St Paul’s and the Anglican Leaders

I watch this from a distance. St Paul’s is the location of the Occupy London protesters and they are there because it was not possible to occupy the financial district. But the leaders of St Paul’s have mismanaged the whole affair and, instead of offering insight into a Christian/kingdom understanding of wealth and greed, which ought in some dimensions have led them to support some of the protest … well, instead of this they have managed both to hide a report about financial greed and sought legal means to remove the protesters by force. Here are some reports:

LONDON—The head of St. Paul’s Cathedral stepped down over the church’s handling of anticapitalist protesters camped out on its doorstep, as the Occupy London demonstrations brought the second high-profile resignation in as many weeks to London’s main church for the Anglican faith.

Graeme Knowles, dean of St. Paul’s, announced his resignation “with great sadness” on Monday. Last week, St. Paul’s said it planned to begin legal action to obtain a court order that would force the campers to leave, a decision that drew fire from many critics. [The irony of a link to WSJ.com that requires subscription to read any further... doesn't escape me.]

Andrew Brown’s got this right, so it seems to me:

The resignation of the dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Graeme Knowles, has landed responsibility for the crisis with the bishop of London, Richard Chartres. If the dean’s sacrifice is not to be in vain, the bishop must reverse his policy within the next 24 hours, and preferably by tomorrow morning. The alternatives are very much worse.

The bishop has a simple choice. Either he plans to throw all the protesters out, or he acquiesces in the presence of some sort of camp right outside his front door for the indefinite future. The lawyers, and perhaps the health-and-safety people, believe he must expel the protesters. The rest of the church sees clearly that this would be wrong in principle, and hugely damaging to the reputation of Christianity.

There’s no tidy way out of this, but there is a wrong one, which is to continue digging the grave Knowles had with such effort prepared for the Church of England’s reputation. The bishop will have to defy his own lawyers and negotiate a peaceful settlement with the protesters. Since he must do this, he had best do it at once. To wait for a week and then change his mind would be nearly as disastrous as settling for expulsion….

The criticism of St Paul’s in the last week has been almost unanimous, and has ranged across the whole spectrum of opinion within the Church of England. Some has come from people who could never be described as left wing, like the last archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey.

The most remarkable critic was Ken Costa, the hugely rich banker who bankrolled the evangelical Alpha Course. Writing in Saturday’s Financial Times he said: “I have been in the City since before the Big Bang whose 25th anniversary came this week. I have been through several recessions but I cannot recall the underlying sustained anger across all social levels – from dinner parties to demonstrations – aimed at bankers and the market economy as a whole.

“When such a wide range of people are singing a tune perhaps discordant to a City worker’s ears but seemingly in tune with the global view that the market economy has failed to deliver growth, jobs and hope, we need to listen. The cure is not more legislation, or increased regulation. It is the pressing need to reconnect the financial with the ethical.”

So Andrew Brown’s concluding words:

This need to reconnect the financial with the ethical is precisely the cause on which the protesters and the chapter of St Paul’s are united, even when they disagree. It would be an act of insane folly if the Church of England were to disconnect them once again, and to take the side of money against ethics. But that is what the bishop of London will be seen to do if his policy doesn’t change right now.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • phil_style

    I wondered when you were going to pick this up Scott ;)

    Despite the apparent “mis-management”, 3 senior staff at St. Paul’s have now resigned. Interestingly, the Occupy LXS (london stock exchange) has now taken on a very vocal christian social justice element. I think many Britons are, in spite of the manouvres of some within the CoE hierarchy, starting to see how much Christians do in terms of socials justice.

    Whilst the “prayer ring” in this article is probably going to raise secular eyebrows (if not smirks) http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/oct/29/christians-defend-occupy-london-protest?INTCMP=SRCH the article notes how much support these protests have from various christian organisations.

    Can anyone advise of Christians have reacted the same way in the USA?

  • http://www.gentlewisdom.org/ Peter Kirk

    I don’t think we should expect a lot from Bishop Chartres. He is very much an establishment figure, as was seen last year from his furious over-reaction to his assistant Bishop Pete Broadbent’s comments about the royal wedding. I can hardly expect him to allow the protesters any way to stay. Indeed I suspect the Dean resigned because his bishop wasn’t allowing him to make his own decisions on what should have been his own patch.

  • Abandon Ship!

