Tag Archive for Christianity Uncut

Does the Church Understand Protest?

This weekend past there were demonstrations organised by the unions against the austerity programme that has been implemented by the Government. Christians took part in these and peaceably showed their support for a grass-roots movement against swingeing cutbacks and the victimisation of the poor.

Yet a week before, on the anniversary of Occupy LSX – the camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral that became the focus of the Occupy movement in the UK – Christianity Uncut and Occupy London staged an ill-received protest at the cathedral.

Protest at St. Paul's Cathedral

Christianity Uncut members unfurl a banner outside St. Paul’s Cathedral – (Photo Credit: Christianity Uncut)

The protests involved a member of Occupy Faith standing reading a prayer; a group of four women chaining themselves to the pulpit; and a further group outside unfurling a banner. Except for the prayer reading, which was formally invited, the protests were not sanctioned by the cathedral and the cathedral made a strong rebuke to those who took part in the action.

Yet is not protest at the heart of the Gospel message? Jesus did not come to make peace, but came with a sword to divide the sheep from the goats. He Himself drove out the money-changers from the Temple; rebuked the religiously hypocritical; called the puppet king Herod names.

Yet so many in the Church (and in my usual manner I use the capital “C” to indicate the universal Church comprising of all believers without denominational bias) seem to regard protest as something inherently evil.

Sometimes a form of protest is allowed, such as in the prayer reading by Occupy Faith at St. Paul’s, or an orderly march through a police-ordained route with a set start and stop time and a clear chain of command that the police can use to control the procession.

Yet the form of protest that has written the British democratic history has not always been the kind of clean-shaven, well-to-do garden party. And we shouldn’t expect it to be.  (It is sad that if the triumphal entry into Jerusalem which we commemorate on Palm Sunday were held in Britain today it would require prior police approval.)

Many in the Church find the idea of protest unappealing – that is for their own consciences – yet equally they should not seek to prevent those who wish to make a demonstrable impact on political discourse.

A democratic society is a fragile one in many ways. We lack the clear autocratic mandate to wage war against enemies or impose necessary but unpopular polices. Yet we are also at constant threat from our own leaders, albeit if those leaders are oftentimes unaware of the danger. The threat of straying too far from the public will is a real one, and public protest is the important mechanism by which the masses make known their dissatisfaction to the privileged (and every member of a government is privileged in that degree) before such gruesome aspects of people-based rule as riot and uprising are manifest.

The response from St. Paul’s to the peaceable and respectful protests two weekends ago show that the Cathedral has not learned from its general rejection of Occupy LSX. And the general distaste which many in the Church have for peaceful direct protest reflects more on their own middle-class comfortability  than the Gospel message of the Man who died on a murderer’s cross to set the captives free.

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The Poor and Lame – Should we Stand?

On the 31st August a major protest took place against Atos, an organisation which has been accused of deliberately targeting disabled people for the removal of benefits under instruction from the Government.

Christians were also part of this protest, as Christianity Uncut stood in solidarity with disabled people and able-d persons who were engaging in this protest, and in the words of Symon Hill, an associate director of the Ekklesia think-tank:

“Jesus said he had come to bring good news to the poor. Atos bring bad news to the poor. David Cameron is welcoming the Paralympics while snatching away the livelihood of thousands of disabled people. Ministers could save billions by cracking down on corporate tax-dodging and ditching Trident, instead of  attacking the poorest members of society. Many Christians recognise that there can be no neutrality in the face of injustice. Now is the time to act on that conviction.”

There were some scuffles at the protest and, though by-and-large peaceful, some people were injured. There were reports that as the police made an apparently aggressive move to force protesters from outside the doors of the Atos building some of those present, including disabled protesters, were crushed by the forced back-stepping by those near the building.

However, Symon Hill has informed me that there was a great atmosphere of solidarity and encouragement at the protests and that many of those involved greatly appreciated the presence of Christians prepared to stand for those less able in our society.

I am keen that those protesting are supported in their democratic right to engage in dissent whilst at the same time encouraging the police to take a softer line in their public order policing, and would encourage those Christians who would want to bring a peace-loving aspect to expressions of political dissatisfaction – whilst equally encouraging those of all faiths and none who feel passionately enough to take to the streets in a peaceful manner.

