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Sunday, July 13, 2008

A trendy vicar at the Torygraph

The case of the evangelists and the Brummie Muslim policeman is ancient history by now, but I'm impelled to reopen it having come across a deeply wrongheaded reaction to it from the Telegraph's George Pitcher.

Before I lay into Mr Pitcher, though, let me accentuate the positive. Firstly, he is one of the few journos who appear to advantage in the photo adorning their by-line (most would be well advised to remain faceless, since they contrive to look almost as hideous as I do on my driving licence). A handsome dog indeed: I bet he gets ladies' underclothing hurled at him all the way through the sermon. And since I'm sure he runs an inclusive church, it may not only be ladies' underclothing.

Secondly, he is to be be congratulated for bagging the name "Faithbook" for his blog. Others in the same line of business must be kicking themselves. How much trendier can a vicar get? I only hope he won't find himself charged with a hate crime against people with speech impediments.

I digress. What's so awful about his post? Mr Pitcher's "scoop" is to have identified the church to which the two evangelists belong and to reproduce an excerpt from its credo. And it is, indeed, the kind of church which I would only visit whilst under heavy sedation.

But what, exactly, is Mr Pitcher's point? "Not much evidence of tolerance there", he comments. Well, sorry, Mr P, but I don't see any particular evidence either of tolerance or its opposite. These folk think everyone except themselves has got it wrong and and will burn everlastingly in consequence. But there's no sign of a desire to speed unbelievers on their way to the bonfire. I see no evidence at all that they favour the execution of apostates, something which could be a very real concern for any converts they succeeded in making in the Alum Rock Road area.

Mr P expands his point thus:-

'Now, for those who suggest that religious trouble arises in Britain from the threat of Islam, try this test: In the Birmingham church's web-page above, try replacing the words "Bible" with "Koran" and "God" with "Allah".

'Of course it doesn't work in some of the specifically Christian passages, but I respectfully suggest that in most of it you end up with precisely the sort of statements for which we accuse Muslims of being so intractable and fundamentalist.'

I might start by pointing out that the change from "God" to "Allah" fazes me not at all, since "Allah" is simply the Arabic word for "God", as used by millions who read their Bible in Arabic. As for changing "Bible" to "Koran", one answer would be that you end up with something as different from the original as - well, as the Koran is from the Bible. Possibly Mr P feels that that is not a very big difference.

I take Mr P's basic point that the theology is unappealingly crude and narrow either way. But what follows from that? That Muslims with similarly deplorable beliefs are not, or should not be, entitled to propagate them by handing out leaflets in places where Christians live? Stuff and nonsense, Mr P! Or, conversely, that the Grace Bible Fellowship Church would like to blow me to Kingdom Come next time I travel on the Tube? Stuff and nonsense again.

How many times must the point be made: fundamentalists can be accommodated in a pluralist society, just as long as they aren't violently intolerant fundamentalists. And, however much Mr P may wish to erect neat moral/theological symmetries, and however much he may need a stick to bash the Bible-bashers with, the threat of violently intolerant fundamentalism with which our society is faced still does not come from conservative evangelicals.

And if the GBFC's pitch is not to Mr Pitcher's taste, can we expect to see him out and about in Alum Rock Road or Whitechapel, distributing literature that expounds the true Gospel? It seems not. In a subsequent post we read:-

'Readers of this blog will know that I have little sympathy with aggressive or coercive campaigns to convert non-Christians.'

Well, yes, he's certainly made it clear how little sympathy he has with the aggressive and coercive handing out of leaflets by Arthur Cunningham, 48, and Joseph Abraham, 65 (my goodness, don't they look scary). Has it ever occurred to Mr P that if St Paul had taken the same attitude, and taken care to avoid offence to worshippers of perfectly adequate deities like Apollo and Pallas Athene, it is most unlikely that he (Mr P) would ever have heard of Jesus of Nazareth?

A cynic might suggest that a man who sees the holding of a decided opinion as in itself conclusive evidence of dangerous intolerance is so perfectly fitted for the liberal Anglican priesthood that he ought to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. I try very hard not to be a cynic and I wouldn't want to be in a church without liberals, but please, Lord, let at least some of them be muscular liberals!

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