Tag Archive for Occupy Faith

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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Occupy Faith

A new phase in the continuing Occupy movement in the UK has begun with the formation of a new charity, Occupy Faith.

This is a very important development as far as Church Peace is concerned, being as it is a melding of the Occupy protest movement and the faith community.

In part inspired by the Occupy Faith movement in the US (much as Occupy UK was inspired by Occupy Wall Street) the Occupy Faith UK movement has planned a 12 day pilgrimage from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral to highlight economic injustice and solidarity with the Occupy movement.

As a new link to build bridges between the protest and faith communities it is encouraging and inspiring to hear of this new initiative.

I do, however, have concerns.  I know other Christians and Christian groups view these things differently, yet the concept of seeking a form of economic salvation by allying too closely to non-Christian groups is not something I feel entirely comfortable about.

The rationale for Church Peace, as it stands, is to connect with the dissenting community, and though I would like this to include support for moral and ethical protests, an important part of Church Peace is the Christian input it seeks to provide.  The Occupy Faith UK statement of intent prohibits the sharing of the Christian faith and makes clear that there is no purpose to proselytise.  Whilst this is understandable considering their stated purpose of seeking economic justice, to me it seems as though the Gospel is being relegated to second place after carnal considerations of finance.

I am reminded of the situation where Israel was being attacked by the Assyrians and they then made an alliance with Egypt to fight the invaders back, which was robustly condemned by God through the prophet Isaiah.  Is it right that Christians should seek salvation from economic woes (even for the benefit of others) by allying with non-Christian faiths and movements?  Should we not, rather, seek to be witnesses of a better way than that which both Occupy and other faiths purport to be?

Of course, it is a Biblical imperative to speak up for the oppressed and the poor, and in this respect it is highly commendable that Christians should seek to do this.  But is such a close identification with Occupy and those of non-Christian faiths desirable, especially when the movement has banned evangelistic efforts by those Christians involved?

I appreciate that there are other views, and would welcome your comments below.

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