James Hastings talks to journalist and radio and TV presenter Jeremy Vine about what his faith means to him
Jeremy Vine is used to heated debate. Whether the subject is politics or world affairs, his flagship Radio 2 show (currently six million daily listeners) covers them all. And he's now fronting the BBC's Panorama.
In fact, after years presenting Newsnight and reporting from the world’s trouble spots, you could say Jeremy has heard every argument.
But there’s no debate where he will be this weekend – in church.
“I attend a lovely Anglican church in Surrey where I grew up,” he explains. “Maybe because I have travelled so much in my job, I really appreciate being at home with my family. I attend every Sunday and derive so much from my faith as a Christian.”
Jeremy is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most respected and talented journalists. He has covered conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Africa and the Middle East.
He has picked up numerous awards for his reports, including the coveted Amnesty International Radio Award. One film of which he is particularly proud was an exclusive for Newsnight on South African police brutality.
The fly-on-the-wall piece showed police attacking demonstrators in Johannesburg. It won him the Silver Nymph at Monte Carlo and rocked the South African police, forcing mass resignations.
Yet, it was while filming the horrors of child soldiers and famine in war-torn Eritrea, that his faith was tested.
“I was the boy from Surrey who enjoyed a rather privileged life,” he explains. “I came from where most people had good jobs and owned their own home. But in Africa, I came face to face with real, raw poverty and suffering. When I saw children aged two suffering from HIV and their parents already dead, I struggled with that.”
But Jeremy’s faith remained strong, something he puts down to regular prayer and reading the Bible – even if he admits he sometimes struggles with both. However, he is quick to laugh off surveys which claim Christianity in the UK is dying out.
“Listen, surveys are absolute rubbish,” he smiles. “I read one which claimed that by 2050, Britain will be a nation of Elvis impersonators if you follow the current trend. I don’t bother with surveys. The Church is doing fine, and I don’t believe it will ever be wiped out.”
As a young Christian, Jeremy admits he had a tendency to Bible-bash non-believers. Now he prefers a quieter approach.
“I wanted to convert everyone I met, until even I got a headache from my own voice,” he laughs. “I’m a quieter Christian now, but I pray for the chance to speak out more and I do mention my faith when asked. I admire Evangelical Christians who have such assurance and who talk about Jesus with ease.
“I don’t like it when they are rubbished as fanatics. They are sincere people with a passion for their faith.”
Jeremy is delighted Christians have discovered the need to enter public debate. He gets annoyed when the media singles out Christianity for criticism while praising other faiths.
“Christians have begun to realise they need to speak out more, to complain louder. It’s time to stop apologising for being a Christian.
"We regularly cover faith issues on my show and Christians are well represented. I don't mean just the extremists who'll yell and throw the furniture. We get a lot of sensible Christians coming on, not looking for confrontation but still speaking with passion and conviction."
James Hastings is a journalist based in Taunton
Christian Publishing & Outreach, registered in England & Wales (Charity no 221462).
Company limited by guarantee No 588731. VAT no 860 219 341.
Registered office: CPO, Garcia Estate, Canterbury Road, Worthing BN13 1BW, UK