Tag Archive for protest

Protest, Authority and the Church

Protest, authority and the balance between the two. Can the Church achieve that balance? Can the Church both lend voice to protests and submit to authority? The Church plays a very important role in protesting against the injustices and iniquities in the world, and should rightly be seen as a revolutionary and subversive force, as I covered in the first part of this short series. The Early Church was said to have “turned the world upside down” and was opposed, in part, for this very reason. The authorities and powers of the world felt threatened by this movement which threw old assumptions and traditions away.

No Reason for Rebellion

Whilst accepting that the Church has a subversive role to play and that this brings a necessary tension between the Church and authority (just as the many protest movements have a similar tension with authority) we must also be clear that this should not be an excuse for rebellion or the overthrow of the authority structures.

We should bear in mind that the authorities that exist in the world are there because of God. He is the Supreme Authority, and all lesser authorities are forms of his delegation of authority. He remains the King of kings, and we need to respect and honour His will in those authorities He has ordained should exist.

Of course, at times revolt does occur and whether the position of the Church should ever be to support such revolt is not a question I feel able to satisfactorily answer in this article. The situation to which I address this post is more to do with the general attitude to be held whilst in by-and-large normal circumstances. Here the Bible is clear that we should have a submissive attitude towards authority, not an attitude of rebelliousness.

Regarding protest, the Church can and should speak out against injustice and corruption. This should be done with a submissive attitude, regarding such speaking and action as important civic duties in order to bring about Godly reform of the structures of society, and not as a means to further anarchistic purposes. It is also very important that we should not approach protest as a means of settling scores or the furtherance of personal gripes.

Protest is a holding of authority to account

Protest

Authority is important and we should submit to the God-ordained authorities.
(Image courtesy of iStockphoto, used under license.)

Protest, especially but not limited to the Church’s role in such, should be seen as a holding to account of authority and a means of acquiring Godly reform of the authority structures rather than as a means of undoing or overthrowing the authority structures which exist. The time of the Reformation can show that, just as Luther, Calvin and others challenged the iniquitous institution of the Roman Catholic Church, they did not seek to overthrow the Church authorities but rather bring reform in order to restore the Gospel message. The result was that they were ostracised and excommunicated from the Roman church, but that was not their choice but a result of their holding to Biblical doctrines and seeking reform.

There is a great opportunity for the Church to speak for and encourage those in protest movements and there is also opportunity for the Church to bring a peaceable aspect to the many and diverse causes which people protest for and against. Yet we need to remember that protest should have at its heart a desire to improve governance, not do away with governance.

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Protests at Funeral of Margaret Thatcher

On Wednesday the 17th April the ceremonial funeral of Margaret Thatcher was held. Falling just short of a state funeral, the ceremonies were nevertheless full of pomp and circumstance, and cost the UK Government an estimated £10 million.

Many objected to the exaltation of such a divisive leader, who has been accused of ruining so many people’s lives in the UK during her tenure as Prime Minister and since, as the ideals of Thatcherism continue to outlive her. Many also objected at the cost to the Government of holding such a high-level funeral event, especially at a time when those in government are claiming that the poor must go without because money is so short.

These are important issues, and ones that need to be forthrightly debated. Protests are a part of that debate and are an important part, as the battle between those standing for provision for the poor and oppressed in the UK, and those who want the welfare state dismantled, is a very real and current fight.

Church Peace is very supportive of protest. Yet the scenes that appeared following the news of Thatcher’s death and subsequently at the funeral, where parties were held in celebration and, on the funeral day itself, protesters turned their backs of her coffin and shouted abusive insults – these were shameful scenes.


On the day of her death left-wingers issued forth a torrent of abuse on Twitter and at least one large party celebrating the death was held in Glasgow. On the day of the funeral itself a protest took place on the route of the funeral procession. This protest was organised to be a silent one – with the protesters turning their backs as the coffin went past – yet as the event took place there were boos and shouts of “Tory scum”.

Other protests and parties took place in other parts of Britain also, especially in northern cities who suffered greatly under Thatcher’s leadership.

Death has a finality: the end of a person’s tenure on this earth. However much one may feel opposed to a politician’s policies, that politician is also a person who has left behind a grieving family. The celebration over a death is a medieval dancing on the grave – an abhorrent expression of hatred.

As the Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, stated in his funeral address:

There is an important place for debating policies and legacy; for assessing the impact of political decisions on the everyday lives of individuals and communities. Parliament held a frank debate last week – but here and today is neither the time nor the place.

Although the protests against Mrs. Thatcher’s legacy, and indeed the cost of the funeral service, may have my sympathy, I cannot support the disrespect and hatred that lies behind the celebration of her death and the protests during her funeral procession.

