Monday, April 05, 2010

Church leader makes sense. Media spins it every which way but loose.

I have a confession to make. I'm not proud of it. It's one of my dirty little secrets.

I'm an Anglican. There I said it, it's out in the open now. I feel much better.

The Anglican Church has been trying to tear itself apart over the last 10 years in a self-destructive streak a mile wide. The man charged with trying to lead this unruly worldwide band of Christians that encompasses fanatical evangelicals to fervent liberals is Archbishop Rowan Williams.His Easter message is one of the few occasions when the media will actually listen to something he's saying. (Although his admirably frank comments about the Catholic abuse scandal got some attention). This year he chose to devote part of his sermon to the 'persecution' of Christians. He asserted that "wooden-headed bureaucratic silliness" combined with a "well-meaning and completely misplaced anxiety about giving offence to non-Christians" should not be mistaken for persecution.

Quite right too. Christians in Britain are not at risk of violence or imprisonment simply because of their faith. A quick look at Amnesty International's website shows that there are many people round the world who face actual threats to their freedom and safety. Set against the genuine suffering that many face elsewhere, the hand-wringing of the evangelical right as personified by Westminster 2010 is tasteless in the extreme.

However, one of the most interesting elements of this story is how it has been covered by the news media. Contrast these two headlines for the same story:

Rowan Williams condemns 'overheated language' used to describe Christian suffering
. The Guardian

Hallelujah! Archbishop speaks up for Christians: This bias against us must stop, says Dr Rowan Williams.
The Daily Mail

Now, the Guardian headline underplays the overall context of the sermon. However, the Daily Mail seems completely oblivious to the irony of using exactly the type of overheated language that Williams is criticising. But it isn't the Mail's irony that I have a problem with. Rather, it is their ongoing attempt to fanaticise issues in a way that is very reminiscent of the hysterical partisan language used by the US media.

The 'shining' example is the use of people like Peter Hitchens (a cut price Glenn Beck if you can imagine such a thing) to spout petty, spiteful and narrow-minded opinion pieces. It pains me to do this, but read this article about Rowan Williams in which Hitchens brands him
'Nice, furry, mild and useless'. Williams is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but he has many qualities lost on the partisan extremists. He is intelligent, reasoned and diplomatic. This of course, is abhorrent to the likes of Hitchens who exist simply to provoke fury. This they accomplish as they push more and more of us out of the centre and towards the extremes of Right and Left.

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