Bishop wants to remove critics of money-changers from his temple

By staff writers
31 Oct 2011

The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Dr Richard Chartres, backs plans to remove Occupy London Stock Exchange from the precincts of St Paul's Cathedral.

Speaking to protesters in a question and answer session from the Cathedral’s steps, Dr Chartres told hundreds of people: “I have spoken to the police. I do not think we are on the inevitable road to violence. Getting the legal situation clear is probably a sensible precautionary measure."

"There is nothing that will efface the value of what is being done better than violence. We all want to avoid that," he added.

But one protester, George Barda, replied that scenes of police dragging activists from the church precincts were an "inevitable consequence of legal action" and added: "I am an absolute believer in nonviolence, but I am not going to go of my own accord. I will only leave this site if I am removed physically."

Christian activists have pledged to defend the camp with a peaceful 'ring of prayer' if St Paul's and the City of London Corporation go ahead with threats to take action that would result in forcible eviction.

In discussion with OLSX the bishop did not explicitly say he backed physical eviction, but in a later interview noted by the BBC, he apparently described it as "prudent".

One protester, Anita, said afterwards: "I'm glad that we have met [the bishop and dean] but I don't think we got any clear answers. I think they were speaking rather vaguely about dialogue but it doesn't look as though they have any plans to stop the eviction."

In a formal statement the bishop, the third most senior cleric in the Church of England, declared: "This demonstration has undoubtedly raised a number of very important questions.

"The St Paul’s Institute has itself focused on the issue of executive pay and I am involved in ongoing discussions with City leaders about improving shareholder influence on excessive remuneration.

"Nevertheless, the time has come for the protesters to leave, before the camp’s presence threatens to eclipse entirely the issues that it was set up to address.

"The Dean and the Chapter, who are responsible for St Paul’s, have already made it clear that the protest should come to an end and I fully support that view," he concluded.

In response to a question about a hard-hitting St Paul's Institute report on the moral standards of bankers, which was withdrawn from publication last week, Dr Chartres said that it "would be published", but not when.

OLSX occupied a site outside St Paul's on 15 October 2011, after being moved away from the Stock Exchange, are emphatic in their desire for negotiation and accommodation.

Mark Weaver, aged 30, from Leeds, who chaired the Q&A, said he hoped dialogue would continue with St Paul’s and the City of London.

But the protesters disagree strongly with the view reiterated by the Bishop and by the Dean Graeme Knowles, to the effect that 'you've made your point, now go away and let us handle things'. One said this approach and message came across as "remote, hierarchical and patronising".

There was loud applause for a Christian OLSX supporter who asked why, inside church, she is blessed; but outside the building it appears that the church would like to eject and "threaten me with violence."

Another told Ekklesia: "In his day, Jesus evicted the money-changers from the temple. It is extremely ironic that senior Church of England figures now want to evict the critics of the money-changers from the seat of the Bishop of London - a modern day temple. Sometimes they just don't seem to understand what the essence of the Gospel is about."

One respondent to the bishop and dean pointed out that when the religious authorities of his day wanted to attack Jesus for siding with outcasts, they first used 'Purity Laws' to criticise him - just as St Paul's was doing with its (now discredited) claims about Health & Safety and the OLSX camp.

He added: "This is an historic opportunity for the church.. We are part of a large peaceful movement. There are currently more than 800 peaceful protests taking in 80 countries, all calling for change."

The latest aggregated media reports suggest that the number is actually some 2,100 protests in up to 90 countries.

The Rev Dr Kevin Snyman, a minister of the United Reformed Church, was among a number of religious figures who spoke during a 'Sermon on the Steps' event outside St Paul's Cathedral on Saturday 29 October. The title and style was intended to echo Jesus' famous 'Sermon on the Mount', in which the poor and peacemakers were blessed, and those struggling to see right to prevail commended.

The Occupy London tent dwellers and supporters are part of a global grassroots movement opposing corporate greed and inequality within the world's dominant financial and economic systems. They are also seeking to open up public spaces for meaningful discussion of alternatives to rapacious neoliberalism.

Many reject the terms "anti-capitalist demonstrators" bandied around by the media, saying that it is too simplistic and misses the point that many of those involved in Occupy events are not just 'the usual suspects', but are drawn from a surprsingly wide range of backgrounds.

Mark Field, local Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, has dismissed OLSX as "a circus". But he admits that campers outside St Paul's include some Tories too, and that the sense that current models of capitalism have gone badly wrong are "widespread".

In an opinion piece this weekend, Independent newspaper religion correspondent Jerome Taylor commented that "[i]t is telling that not a single senior bishop has released even a generic, apolitical statement encouraging society to reform the way business is done in the City of London. ... Instead, it has been left to individual Christian groups and now two St Paul's clergymen to lead the moral criticism."

On the silence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he added: "Friends of Rowan Williams say he is less than pleased with the way that St Paul's has handled the Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters, particularly its decision to close the cathedral for the first time since the Blitz. His private sympathies lie more with the aspirations of those protesting against the economic status quo than the bureaucrats of St Paul's."

'[T]he longer he remains silent, the more the Church hierarchy comes across as a robed elite, locked in its ivory towers, refusing to come down and talk to those on the street who are desperately unhappy about the way wealth is being distributed in our country," wrote Taylor.

[Ekk/3]

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