    Don’t overestimate the impact of these tented wanderers on things in the UK, or on the support that they get. In the liberal media (BBC, Guardian)they are given much coverage and affirmation, but I think the majority over here regard them as the usual suspects who turn out for any perceived “speaking truth to power” left wing cause. I wish I had a pound (or dollar) for every time I have heard someone say that Jesus would be with the protesters, or that Jesus turned over the tables of the moneychangers etc etc. To be honest the whole thing is a bit tiresome and it’s astonishing that the only outcome is the loss of senior clergy from St Paul’s.

  • Abandon Ship!
  • phil_style

    indeed “abandon ship” there does seem to be a split right down the middle on this – fueled in large part by the usual media suspects: on both sides of the political fence.

    However, the Telegraph’s piece is wrong on a number of counts including:
    1. it claims that the CoE has been “brought down”. Far from it – the place of the CoE in English public life has gone through the roof this week.
    2. it misrepresents the protest as “against capitalism”, when it is, in fact against the perceived exclusive (and less than transparent) excesses of unbridled capitalism.
    3. there’s a (poetic license?) reference to “punishing” the church. Nonsense. The church and OLSX have repeatedly stated their mutual respect. I suspect the only one’s handing out punishment will be the CoL.
    4. the DT described the protesters thus “they’re a bunch of preening narcissists” – name calling, you know the Telegraph has no argument when it resorts to that.

    However, the Church, it seems, does not agree with the Telegraph, and has now decided to suspend legal action against the protest. The church has also announced its intention to set up an organisation aimed at discussing financial/ethical issues – with Kent Costa as it’s lead. Their statement: “St Paul’s intends to engage directly and constructively with both the protesters and the moral and ethical issues they wish to address, without the threat of forcible eviction hanging over both the camp and the church.”

  • Tom

    Well, I am not sure who’s statement this is…but it causes me concern….[The irony of a link to WSJ.com that requires subscription to read any further... doesn't escape me.]

    There is much to be said positive and negative regarding these protests…Overseas or USA…but charging for content is not an “ethical” inequity…..so I don’t really see irony here…..

  • Tom

    Well, I am not sure who’s statement this is…but it causes me concern….[The irony of a link to WSJ.com that requires subscription to read any further... doesn't escape me.]

    There is much to be said positive and negative regarding these protests…Overseas or USA…but charging for content is not an “ethical” inequity…..so I don’t really see irony here…..

  • Robin

    Can someone please explain to me why the Anglican Church shouldn’t evict them? (From a Christian perspective)

    I mean, it would be one thing if it was a modern hooverville where the dis-enfranchised masses had set up camp because they are on the margins of society. Or if they were widows, or orphans, or aliens looking for asylum.

    But that is explicitly not the case, at least in the US. Occupy Wall Street has taken explicit measures to repel the “least of these.” They got concerned that their daily communal meals were being infiltrated by “professional homeless” people so they had several days where they were only serving brown rice so that “professional homeless” people wouldn’t view Occupy New York as a soup kitchen.

    I mean, if the protesters are effectively saying “Yeah, we’re the 99%, but we’re not really poor, homeless, indegent, etc., and moreoever we have taken concrete steps to make sure those kind of people aren’t benefiting from our services” then I don’t see why the church wouldn’t evict them. If the dynamic is different in England and the “least of these” are a sizable contingent of the protesters I get that, but they aren’t here in the states.

  • phil_style

    Robin, we should let St. Paul’s explain itself, why it has chosen to suspend legal action:
    http://www.stpauls.co.uk/News-Press/Latest-News/St-Pauls-suspends-legal-action-against-protest-camp

    “St Paul’s intends to engage directly and constructively with both the protesters and the moral and ethical issues they wish to address, without the threat of forcible eviction hanging over both the camp and the church”

    That sounds like a very good reason to me.

  • RobS

    It’d be great if the church could draw all sides together. Get the “really poor, homless, indegent” (thanks Robin) and identify those that need help. Go tell the protesters that these are going to get church support priority of services from the church. Ask the protesters to help the church in that regard. (manpower, etc)

    Meanwhile, make a phone call down to the financial district and find some of the 1% and ask them to get involved as well in this good cause. Tell them it’s a good idea (true) and they can show their charitable side (true) by doing something for their common man. As the church, volunteer to be the local champion of the effort.

    Funny enough, three pieces (the 1%, the protesters, and church) get together to help out … maybe they find some common ground and deliver some real solutions (to those in need) beyond just occupying church property.

  • Rob Grayson

    The Financial times has just published Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’s response to the protests: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a561a4f6-0485-11e1-ac2a-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1cRKwt9x4


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