There is a real and very present need to debate the issues which Thatcherism has brought. There are so many in this country who suffered so terribly under Thatcher’s leadership, and the current government is seeming to be moving forward her ideal of a dismantled welfare state and the policies of promoting corporate business with rampant individualism. That debate should start now.

Credit must be given to Thatcher for her ideals – she entered politics to make a difference, not to have a career – and even though many disagreed and still disagree with the difference she made, she must be admired for her courage and commitment.

Yet she was a divisive figure. Her policies allowed the greedy to get super-fat on profits, whilst the poor and hard-working suffered. It is a situation with many parallels to today, except that under Thatcher economic growth was high and in these present times economic growth is virtually non-existent.

The debates must be held. Some wanted to make their views known on the day of the funeral, when so many were watching. Yet we must have respect for the dead. If we give up our common humanity to make a political point, then we are no better than our enemies.

In the words of the Bishop of London, as the founder of Thatcherism lay dead in a coffin:

Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.

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The Global Revolution – How Does the Church Respond?

In a recent excerpt from his book entitled “Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere”, Paul Mason argues that the protests of 2011 and the times that followed through 2012 marked a ground-breaking shift in which the youth-driven horizontalist protests had developed a new mind-set which made the old certainties of the 20th Century as alien to the 21st Century as the 19th Century certainties became during the last.

He argues that:

There is a change in consciousness, the intuition that something big is possible; that a great change in the world’s priorities is within people’s grasp. The impervious nature of official politics – its inability to swerve even slightly towards the critique of capitalism intuitively felt by millions of people – has deepened the sense of alienation and mistrust.

Protest is not always a nice event, but can the Church engage with the new protest movements?

Protest is not always a nice event, but can the Church engage with the new protest movements?

He highlights how the protest movements from the Arab Spring to Occupy, taking in the democracy protests in Russia and other protests from Canada to Chile, mark a profound turn whereby the anti-hierarchical and anti-authority movements are more than simply an expression of young angst – although that is in part its driving force – but a new, levelled form of worldview that eschews the political and economic processes of the present and past and advocates a much more “New Age” view of the brotherhood of man and the being on the cusp of that elusive “glorious revolution”.

Yet what should the Church say to this? Church Peace was founded with a desire to see the Church engage with the protesters, the dissenters, and not in a “do as we say” methodology but by showing love and compassion, seeking to understand the concerns held by so many and drawing alongside.

The battle for social justice, social inclusion, and economic equality are matters of immense concern to the protesters and are also natural fields in which the Church should make its voice and actions heard.

Yet there are also areas where the Church must firmly abide by the words of God, and the revolutionary, anti-authority world-views of many in these protests – which Paul Mason argues are somewhat definitive of the new movements – pose a challenge to the Church, which is often seen as being part of the authoritarian problem and an Old Boys Club of hierarchical institutionalised corruption. The Church needs to remain both true to God’s word and also deal with the perception many have formed about it.

The message of the Gospel is not a system-loving, ruler-pleasing oppressor. No, it is a subversive, revolutionary message which in the first century AD acted in much the same way that these anti-authoritarian movements do today: it “turned the world upside down”.

It is, therefore, imperative that the Church does not become so rooted in its hierarchies and authority structures, built up over centuries of traditions, that it misses the revolutionary tide – a revolutionary tide which it can address with a real message: that sacrifice for the common good, given voluntarily and without selfish demand, is the basis of the most fundamental and greatest expression of love. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” – John 15:13. And it is Jesus who laid down His life for us.

The Gospel message has a rich and massive potential amongst those who now protest against the injustices of this modern, corrupt world. Yet the Church has become the enemy: one of those structures to be torn down. Perhaps that is no bad thing. If the monolithic towering Babels of man’s glory expressed in structures and the lifeless stones of the great cathedrals are torn down, perhaps those in the protest movements will see the Glorious Temple that God is building from the living stones of redeemed men and women – a Church that is not so much an institution but more a real fellowship of God’s people yearning to share and show His love.

This is not to say that the Church should become one with the protests. The Gospel message is one which far surpasses any present world methods or goals: we look to another world, one without end: the glorious Return of Christ and the ushering in of His everlasting Kingdom. The Church must not become limited by focussing on social justice to the exclusion of the Eternal.

In addition, the Church should not be consumed by the anti-authority sentiment swelling the revolts and protests: we must be mindful that it is God who has made the authority structures as He has seen fit, and though we each have a role to play in any reform of those structures we must not become railing revolutionaries whose bitter desire is to tear down those we enviously see as being put “over us”.

The world is indeed at the cusp of something profound. Does the Church step up to the plate?

