St Paul’s and a Global Reality Check

‘What would Jesus do?’ – one of the prominent banners outside St Paul’s Cathedral during the anti-capitalist protest.

A good question. And I’ll come back to it later. But many questions have been raised by this protest and the Church’s reaction to it. In circumstances like this, I’m afraid the Church is in a no-win situation as far the media are concerned. ‘The Archbishop should have sorted it out.’ says one commentator. ‘St Paul’s got it all wrong. They were naïve.’ says another. ‘More concerned with losing £20,000 a day and health-and-safety than about the plight of the poor.’ says a third.

The consensus seems to be that St Paul’s handled things badly. And it has cost two senior clergy their jobs. The damage caused to the Church’s reputation may take a long time to repair. Some people are asking: ‘Whose side is the Church on – the poor of the world or St Paul’s Cathedral’s closest neighbours – the fat cats of the city of London?’

The first resignation casualty at St Paul’s made his views clear on that. Canon Giles Fraser is a well-known broadcaster and writer who is not afraid to say what he really thinks. Since his appointment last year, he has been running the St Paul’s Institute. If you look at the Institute’s website ( ) you’ll see that among their aims are these: ‘Recapturing the Cathedral’s role as a centre of public debate; bringing Christian ethics to bear on our understanding of finance and economics; – – to engage the financial world with questions of morality and ethics.’

The website reflects all the meetings, lectures, and seminars which have taken place in the last eighteen months involving many key figures from the City, politics and industry. It was – and hopefully still is – shaping up to be a very useful forum for discussing the big questions which have come to the fore since the credit crunch, the crisis in the Eurozone, and the pain which Britain and other countries are now having to bear because of cuts in government budgets and the reduction in living standards for so many people.

We need people like Giles Fraser to help us to take a constructive part in that debate. Because high-powered meetings like those run by St Paul’s Institute are all well and good, but the debate must also happen in our local churches and pubs, at home and in schools. The questions raised are vital for every single person on this planet – especially for the symbolic 7 billionth human being born on the day the Dean of St Paul’s resigned.

The world that child has been born into – our world – is now more inter-dependent than ever. A planned referendum in Greece may end up leading to the collapse of the Euro and a world-wide financial meltdown. And – as usual when things go wrong – it’s the poor and the marginalised who are likely to feel the greatest pain.

So what would Jesus do? There is no simple answer to that question. The protesters outside St Paul’s gave no answer. The St Paul’s institute has given no answer. But we are right to ask the question – and all the other questions which the global financial crisis has raised. We cannot go on as we are. The economic certainties which seemed to clear and hopeful during the last thirty or forty years have been proved false. Economics is not an exact science – because human beings are not totally rational. We are not computers which cannot make mistakes. We get things wrong, and the time has come to take a long hard look at what we got wrong.

It’s no good just blaming the bankers, the economists, the credit-ratings agencies or the politicians. We are all involved. To a greater or lesser extent we all conspired together to create a cloud-cuckoo land where national and personal wealth could go on growing, and we could go on spending and consuming. But the world isn’t like that. And the financial crisis has come as a global reality-check.

So – no simple answers. But I believe that the Church has a part to play in promoting realistic debate. I know that many will say that the Church should keep out of politics. Not true. If the Church has nothing to say about all these huge questions, then it might as well pack up now.

Jesus lived in a totally different age to ours. But there was injustice; there was inhumanity; there was foreign occupation and exploitation; there was war, famine and disease. His teaching is full of stories drawn from everyday life at the time. He understood what it is to be a human being – because he was the most complete human being who has ever lived. The principles and values which he taught two thousand years ago still apply today – and are increasingly ringing bells with people who may have no interest whatsoever in the institutional Church.

The Church today is an all-too-human organisation with many faults and failings. But it is – at every level – a place where we could bring people together to examine the world we live in, and begin to make decisions about how we want to manage our finance, banking, politics, care for the environment and personal consumption for the benefit of all humankind – especially child number seven billion – whatever his or her name may be.

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2 Responses to “St Paul’s and a Global Reality Check”

  1. 1 Richard Keene November 1, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    It is vital that the messages of these protests are addressed as they are not going to go away. As yet, they are not very clear, but the unfair distribution of wealth is obvious to everyone. The protests will become uncontrollable quite quickly with the aid of the internet if nothing is done.So far, they are staying within the law.
    The church should be seen to sympathise with the protest and back the movement, as I am sure Jesus would have done.,The alternative would be elitist.

  2. 2 Dave November 1, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    As Richard says the protests are not going away. The Church has to stand with ordinary people who often do their level best to pay their bills and live responsibily. Yes I know some will point fingers…then Matthew copped that in Jesus’s day…
    What does concern me are the fuel companies who continually increase their prices and people on low or fixed incomes stand no chance. Either they go further into debt or go cold…..

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