Church & Mammon

© 2008 Peter Marshall 
Giles Fraser speaking in 2008

Yesterday’s resignation of Giles Fraser from his post at St Paul’s Cathedral came as little surprise, although I was sorry to hear of it. I’ve heard him speak many times on radio and occasionally in person, and have always been impressed by him if not always in total agreement with his views. The real surprise for me had come earlier, with his appointment to the job.

I was at St Pauls when the occupation started, and I’ve visited it a couple of times since, and was extremely surprised when the Cathedral decided to close its doors a week ago. It seemed to me then that the reasons given were entirely spurious; if there were any real health and safety issues they were obviously very minor, and the OccupyLSX were clearly cooperating already in various ways and would make the small changes necessary – as apparently they have now done.

© 2011 Peter Marshall
OccupyLSX left a wide clear path here at the request of the Cathedral

Clearly the decision by the Cathedral authorities seemed to me to be a political one, designed to put pressure on OccupyLSX to move and to try to gain the support of the media and public to get them to go.

In many ways OccupyLSX is raising the kind of issues around business and ethics that the church – and St Paul’s in particular – should have long been raising. Other churches have  been rather more active than St Paul’s in this respect, and various religious groups have been active in related areas. St Paul’s both because of its location and its authority in the church has a privileged position and rather than giving a lead for action has appeared to favour the City and the status quo. I suspect that this is not the first occasion the Rev Fraser has found himself in a minority and frustrated at his inability to lead the cathedral into Christian action rather than simply continuing the observance of church practices.

© 2011 Peter Marshall

It is hard to see what the future will hold for the occupation at St Paul’s. As a spokesman for the City of London authority said on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, going to court to legally remove it could take several months and may be complicated by the division of ownership of the area in use between the City and the Cathedral. He was worried that the area might become one of permanent protest, like Brian Haw’s Parliament Square Peace Protest, still continuing after more than ten years of political, police, ‘legal’ and other harrassment, and outliving the death of its founder.

Personally I hope that even should OccupyLSX leave (as it orginally intended to do so) that the Cathedral will be moved into continuing some visible political action on what the protesters have reminded them is a splendid public platform. Any church that wants to continue to claim a link to its Christian heritage should be out there on the streets protesting now.

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