What are your views? Do you see that the Church can play an important role in the new movements spreading throughout the world? What is the best way in which Christians, and the Church as a whole, can engage with the protest movements?

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He Pitched His Tent Among Us

(Note: I intended on writing and posting this before Christmas Day, due to the topical nature of this post. However I decided that family time was more important, and so it is being posted today.)

This time last year St. Paul’s Cathedral were very busy, at least they were in front of the cathedral where Occupy LSX had set up their camp after being pre-emptively blocked from entering Paternoster Square, the Square upon which the London Stock Exchange is situated.

As some pointed out at the time, Occupy was demonstrating in a very real and actual sense a strong part of the Gospel message, even if the full Gospel was not in the forefront of people’s minds. The impressive part of the Gospel message that was powerfully voiced was this: to change the world one must make personal sacrifice, and the focus of our changing the world must be for the benefit primarily of the poor.

There was another aspect, missed by the great Glory of the Cathedral (though the Cathedral does show the glory of God, and Giles Fraser had preached on the needs of the poor the day after Occupy LSX set up), which is that on that first Noel Jesus, God the Son, gave up His eternal glory and dwelt in a sinful and fallen world amongst sinful and fallen people. A literal translation of John 1 verse 14 would have it that Jesus “pitched His tent among us”.

It is not my desire to any longer continue the battle over the rights and wrongs of the Cathedral’s stance during those days, but perhaps this Christmas season we can look at what the Church can learn from the protest movements, and what the protest movements can learn from Jesus.

Occupy and a large number of other protest organisations from Greenpeace to UK Uncut and even to the Anarchists (by and large a peaceful political philosophy despite government and media portrayals to the contrary) would state that their main and primary purpose is to further justice. Here they meet with God – God, in the Christian worldview, is a God who loves justice and wants His followers to practice justice in the same way that He does, through self-sacrifice. (God is also a God of mercy, and so we must always remember mercy even whilst pursuing justice.)

The Church can learn much from those who climb power station cooling towers in order that those in the poorest nations are not starving due to crop failures, or those who give up the warmth and comfort of a centrally-heated house, duvets and fluffy cushions to live for a few weeks, potentially many months, in a tent during the coldest part of the year. Such self-sacrifice for the benefit of others is highly commendable and one which many Christians (including, alas, this one as yet) fail to perform. The Occupiers and other protesters have learnt to “deny themselves, take up their crosses” (Matthew 16:24).

Yet even so, there remains within a majority of these protest movements a self-seeking and a selfishness that is not good, and here the protesters can learn from Jesus. They have learnt “to deny themselves”, and to “take up their crosses”, yet by refusing to “follow after [Jesus]” they deny the justice and mercy of God, claiming that they themselves are the arbiters of such concepts. (I am aware that this is a rather sweeping generalisation, yet to deal with every protester individually on a blog such as this is not possible.)

There is, in addition to this lack of humility, an aspect of self-seeking – a motivation often of envy rather than true love of mercy. My friend and Christian brother Glen Scrivener visited Occupy LSX with a group of people and he told me he was struck by a conversation he had with one protester. I cannot give an exact quote, but the protester said (after a short conversation) that he was protesting out of the motivation that “he wouldn’t have to be envious of the bankers any more.”

In these aspects the protesters need to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn the love of God, which is equally given to protesters and bankers alike, to come to learn from God, to value His principles above their own, and to love mercy as well as justice.

The Church needs to engage with these movements of protest, for the Church is not a domineering institution of hierarchy (or at least, it should not be) but is a subversive force that “turns the world upside down” and has conquered more hearts with the weapon of love than any amount of militaristic imperialist dominance could ever do.

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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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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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What Now After St. Paul’s/Occupy LSX

The question for Church Peace is: what now?

The sad scenes at the eviction of Occupy LSX outside St. Paul’s marked the end of the occupation there, yet the Occupy movement has not given up.  Also, other protest groups are in existence aside from Occupy.

The rationale for Church Peace is to connect the Church with the protest community – how best now to go about this?

The following are some ideas and I want to urge you to contribute to this process of moving forward in the ministry.

  • I have made some links with Occupy Brighton and I am looking at how I can help them there.  If anyone reading this is a resident of Brighton then do get in touch – this may be a good way to support dialogue between the churches and Occupy.
  • If any Christians are willing to take on an administration role for Church Peace, in order to maintain an email list, produce letters, and potentially organise church representatives then do let me know!
  • I would really like to hear from Christians who have their own involvement in protest groups, whatever their particular cause.  There may be an opportunity to learn important lessons from your experiences.

Do feel free to contribute ideas, suggestions and any feedback as a comment to this post!  Thank you!

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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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