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NOW JUST LISTEN UP!
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WE SPIN-DOCTORS have been coming in for a lot of flak lately. Downing Street has been distancing itself from Alistair, and Charles has had his own problems. But I am pleased to say that the ABC is still a devotee of yours truly, and that I shall be continuing in my role as the Rumplestilzchen to the CofE for the foreseeable future.
Altogether we had a very satisfactory Pentecost.
While most of you were out there, at the London Arena or on Blackheath, enjoying the festivities, some of us were slaving over a hot wheel, trying to turn straw into gold. It was not easy, I can tell you. When it became clear that George was going to have virtually no one in the Dome (we managed to spin two hundred in the end, largely because the press were wisely elsewhere) it was clear that a damage limitation exercise was required.
I decided on a two pronged attack. We needed to field some REALLY GOOD NEWS; and we needed a SPOILING STORY.
In search of a spoiling story you need, in my experience, go no further than my good friend and fellow Archbishops’ Council member, the lovely Christina Rees. And Christina (bless her heart – or whatever it is) had a humdinger up her sleeve (or wherever she keeps these things).
WATCH, it appears (though with the less than wholehearted approval of its executive committee) has been paying Christian Research to do a survey about women priests and women bishops. As a matter of fact the results have not been quite to Christina’s taste, and she has been keeping the results close to her chest. But now, we both agreed, was the time for an expose.
The faithful old Church of England Newspaper was squared, and some delicious spoiling copy dominated the front page. Those bitter, twisted traditionalists (see last month’s Bill’s Briefing) may have had ten thousand people and the three most senior bishops in the CofE at their Mass in the London Arena (a flagrant political demonstration, I call it); but we could claim eighty percent of ‘churchgoers’ in favour of women bishops!
It was a triumph! The sort of pure spin which still gives me a thrill even after all these years! No statistics, no background, no nothing! Just plain, unvarnished assertion; and it could still make the front page! It’s that sort of thing which makes this job worthwhile. Rumplestilzchen, eat your heart out! Not Christian Research, but ‘Christina Research;’ and that, in the end, was all that mattered.
But then – joy piled upon joy! – we managed to imply that the ABC was leading the March for Jesus! Nobody who knew anything about the arrangements would have regarded this as at all probable. (Some of the principal leaders of the March had, in fact, also been celebrating in the London Arena.) But again the CEN came up trumps!
Everything would have been hunkydory, if it had not been for the news from Upper Stratton. (You can’t imagine what problems we Americans have with your arcane geography! I looked it up. It turns out to be Swindon).
We, at the Office of Public Enlightenment, wanted a sex-change vicar like we wanted hole in the head. You can imagine the hours I spent on the blower trying to fend off tabloid headlines like BARRY BRISTOLS! The whole thing has a certain gruesome symmetry I suppose. It’s only logical, when you have admitted women to the priesthood to admit priests to the womanhood.
Now I have Judith Rose and Alan Chesters to grapple with.
Alan, I have to tell you, is not a happy rottweiler. He has had to sit in House of Bishops meetings having his Report emasculated. (Just imagine the indignity of being emasculated by the Bishop of Salisbury!) And now comes the Synodical presentation. We at the Office have done our best for him. With any luck, a few more unavoidable delays and the present condition of the postal service, most members will not have had a chance to read the report before they debate it
The Judith Rose motion presents quite other difficulties. The fact is that women bishops are not flavour of the month with the Athenaeum (as we call it). Frankly the ABC just wishes it would all go away. But, as I told him, bowing gracefully to the inevitable is what we do best: the only problem is deciding what is inevitable. (It’s at moments like this that I am grateful to be in Sales rather than Management).
As I see it there are two possible spins: either we are ‘prudent’ or we are ‘courageous’.
PRUDENT means cautious, tentative, patient, diplomatic. It means consultation with ecumenical partners (i.e. Roman Catholics). It means waiting till the compensation runs out and most of the really stroppy opponents are retired (or preferably dead).
COURAGEOUS means modern, dynamic, egalitarian. It means consultation with ecumenical partners (i.e. Methodists). It means waiting till the compensation runs out and most of the really stroppy opponents are retired (or preferably dead).
SPIN, you understand, should not be confused with RATIONALE. ‘Prudence’ and ‘courage’ do not describe different courses of action which we might take. They are different ways of describing the course of action which will be forced upon us.
In my induction classes for trainee ecclesiastical spin doctors I have, for clarity’s sake, introduced an imaginary creature which I call a LEM-RITCH, and to which I compare the Church of England.
The LEM-RITCH, I tell aspiring spinsters, is a cross between a lemming and an ostrich. It buries its head in in a bucket of sand until the crisis has reached such proportions that the only available course of action is to throw itself off a cliff. Our task, I tell the assembled throng of would-be spin-smiths is always to describe such an eventuality as either ‘prudent’ or ‘courageous’; or preferably both, depending upon audience.
Each subject folder in my top secret filing cabinet of HYPER-SPIN has two sub-folders marked ‘Prudent’ and ‘Courageous’; and a third (for use in really intractable cases) marked ‘Prophetic’. I am working on the ‘Women Bishops’ file right now. In a Church like this you never know when things will be needed.
William Badger is Public Enlightenment Officer of the Archbishops’ Council. He is a Canon of Chattanooga.