contribution by Joseph Cottrell-Boyce
The role of St Paul’s Cathedral in the Occupy London saga, especially by the final weeks, can best be described as farcical.
While publicly making vague noises expressing regret that it had all come to this, Church authorities were quietly colluding with the Corporation of London. At the final hour they authorised police to forcibly remove protesters from the cathedral steps; outside the scope of the Corporation’s eviction order.
Earlier this month, the Bishop of Exeter Michael Langrish complained to the BBC that his Church was threatened by a secular agenda to “drive religion out of the public sphere”.
So why, when a public forum for discussing the most pressing social and economic issues of our time landed literally on its doorstep, did the Church decide it didn’t want to get involved?
Turn on the news and debates over the role of the Christianity in public life are being shaped by the Christian Institute and its gay bashing campaigns or figures such Tory MP Mark Pritchard bemoaning “Christianophobia” at the hands of the “politically correct brigade”.
It’s an ugly picture; a bunch of conservative nasties fighting for the right to be bigoted. But I don’t believe it’s a representative picture.
There are scores of Christians of all denominations tirelessly working for social justice, some of whom were themselves part of the Occupy presence at St Paul’s.
The leader of the Church of England, Dr Rowan Williams, is himself a man who’s record is hard to fault: he was arrested at 1980′s CND demos, publically opposed the Iraq war, said future interventions in Iran or Syria would be “criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous folly”, condemned the “radical, long-term policies for which no-one voted” of the government, and expressed concern over the “quiet resurgence of the seductive language of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor”.
He’s right on. But his Church’s stance is flaky and confused.
If the Church of England wants a place in public life then it has to earn it. It has to be relevant. In matters of social and economic justice its leadership will have to go beyond making nice statements and start using their considerable resources and influence to fight for the most marginalised in society and against corporate greed and spiralling inequality.
They need to get their hands dirty.
The Church recognises Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero amongst its 20th century martyrs. If it wishes to stay relevant in the modern world it would do well to follow in their footsteps and adopt a coherent and uncompromising line on social justice.
Failing to do this would pose a far greater threat to its survival than the forces of ‘aggressive secularism’ or ‘Christianophobia’.
Joe Cottrell-Boyce is a Policy Officer at the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain’s Traveller’s Project
* A promise from Occupy London: this is only the beginning
Information Release, Occupy London
* Occupy London protesters accuse St Paul's of betrayal
James Ball and Ben Quinn, The Guardian