern houses where there was no room for books. Their houses could not stand for anything because they were hutches, not icy repositories for prayer and learning.”
You have to admire his detachment from the realities of the servant problem. For that is what the impracticalities of rectory life on a stipend come down to. Without an abundant supply of curates to do the parochial work while the rector pursues his studies, of nursemaids to manage the children, and housemaids to keep the place clean and all of the fireplaces supplied with coal — to say nothing of the gardeners you’d need — a house that size is only a mocking reminder of what might have been.
And, if his complaint is that the clergy no longer have libraries, or the leisure to live in them, the problem is not architectural. The Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie, in The New Statesman, had a piece on Unite’s demand for a rise in the stipend (Comment, 16 June) which was better informed and more informative.
“To grant full modern employment rights would be impractical given the unique nature of the job (‘no dying on Thursdays, or the vicar charges overtime’), but to restore ancient rights and assets would involve a massive divestment of power and money from the centre,” he wrote.
“Not only is the centre unwilling to do that for obvious reasons, but much of the power and money is now gone. Jesus Christ might have taught that ‘tomorrow will take care of itself’, but in the context of this power, and with ministry increasingly done via temporary appointments, the request for more pay might be best seen as an attempt to find some security for when things go wrong rather than a desire for a cushier lifestyle here and now.”
QUITE the strangest story of the week came from The New York Times, whose correspondent had joined a tour group of American Evangelicals in the desert of Saudi Arabia. They were looking for — and believed they had found — the real site of Mount Sinai, supposedly a mountain in the north-west of the kingdom. The theory was popularised in the United States by a nurse, Ron Wyatt, who got himself arrested in the ’80s in the KSA after he claimed to have found the remains of Pharaoh’s chariots under the Red Sea.
The Saudis are not concerned by the beliefs of these extremely profitable tourists. Nor is their profit solely financial: the paper pointed out that, within weeks of the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a delegation of American Evangelical leaders was entertained in Riyadh.