Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Message of St Paul's

How useless – moribund – is the Church of England!

I have just been listening to two vicars on the Today programme talking about the impact of the St Paul’s protest.
One of them told us how much he loves the Church of England; the other valued his ‘ministry’. They talked about the role the Church could play in mending our fractured society, and in helping the protestors to articulate their message. One of them even suggested opening St Paul’s as a homeless shelter.
There was just one thing, however, that neither of them managed to say during the entire interview.

What Would Jesus Do?
A protestor’s banner hurls the question: ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ It is of course, a semi-rhetorical question. The protestor isn’t opening a debate, he is making an accusation. Jesus, he is quite sure, would be there amongst the protestors, fighting for social justice.

But would He? Jesus certainly said some pretty damning things about wealth. It is easier, he warned us, for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And on another occasion he told a good and godly man that he lacked one thing – ‘Go, sell all that you have, and come, follow Me.’

On the other hand, there is no doubt that he once told aid workers that ‘the poor will always be with you’, and that they needed to concentrate rather on their time with Him. And – in a statement which the St Paul’s protestors would find horrific – he once famously told anti-imperialist protestors to ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’.

In short, Jesus’ message on wealth was neither necessarily for it nor against it, but that it was essentially a distraction from what REALLY mattered, which was ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’ … a phrase which we would probably nowadays render as: ‘your relationship with God’.

What would Jesus have done? He would certainly have been out and about with the protestors, but He would have been telling them to get themselves right with God, to seek God’s salvation, to be ‘born again of the spirit’…

The Failure of the Church of England
So just how crushingly disappointing is it that our primary state-sponsored religious organisation has so utterly failed to convey ANY religious message during this event? When presented with the perfect media opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of the Christian GOD in our society, the Church has flunked. No Christian music blaring from loudspeakers, no teams of Billy Grahams flooding the camp, no round-the-clock soapbox preachers banging home the message of salvation.

Instead, a public acknowledgement of respect for the different religious persuasions of the protestors, and an uncomfortable and sterile debate about how to address the inequalities in society.
Faced with a disorganised and generally non-threatening protest, the Church of England has demonstrated to the world that it really has no confidence whatsoever in the religious message it was formed to purvey.
Rather, admittedly with an unexpected shudder, the Church of England has decided that it will be safer to come down on the side of Capitalism, and it has cooperated with the City of London Corporation to clear the site. Out of site, out of mind, eh?

If I were being reflective, I would see in the paralysis of the Church of England a symptom of a general loss of confidence in our Western moral and religious values. Christianity still has a formal place in our society, but in practical terms our religion nowadays is demand-led Capitalism, and the St Paul’s protestors are the heretics.

What is the ultimate disappointment of the Church of England is not that it has failed to come out and support the protestors. It surely never could – God is the God of the rich just as much as He is of the poor.

What is devastatingly disappointing is that, given an unparalleled opportunity to reassert the primacy of God, the religious establishment has decided that protecting its building is more important than proclaiming its faith.

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