Here are two responses given by Rev. Dr. Chris Brittain of the University of Aberdeen in relation to the Occupy London movement and recent events regarding the actions of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The first is in response to the Cathedral’s decision to have the protesters removed. The second regards the comments made by the former archbishop.
It is one of those rare occasions that leaders in the contemporary church long for: to be at the heart of the action. In a society with little interest in organised Christianity, suddenly St Paul’s cathedral finds itself at the epicentre of the Occupy London movement (St Paul’s may seek injunction to move activists, 24 October). Rather than serving as a museum to the past, it has become a site of public contestation. Initially, the church demonstrated a hospitality that intrigued activists. Impressed after hearing a priest offer prayers for both the protesters and the police, one young man said: “It has changed my idea positively of the Church of England.”
On Sunday, however, the cathedral shut its doors, using the meagre excuse of “health and safety concerns”. Today the church has admitted that its main worry is lost tourist revenues. Such a stance will only confirm what many outsiders already think about the church. Influence and relevance in the wider society do not come without some inconvenience. It is a pity that the cathedral is unwilling to get its hands dirty. As an Anglican, I hope St Paul’s doesn’t completely squander this chance to make a real witness to its faith while it is in the public eye. Does suing young and unemployed protesters really model the call to love one’s neighbour?
Rev Christopher Craig Brittain
George Carey’s entry into the controversy over the closing of St. Paul’s Cathedral (The Telegraph 28 Oct) may aim to articulate a ‘balanced’ approach to the issue, but there is nothing reassuring about balanced cynicism. After helpfully acknowledging that the Cathedral has not handled the situation with Occupy LSX well, he then proceeds to accept the un-informed view that the occupiers are ‘spoilt middle class’ young people who were rude enough not to leave when St. Paul’s asked them nicely. The former Archbishop then sits back and scolds everyone involved, calling the situation a ‘parable’ that illustrates the brokenness of British society. In the New Testament, parables are open-ended stories that challenge listeners to see the world in a new way. Carey’s perspective does nothing of the sort, but only repeats cynical stereotypes that reveal that he is not well informed. Bertolt Brecht once told a parable of his own: ‘When crime is committed, just as the rain fails, no one cries Halt’. What the Occupy LSX are trying to do is to at least cry ‘Halt’ against the many social ills that plague contemporary society. This hopeful gesture is a far more useful contribution that the former Archbishop’s cynical despair.