I’ve been on GB News for the last two weekends, but have been told I’m not on this coming Sunday. Even after what happened last weekend, however, I’d give it a go. Many of my friends disagree with me, saying the right-wing television station shouldn’t be given any encouragement, but as long as I can get my point across I’m willing.
What happened after the most recent edition of the amusingly-named Common Sense Crusade with Calvin Robinson was unprecedented in my 40-year television career, during which I hosted a daily show in Canada for 17 years and have appeared on Al-Jazeera, Fox News, Russia Today and pretty much everything in between.
Outnumbered two to one, I argued the case for bubble zones around abortion clinics. I said that women have a right to access medical services without harassment, and that even prayer in close proximity was a form of intimidation. I was asked how as a priest I could justify this. I said that if anything it was “sinful” to deny women choice, and that the Old Testament even calls for abortion in one case – it does.
It was fairly heated but my main point was that we could compromise. Allow prayer but keep it outside of the bubble zone. We can pray anywhere if we genuinely believe in the power of prayer, and must remember that in North America there’s been deadly violence against abortion providers, and clinics have been attacked.
Then I looked at Twitter. Robinson has tweeted to his 232,000 followers that “for a Christian to be pro-abortion and anti-prayer is bad enough; for a priest it is unfathomable”. And, “Twisting scripture like that is wicked.…judgment awaits. I pray he repents.”
For the next 48 hours I received myriad threats, insults, libels and abuse. I was emailed, and someone found my phone number as well. One jolly soul even injected anti-Semitism. “The Lord rebuke you and your Talmudic values. Conversos all over infiltrate the church to bring it down. Synagogue of Satan.” And to think I always assumed that Conversos were a type of Latin American cigar! My father, you see, was Jewish.
I’m a big boy, and I survived. But here’s the point. Cancel culture is real, and those on the hard right hardly have clean hands. Days of hatred and intimidation do not encourage open discussion; being condemned as a tool of the devil by hundreds of ostensible Christians doesn’t encourage someone to speak their mind. Also, authentic free speech requires integrity. I’m not “pro-abortion” but pro-choice, and prayer shapes and forms my life.
Surely Calvin Robinson knew what his tweet would provoke. There are numerous ways of silencing people, and they can be subtler than firing or gagging.
As I say, we’ll see if I’m invited back – the producers claim to love my work. If so perhaps I’ll talk about what freedom of speech really means.
[See also: AI can only do hollow, hotel lobby art]