Opening Gambit – St Paul’s and how not to deal with a protest

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15)

Back in October I watched as the Occupy London Stock Exchange protestors gathered around St Paul’s Cathedral to make a stand against the excesses of capitalism and the growing divide between the rich and poor in society.  I eagerly waited to see what the response of the church through St Paul’s would be.  The church has a long history of speaking out on issues of injustice following the example of Jesus.  In the gospel of Luke, Jesus’ first recorded statement at the start of his ministry was this quote from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

The demonstration gave St Paul’s and the Church of England a wonderful opportunity to bring some of God’s wisdom to the nation’s attention.  However over the following days a PR disaster unfolded.  The Cathedral authorities appeared to shut themselves away.  The doors were closed to the public for the first time since World War Two.  Blaming this on health and safety grounds brought ridicule.  The canon chancellor and the dean of the Cathedral resigned, suggesting there was infighting going on behind the scenes. At this point Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, was forced to take charge of cathedral operations.  Mark Field, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster, said the charade had turned St Paul’s into a “national joke”.  The press had a field day.  Interestingly many commentators were asking question that they wanted the Church to answer: “What would Jesus do?”  This was definitely not the Church of England’s finest hour.

Watching all of this unfold was a deeply saddening experience that made me ashamed to be associated with the Church of England.  In the hope of finding some Christian wisdom on the matter, I trawled through the internet to see what I could find.  This in turn was a frustrating experience.  Maybe I was looking in the wrong places, but the voice of Christians on the issue was surprisingly quiet.  The best article I could find that summed up how I was feeling about the whole issue was by Joan Bakewell in the Telegraph.  She concluded by exhorting the Church to find it’s voice and speak to our nation.  To do nothing is not an option, as Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.”  It’s taken a few weeks for this blog to come together, but hopefully this is another way for that light to shine and cast God’s light on our society.

Postscript:  Richard Chartres, having had a chance to reflect on the St Paul’s debacle wrote an excellent article in the Church Times.  God can turn our failure to his advantage.  Maybe this will be one of those occasions…

Categories: Banking & capitalism, Church, Justice

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