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Press: Telegraph sketches Jekyll-and-Hyde C of E

15 March 2024


REPORTING the things that happen is hard and unrewarding work. Commenting on things that don’t happen is very much easier — and better paid. Take Daniel Hannan, in the Telegraph, explaining that “The Church of England’s own committee urging it to set aside a billion pounds to atone for slavery is an almost perfect summary of what is wrong with modern Britain.”

As perhaps it would be, had it actually happened. But, as noted last week, the committee actually recommended that unspecified fairy godmothers invest £900 million to atone for slavery. The Church Commissioners, who really don’t seem keen on the scheme at all, are to set aside only £100 million to invest over a long period of years. Some of the profits of that may actually go on worthwhile causes.

Despite this unpromising beginning, Hannan makes a couple of decent points. “Whether its servants were heartless or simply thoughtless, the Church still profited from human misery. Does that not create a debt?

“Well, if it did, the debt has been settled many times over. It was settled by the young men, motivated by religious conviction, who gave their lives to hunting down slave ships after 1807. It was settled by the Anglican missionaries who penetrated the African interior, often dying of tropical diseases, seeking to persuade local potentates to free their chattels.

“It was settled, not least, by British taxpayers, who gladly approved the spending of 1.8 per cent of GDP annually between 1808 and 1867 on global eradication; arguably the most expensive moral foreign policy in human history.”

The most expensive domestic moral policy on that calculus would have been the American Civil War, incomparably more expensive, in fact, than anything the British did. The difficulty with this argument is that neither the abolition of the slave trade nor even the abolition of race-based slavery did much to diminish the legacy of racialised poverty over the next century.

Things have changed a great deal for the better in the past 50 years. In the Conservative Party, a black man such as Kwasi Kwarteng can now get his opportunity to wreck the economy just like any other Old Etonian. Expressions of blatant racism are acceptable only from donors of £10 million or more.

But the faults of Hannan’s column don’t really matter. It will stand as another monument to the extraordinary folly of a Church that has managed, in less than a month, to convince a couple of hundred thousand Telegraph readers of the reality of a £1-billion fund that does not and never will exist, all the while persuading fewer and fewer people that God does.

See the headline in a supposed news piece, also from the Telegraph: “Church of England urged to use £1bn slavery fund to restore Sunday services”.

THE clearest statement of the Telegraph’s position came from the parliamentary sketch-writer Madeline Grant: “There is not one Church of England — but two. There’s the Reverend Dr Jekyll, the one who performs invaluable work on the ground; burying the dead, visiting the sick, educating more than a quarter of our nation’s schoolchildren to a much higher standard than the state normally achieves.

“This Church manages the food banks, playgroups, dementia cafés and loneliness workshops. Its parish priests do this for little money; its thousands of volunteers do it for none at all.

“Then there is the other Church of England — the Reverend Mr Hyde. This is a Church of unaccountable committees, upward failure . . . and identikit managerial jargon.

“It is increasingly clear that these two Churches cannot both survive; that this second Church of England, which controls all of its money, runs its internal organisations, manages [read: stitches up] appointments, is doing its utmost to destroy the other one.”

This complaint is interestingly different from the Express or Mail line that the Bishops are a bunch of hand-wringing Lefties who care more about the human rights of foreign criminals and scroungers than about the British people. There is some overlap, of course — Hannan, for example, thought it wrong to mask up during the pandemic, because Christians ought to be prepared for death. You can’t expect a Telegraph columnist to understand that some of us masked up not to protect ourselves but other people.

But the burden of the Telegraph’s present attacks is not political in that sense. It is aimed at the way the institutional Church is run rather than any particular policies.

I had not meant to spend the entire column considering this campaign — the paper published five pieces pushing the line last week — but it is going to become increasingly important if the Church continues to shrink and its diocesan superstructure becomes unsustainable.

I don’t think that sacking half the diocesan employees would solve the problem. The sums don’t work. But more and more people will want to believe they do, just as they want to believe in the billion-pound fund. And that will have consequences in the real world.

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