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St. Paul’s Gave Police The Okay to Clear Steps

Yesterday the Independent newspaper revealed that St. Paul’s Cathedral had given the police permission to clear the cathedral’s steps during the eviction of the Occupy camp that was cleared on the 28th February 2012.

I do not wish to be dragging this on, as also yesterday the cathedral welcomed its new Dean, and my view is that Christian forgiveness should be paramount in this matter.

Yet the fact remains that many Christians have been exceedingly hurt by the dealings of St. Paul’s Chapter, as this open letter shows.  It must also be of further hurt to hear that the various statements released by the Chapter were, in fact, clearly misleading.

Those whose actions have brought such hurt do need to consider their positions and prayerfully consider if they have allowed the riches of City of London Cathedral life to skew their perspective regarding those who are poor and marginalised and those who were being faced with a forceful eviction – some of those being fellow Christians.

My hope is that the new Dean will make a statement of apology, but whether that is or is not forthcoming the Christian duty to forgive remains, and my prayer is that those who have been so hurt by this may come to have reconciliation with those who injured them.

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Can the Offender Tell the Offended to Forgive?

As I wrote on this website a while back, I felt that the Christian response to the seeming collusion of the authorities at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the forced eviction of the Occupy camp on their doorstep would be to forgive and move on.  I felt that this would have been the correct response, even though praying Christians were dragged from the steps of a church – a sight that should be abhorrent to every person of faith.

Yet those who were so offended chose instead to seek understanding of how fellow believers could treat them in such a way.  This is most understandable, and the letter that those of the Ring of Prayer sent to the Chapter of St. Paul’s was polite and stressed that any meeting would be “in a spirit of love and respect”.

Yet such a move was roundly rejected by the Chapter, and instead the Rt. Rev. Michael Colclough wrote back saying that the matter should be “put behind us so that we can all continue our work of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.

Then perhaps we can read the open letter, bravely and courageously put, by Tammy Semede, and perhaps understand the great distress and pain that those at the cathedral caused their brothers and sisters.

Tammy’s letter is both heartfelt and shows a serious flaw in the thinking of the Chapter of St. Paul’s.  Can he who has offended his brother then say “let us put this matter behind us”?  If I stole from you and you asked to meet me in a manner of love and respect to discuss the item I have stolen, should I then say “no, I will not meet but you should forgive”?

Yes, we must move on.  But in my view the authorities at the cathedral need to be taking some very serious assessments of their policies and attitudes.

And perhaps it is a question for the wider Church: are we so enamoured with the grandeur and pomp, the wealth and riches, the rotten carcass of Western consumerism and the sell-out to big money, that we can no longer discern that it is we, the Church, that have been acting not as the oppressed and the persecuted, but as the conniver in the oppression of the poor.

Many in the Church are good men and women, working hard to provide for those who are without, both spiritually and practically.  Yet we also have those whose links to the Establishment outweigh any imperative to help the underclass and any scrap of decency is merely a whitewashed tomb.

As the events at St. Paul’s fade to memory, let us now learn the bitter lesson that we are more comfortable with those who have reputation and wealth than with those who are the modern-day lepers and outcasts.  Let us learn the lesson, let us repent most earnestly, and let us be the hands and feet of Jesus, not the treasurers of the Sadducees.

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After Forced Eviction, Now is the Time for Forgiveness

After the eviction of Occupy LSX from the land outside St. Paul’s Cathedral there are many who are hurt.

Christians who had formed the “Ring of Prayer” initiative were praying on the steps of the cathedral when the police dragged them away, with the report of at least one policeman kicking a praying Christian.

Yet the presence of Christians and others praying and urging a peaceful eviction did bear fruit, and the eviction was largely a peaceful affair.  The majority of the protesters left without needing to be forcibly removed, and though there were reports of some water bottles being thrown by a hardcore group who built a makeshift “fort” the level of violence was remarkable by its absence.

An excellent report in the Independent highlighted one concern: how much and how willingly was the Cathedral involved?  Jerome Taylor and Charlie Cooper at The Independent write:

A carefully worded statement released by St Paul’s after the eviction made no mention of the forcible removals from the steps of the cathedral. Instead, it effectively welcomed the clearance of the camp, stating only that the cathedral regretted that such a removal had to be done by bailiffs.

