Anglican church in crisis over protest camp

Yesterday, after an embarrassing series of U-turns, top Church of England clerics said they would let protests at St Paul's continue. Is Christianity about politics or people power?

With the provocative question ‘What would Jesus do?’ painted onto tents and banners, the Occupy protestors camped outside St Paul’s Cathedral have become more than just a public relations headache for the authorities in the Church of England. Confusion about whether to welcome or evict the encampment has led to searching questions about whether the Anglican Church, which is officially part of the British state, is out of touch with the public.

At first, the team of clerics in charge of St Paul’s welcomed the protestors. But then, after the Cathedral had to be closed to the visitors who bring in valuable revenue for the upkeep of the great building, the authorities wanted them to leave and began to co-operate with the police and local council on ways to get the tents and their occupants moved.

Canon Chancellor Giles Fraser resigned because he feared a violent eviction, then the Dean resigned over mismanagement of the issue. Fraser become a hero in the camp and to newspapers who back the protest, telling The Guardian: ‘What the camp does is challenge the Church with the problem of the incarnation – that you have God who is grand and almighty, who gets born in a stable... If you tried to recreate where Jesus would have been born, for me I could imagine Jesus being born in the camp.’

The protests, which started two weeks ago as part of the global Occupy movement, were designed to demonstrate anger and unhappiness about the financial sector in the City of London. Activists believe regulation and taxation is inadequate when the industry is characterised by earnings that far outstrip average incomes but the taxpayer, through bailouts and rescue deals, bears much of the risk. But any debate about the City has been side-lined by discussion of Church of England values.

God versus Mammon

Critics of the protest say it has lost sight of its aims. Supporters say it is exposing the extent to which the British establishment sides with vested interests rather than ordinary people unhappy with the status quo.

There is a tension between the spiritual values of Christianity, based on teachings that preach poverty and humility, and the way a group of individual clerics who are part of an organisational hierarchy tend to behave.

But St Paul’s is a national monument as well as a place of worship, and those who are in charge have a responsibility to think about ‘real world’ questions like public safety and income. How will the Church resolve this dilemma?

You Decide

  1. Does a religious or spiritual life always have to be unworldly?
  2. Where should the Bishop of London be: inside St Paul's with his clerical colleagues, helping them; in the tents with the protestors; or negotiating with the City of London authorities and the police?

Activities

  1. 'The Church of England can never be radical or in tune with popular opinion if it remains the official state religion.' Do you agree? Write a short essay or make a presentation discussing this question.
  2. Find as many references as possible to riches and poverty in religious texts and scriptures, including the Bible. What do you learn from them?

Some People Say...

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.' Matthew Chapter 19 Verse 24”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do the protesters want?
Broadly, they are against economic inequality, which is why they are targeting the financial district of London. That is also why people are debating which side the Church of England and Christians generally should support.
I don't follow you.
Well, Jesus asked his followers to give up their possessions and spoke out about how the religious life can be hampered by material wealth. So there are many arguing that the Church of England has a chance to rediscover Christianity's roots because of these events.
What next?
The City of London authorities want to force the protestors off the site, but the Church has changed its mind and now won't back this action. The saga is not over yet.

Word Watch

The incarnation
Christians believe that Jesus took on human form and human nature to join the world as a living man, although he was part of the deity. Incarnate literally means 'made flesh.'
Mammon
The Biblical term for riches, wealth and material or worldly gain, sometimes personified as a false god or demon.
Occupy
These protests began in the US in September 2011, with an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York against 'corporate greed and social inequality' and have spread to an estimated 900 cities worldwide.
Hierarchy
The chain or command or lines of power and authority in an organisation where some are above others. It's a good word to use about the Church, because the word literally means the rule of priests, from the Ancient Greek.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.