It is difficult to understand quite what protestors expected to happen when they tried to ‘occupy’ the London Stock Exchange a couple of weeks ago. Firstly, it’s a pretty well used building already so is in little need of further ‘occupation’. Secondly, it’s a privately owned building. Even Britain’s supine Police force was unlikely to allow a well advertised act of breaking and entering to take place.
So the protest was rather silly from the off. But as they kicked their heels outside the stock exchange the protestors knew enough to know that they would get a warm welcome from the Church of England, an institution which has become rather silly itself.
Alas, this soon blew up in the Canon’s face. The protestors had more staying power – during the day at any rate – than he perhaps suspected and St Paul’s was forced to close its doors for the first time since German bombs were falling on it in 1941. Soon there were mutterings of legal action to remove the protestors and Canon Fraser resigned. A few days later the Dean resigned too.
Canon Fraser isn’t the only Anglican clergyman to make himself look silly recently. The Bishop of Chelmsford teamed up with Vanessa Redgrave to protest about the eviction of the residents of Dale Farm. But when asked on Radio Five why he didn’t offer some church land for the Travellers to live on, he blustered and evaded. Charity begins somewhere else.
These sorts of situations are always on the cards. Since at least the time of Archbishop Ramsey (1961 – 1974), who seemed more interested in the legalisation of homosexuality and the evils of the Vietnam War than the salvation of man’s eternal soul, the Church of England, or its leadership at least, has been getting political. And it is less the Conservative party at prayer than a bunch of grumbling socialists.
In 1985, under Archbishop Runcie, the Church stepped forward to oppose Margaret Thatcher’s government with the publication of ‘Faith in the City’, a dreadfully outdated document (even then) which criticised her government and harked back to some mythical Keynesian Golden Age. Thatcher, a low church Methodist no more ready to be lectured to by high churchmen than high Tories, loudly rubbished it.
Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop, has kept this tradition up. He has criticised the ‘Big Society’, free schools, and the coalition’s legitimacy itself and he revealed his hidden economist to attack the government’s deficit strategy.
Those who see Jesus Christ as first century Galilee’s answer to Che Guevara would argue that the Church has a duty to speak out on such issues and to an extent it does. The trouble is that when you board the protest bus there’s no guarantee that the bloke you end up sitting next to won’t be a bit weird and incoherent. As clergy inside St Pauls lined up to defenestrate themselves outside it was reported that “a dozen or so protesters wearing tattered suits and white zombie makeup performed a clunkily choreographed mass dance routine to the tinny sound of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, waving a huge, black banner saying: ‘Dancing on the grave of capitalism.’”
For the protestors the whole episode has been a waste. They set out to protest something vague about capitalism and have ended up protesting something vague about the inner workings of St Pauls Cathedral. An attempt to re-connect with the original aims of the protest by setting up a second camp at Finsbury Square (which is round the corner from a branch of Barclays) fizzled.
But the biggest loser has been the Church of England. Like a sad old man enjoying the flirtatious attentions of a young woman, the ailing, aging, and increasingly irrelevant Church jacks in the job of saving souls and dives into politics, gulled by the promise of an infusion of youthful vigour.
But it is a one way street. When the dalliance at St Pauls spelled trouble for the Church the warm welcome of the clergy was forgotten by the protestors who loudly and aggressively proclaimed that their right to protest trumped all else.
By flirting with silly people the Church has made itself look very silly. There’s an old saying that “He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon” The same goes when supping with Michael Jackson impersonators.
This article originally appeared at Global Politics