“In the past few months, we have all been made to re-examine important issues about social and economic justice and the role the cathedral can play,” the statement said. “We regret the camp had to be removed by bailiffs but we are fully committed to continuing to promote these issues through our worship, teaching and [the St Paul’s] Institute.”

Indeed there were reports that after the Cathedral lights were briefly turned off just before the eviction began police could be seen on the building balconies.  Such reports led to speculation that the cathedral was actively facilitating the eviction, yet at the present time it is seeming that those on the balconies of the cathedral were not police.

The events with the floodlights, and St. Paul’s following comments, leave important questions laying unanswered as to how pro-active the St. Paul’s authorities were in the eviction.  A spokesperson for St. Paul’s made a comment when pressed saying:

“The police did not ask for permission from us regarding any aspect of the action taken last night, but we were clear that we would not stand in the way of the legal process or prevent the police from taking the steps they needed to deal with the situation in an orderly and peaceful manner,”

It either shows naivety or dis-ingenuity that St. Paul’s would not realise that such a green light to the police would be taken in a sweeping manner, and a video from the night shows police telling Christians on the steps that they did have permission from the cathedral to remove them.

Yet the eviction is passed.  It was largely peaceful and for that we must be very grateful.  That many Christians have stood up and sought peace in this matter testifies to the love and grace that Jesus grants us.

As such, we must now move on.  St. Paul’s Cathedral were in an unenviable position given their strong links with the City.  I believe they made a series of blunders and moral failings.  Yet we must forgive and move on.  No profit is to be found in constantly berating past mistakes.  Church Peace seeks peace, and peace cannot occur when bitterness and desire for revenge of any sort is harboured.  As God has forgiven us, let us now forgive St. Paul’s and pray that the future may be brighter for the cathedral than it may appear at this time.

 

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Praying Christians Dragged From “House of Prayer”

In the early hours of Tuesday 28th February the Occupy LSX camp was evicted from the land outside St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Although reports indicate that the eviction was largely peaceful, there are statements that some protesters were kicked and dragged by police.

The eviction had been expected, and according to the Guardian the majority of protesters packed up their belongings and began to leave before the forcible eviction began.

The “Ring of Prayer”, organised by Christianity Uncut, took place, although many Christians (including Giles Fraser, the Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s who resigned over plans for eviction) were prevented from entering the area.

According to Christianity Uncut the Christians who were kneeling and praying on the steps of the cathedral were dragged away by police, and Jonathan Bartley, director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, is reported as testifying that he was kicked repeatedly by police and then dragged away.

The situation where Christians engaged in peaceful prayer are dragged from a supposed “house of God” is reminiscent of scenes not seen since the great religious reformations and political revolutions of the past.  As such, though the alleged collusion of the Cathedral authorities shows that many who are called by the Name of Christ are having difficulties deciding on whether to support the system of Western capitalism or the system of service and sacrifice, there is a strong movement of both Christians and non-Christians that will not be silenced.

The opportunity for Christians to connect with those who truly care about our society has never been greater, nor been so important.

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Ring of Prayer and Prayer Vigils

Christianity Uncut, a group of Christians that are campaigning against the Coalition government’s austerity policies, has organised a well-publicized “Ring of Prayer” for the protection of and solidarity with Occupy London Stock Exchange, or Occupy LSX.

The pledge which interested Christians are asked to sign is as follows:

I stand in solidarity with people of all religions and none who are resisting economic injustice with active non-violence.

In the event of Occupy London Stock Exchange being evicted, I intend to go to the camp to worship and to join with others in forming a ring of prayer.

I will seek to act in a spirit of love towards all concerned.

It has currently been signed by over 300 people and a list has been started enabling notification should the eviction take place at short notice.

More details here…

Prayer Vigils

As well as the Ring of Prayer, some groups have said that they will hold prayer vigils timed to coincide with any eviction taking place.

Currently we are aware of two groups endeavouring to hold vigils in Cambridge and Bradford.

I would also like to organise one in Eastbourne, East Sussex.

If you have any further details on these prayer vigils; are setting one up in your own locality; or would like to be part of one in Eastbourne, please do comment below or email admin@churchpeace.org.uk.

With many thanks.

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