"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19
"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Giles Fraser: Prophet of our time and for our time.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey - now Lord Carey, retired some years ago. As a general principle I tend to think people who retire from very high profile jobs should keep a very low profile so as not to undermine their successors or their old organisation. Lord Carey has not always always managed to do this and there have been a number of occasions when I have suggested that he get an allotment to keep him occupied in his retirement.
His most recent comments, on the other hand, could not have been more welcome. On Friday he criticized the cathedral's handling of the protest, saying the situation had become a "debacle" that could hurt Christianity's image.
"The inevitable resignation of the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s, Giles Fraser ..... is a sad day for one of our great national churches. But the departure of this able man, and now the planned reopening of the cathedral, should at least bring to an end the hand-wringing and posturing of the past two weeks. My paramount concern throughout has been that the reputation of Christianity is being damaged by the episode, and, more widely, that the possibility of fruitful and peaceful protest has been brought into disrepute," Lord Carey wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper. He went on to say, "For countless others, though, not least in the churches, this was a hopeful sign that peaceful protests could indeed take place at a time when so many civil liberties have been eroded. Furthermore, it demonstrated that the Church is willing to play a sympathetic role in the lives of young people who are drawn to a movement calling for economic justice.
Like many others in the Church, I have a great deal of sympathy for the raw idealism of the protesters. Their contention that the banks have not paid an equitable price for the damage caused, in part, by their reckless lending and profiteering strikes a powerful chord.
One moment the church was reclaiming a valuable role in hosting public protest and scrutiny, the next it was looking in turns like the temple which Jesus cleansed, or the officious risk-averse health and safety bureaucracy of urban legend. How could the dean and chapter at St Paul’s have let themselves get into such a position?" (The Daily Telegraph)
What's to disagree with there?
I opened my own newspaper - The Guardian - today to discover a large cartoon depicting the current staff of St. Paul's Cathedral, walking down its steps, lined by riot police and singing (with jazz hands) the words to Al Jolson's "Mammey" ("Mammey, how I love you, how I love you, my Dear Ol' Mammey") Except the word "Mammey" was changed to "Mammon".
On "Have I Got News For You" this week Ian Hislop quipped that the attitude of the staff at St. Paul's had been "Of course we stand with the poor, but the gift shop is losing money."
I've been following this story on the blogs, particularly on the excellent Wounded Bird and felt that enough was being published elsewhere that I had nothing particularly to add but it seems to me that a tide has turned and it has turned very much in favour of Giles Fraser, now technically unemployed. Who would have imagined so many collumn inches and so many profiles in the quality press devoted to Giles Fraser?
I am a great admirer but appreciate that those who are more conservative than I have not found him to their taste. However, such views as "Goodbye Giles Fraser, you won't be missed." (Gavin Drake, Bishop of Lichfield's press officer) are seeming to be not only triumphalist but premature. "Sod your colleagues, eh, Dr. Fraser? The important thing is that you hold on to your reputation as a man of principle." (Toby Young, writing in the Daily Telegraph and blaming Dr. Fraser for single handedly costing the Cathedral hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost revenue) completely misses the point and in doing so makes Giles Fraser's point eloquently.
"I get fitted up as Wat Tyler, but I'm no radical." Dr. Fraser tells the Guardain. In relation to the root cause of the protest outside the Cathedral, he says, "Jesus is very clear that the love of money is the root of all evil ... Jesus wants to point us to a bigger picture of the world than simply shopping." He also noted, "I think there is a very clear question here to be addressed and the reason that the protesters have captured some of the public imagination is because a great many people think that something has gone wrong with the City of London and that the wealth generated by the City does not exist for the benefit of us all ..... As Christians you are called to engage with the world. That's the whole nature of the incarnation." He talked of St. Paul as a tentmaker by profession and noted "If you looked around and you tried to recreate where Jesus might be born - for me, I could imagine Jesus being born in the camp (but) it is not about my sympathies, or what I believe about the camp. I support the right to protest and in a perfect world we could have negotiated ... the church can not answer peaceful protest with violence ... I can not countenace the idea that this would be about Dale Farm on the steps of the St. Paul's.." Which seems to take us back to Lord Carey and his concern that the reputation of Christianity has been tarnished. There is a certain irony that Dr. Fraser was appointed to St. Paul's, at least in part, to develop ethical thinking within the church.
Can you imagine the headlines and the photos as the police move in to clear the anti-capitalist "We are the 99%" camp? I can and it won't do the CofE - or the wider church any good at all. I am wondering how many times the word "hypocrites" would feature in the coverage.
And yet poll findings suggest that 65% of CofE members feet the church was right to welcome the protesters and now we have the ridiculous situation that the camp remains and the Cathedral, having negotiated to overcome some of its Health and Safety concerns, is once again open to the public.
You couldn't make it up.
Marina Walker, writing in the Guardain commented "Giles Fraser ... seems to be one of the few people in the Church of England who thinks deeply about how to apply Christian teaching to the real world." I think she is right and what an indictment of the church that is. "The situation cries out for St. Paul's clergy to seize the occasion, fling open the doors and hold more and more debate ... about justice, poverty and responsibility."
I'll leave the last word to News Thump:
St Paul’s chancellor resigns after committing act of tolerance
The chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral is to step down from his post after acting in a way that is supposed to be synonymous with the Christian faith.
Reports suggest that Canon Dr Giles Fraser, who has been sympathetic to the protest camp outside the London landmark, considers his position untenable after mistakenly practising what he preaches.
Dr Fraser, who angered other members of the clergy when he refused to sanction the use of force to remove the protesters, could also face separate allegations of forgiving people.
The Dean of St Paul’s, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, said he was optimistic about reopening the cathedral as soon as any signs of clergy displaying the defining characteristics of Christianity were stopped.
“Love, tolerance and forgiveness are all well and good in theory, but they don’t pay the bills,” he insisted.
“We are currently losing £20,000 a day in donations as a result of these protesters.”
“The Church of England’s investments portfolio is currently worth only about £5.3bn, so as you can see, every penny counts.”
Speaking of the protesters, who have occupied the area around St Paul’s for the last 12 days, Reverend Knowles issued further criticism.
“I mean look at them,” he blasted.
“Long hair, beards, sandals, acting all preachy.”
“Who’s going to take any notice of anything they say?”
I note that there has been a further resignation from the staff of the Cathedral on the same grounds as Dr. Fraser. This looks set to run and run.