Three cheers for the Church of England!

When I’m down; when I’m blue; there is always the Church of England to perk me up.

Yes, the CoE. It has never failed me as a reporter.  And special thanks for today’s blessing from the CoE must be given to the bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt. Rev. Peter Price.

Last night as deadlines approached, there were songs in the hearts of Britain’s religion reporters as the story they were filing from the medieval city of York would certainly find its way to the front of the newspaper — maybe, hope against hope, above the fold. Price’s speech to the General Synod on the root causes of last summer’s urban riots was “gold, Jerry, gold!”

Let me show you the sort of  story that softens the heart of the most cynical hack. Here is the lede in the Daily Mails article on Price’s speech:

A senior Church of England bishop declared yesterday that rioting could be ‘an ecstatic, spiritual experience’.

The Right Reverend Peter Price said rioters in last summer’s deadly disturbances found spiritual escape as they looted and burned.

He spoke out as the Church’s parliament, the General Synod, approved a report that blamed last August’s four days of disorder on Government spending cuts, inequality and ‘structural sin’ in the rest of society.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’ — it really doesn’t get better than this for a religion reporter. Yet the killjoys at the Guardian managed a harumph or two.

It opened its report in this way:

A Church of England report into last year’s riots wanted to “sound a clear warning note” about the “social consequences” of austerity measures, a senior cleric said on Sunday , as he presented research highlighting the effect of government cuts on people in areas where violence broke out.

The Rt Rev Peter Price, bishop of Bath and Wells, said he had no intention of being sentimental about the rioters, who, he said, had ruined other people’s lives. But he said such disturbances could also be “a kind of spiritual escape” for people who have little else in their lives.

Just to make sure its readers did not miss the point, The Guardian printed an editorial attacking its rivals’ coverage of Dr. Price’s speech, saying the poor man had been misunderstood:

The headlines suggested a woolly minded churchman from central casting. “Bishop: Rioting’s ‘spiritual ecstasy’” was the Sun‘s take. “Rioters were finding spiritual release, claims bishop” reported the Daily Telegraph. Equally glumly, a Conservative MP weighed in to condemn the Right Rev Peter Price, the bishop of Bath and Wells, and the report on the 2011 riots that he presented to the General Synod at the weekend as “complete drivel”. Actually, it wasn’t. Testing the Bridges is the sort of frank, factual report you would want a community-rooted organisation to produce after events like the riots. The bishop’s speech was clear and interesting. Anyone reading it will be struck by its reflectiveness and its appropriately religious concern. The “spiritual ecstasy” remark is in fact a quote from another priest in 1981. The riots are a serious subject. The bishop’s speech and the report should be studied thoughtfully, not caricatured.

Here is what the Neanderthals at the Telegraph wrote:

Smashing up homes, cars and shops and attacking police were a way of providing “release” and “escape” for troubled young people, according to the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Rt Rev Peter Price.

He told the Church’s General Synod that the events of last August, which claimed five lives and devastated communities, were “evil”.

But he added that it was hardly surprising that young people had turned to mass criminality in England’s major cities because they had been “condemned” to lives with no hope in run-down areas.

While the slack-jawed troglodytes at The Sun in very large print and short sentences wrote:

Thugs who rioted last summer were having an “ecstatic spiritual experience”, according to a senior Anglican Bishop.

The Rt Revd Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells, said they smashed cars and attacked police as a form of “release” and “escape”.

Let me say at the outset that I am not commenting on the news story being covered by these reports.  However, there is a touch of Dr. Spaceley-Trellis  about the Bishop of Bath & Wells. For over 50 years the late Michael Wharton populated his “Peter Simple” column in the Telegraph with characters that while outrageous, were somehow true to life. Given the recent back and forth about women bishops, my mind was drawn to this sketch.

WHO will be the first woman bishop of the Church of England? Odds-on favourite in clerical circles (writes “OLD BEADLE”) is the Rev Mantissa Shout, live-in partner of Dr E W T (“Ed”) Spacely-Trellis, go-ahead Bishop of Stretchford, trustee of Tate Modern and chairman of Football Managers for a Multi-Faith Millennium and dozens of other enlightened bodies.

Mantissa first came to notice as a militant feminist deaconess. She fought hard for the ordination of women by non-stop screaming outside Lambeth Palace and staged disruption of church services all over the country.

After being ordained and shacking up with Dr Trellis, she became vicar of Nerdley, where her well-publicised ecumenical services included Aztec sacrifice, Voodoo “alternative WI trance sessions” and Tantric Buddhist ceremonies for the young. But her habit of wearing a smart black “Muslim-type” silk headscarf at services led to a protest by Dr Mahbub Iftikharullah, chief imam of Nerdley, and several days of rioting.

Her plan is evidently to become joint bishop with Dr Trellis and succeed him on his retirement or other method of disposal. Then, who knows? Canterbury already beckons. But it will beckon in vain if the Bishop’s domestic chaplain, the Rev Peter Nordwestdeutscher, has anything to do with it.

In his subtle, incense-ridden, High Church brain, visions of death by slow poisoning, worthy of the worst days of the medieval Papacy, wreathe and coil in intricate patterns of malevolence.

I share these passages from today’s papers to show why I love the British press. There is a degree of intelligence matched with a sense of fun in the best British reporting. The Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail and yes, even The Sun, story are true — but each filter the truth through a specific intellectual and social lens. By reading all of the stories you have as good a picture of what happened yesterday at General Synod as is possible.

Yes, each paper has some degree of European-style advocacy reporting — the Guardian editorial and news article can almost — just almost — be swapped with one another. But when this advocacy reporting is done well — it is very good indeed. And unlike their American counterparts, the British press are not shy in proclaiming their biases.

So GetReligion readers, the bottom line is — read the British press when you can. Yes, you will encounter a great deal of junk — but also the best newspaper writing in the world.

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About geoconger
  • Jettboy

    I wish the United States had real rival newspapers of different political bents. All we have is dumb and dumber, all claiming superior intelligence. Not that I want them to emulate the British paper’s politics that I disagree with no matter from what source.

  • Jon in the Nati

    This is a quick primer on understanding the British press.

    Apologies; I’ll fetch my coat.

  • Jerry

    Jon in the Nati – thanks for the really good laugh. There is truth in humor.

  • Martha

    But has this bishop of Bath and Wells ever eaten a baby ?


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