This is creepy. It was reported yesterday, and took place earlier in the week, and at first I thought, What the hell! But the more I look at it the more I don't like it.
Here's a quote: "By working and praying together to reduce crime and disorder we not only change the physical circumstances that affect people's everyday lives but we change the spiritual circumstances."
It comes from Chief Superintendent Neil Wain, Stockport divisional commander of Greater Manchester Police and a self-confessed Christian, after a mammoth pray-in attended by police chiefs and politicians at the Manchester Velodrome.
Now, it's one thing bringing the "faith" (ugh!) communities and police together to look at crime and ways of combating it, as long as said "faith" (ugh!) communities are given no more of a say than other interested groups. But this was a pray-in!
"More than 6,000 Christians have met for an evening of prayer focusing on gang crime in Greater Manchester," says the intro to the BBC story of an event organised by a religious group called City Links.
"They were asked to pray for police forces and the reduction of gang crime," it continues. Gang crime will not be reduced by swivel-eyed loons praying to invisible people. It may make them feel better, but it will not have an effect on gang crime. The cost of the police's attendance could well have gone to initiatives a little more Earth-based. Even if they attended in their own time, then perhaps that time could have been better spent back at the station on solid policing or reaching out to the criminals and would-be criminals they wish to curtail. Sitting in a stadium praying will just leave the criminals laughing.
Now get this: "Debra Green, director of City Links, said: 'Persistent prayer, over many years, has opened the way for a huge number of effective initiatives delivering benefits to people and communities far and wide.' "
Unfortunately, the story does not tell us how this has worked. What is meant by "opened the way"? It's vague. Just how has "persistent prayer" achieved this? Was it some sort of energy that has emanated from people who pray? Is it magic? Who persistently prayed? How many did so? Did they do this at special meetings? How many meetings were held? How many were specifically prayer meetings and how many just meetings at which people were asked to pray? How many prayed at those latter meetings? What form did this prayer take? Who was prayed to – God, Allah, Yahweh, Vishnu, Zeus? Who paid for all of this? What is the "huge number" of which you speak? Where? What were the initiatives (or some examples)? What do you mean by "effective"? How effective? Were the prayers answered to the letter? If so, or even only half so, why weren't the news media full of it? Quite a story, I'd say. Even Derren Brown couldn't pull off that sort of thing!
Wain said, "There are significant benefits from initiatives which involve faith communities working with the police and local agencies, including improving community confidence and trust, increased understanding and not least reduced crime."
Well, yes, as I said, there's room for all sorts of interested groups, but it's this creepy idea that praying has brought it off. As they mumbled to the Almighty, did a ghostly hand come from the sky in the streets and stay the hand of a would-be knife attacker? Did an angel appear to a gang of young thugs and say, "That is so not cool, man"?
I used to attend police stations a lot as a radio journalist, and one police PR man in Wales – he was known as Dai Press – once told me, "You can't see [Chief Inspector So-and-so] till half past ten. They'll still be at prayers."
I needn't have worried. It was their slightly irreverent term for their morning conference for senior officers. The way the police are going these days (especially with their propensity for favouring religious nutters over sensible investigative journalism), it wouldn't surprise me to see police stations all over the country build a one-hour multifaith service into their daily timetable.
And who will pay for their time? Well, presumably the people who pay for their time when they go to big pray-ins. The public.