Between St Peter’s Rock and a Hard Place.
St Paul’s needs a Third Way to deal with the Occupy London protesters, and fast. A binary choice between ‘should they stay, should they go’, is destined to be a disaster either way.
St Paul’s Cathedral has been widely panned for its weak and divided response to the “Occupy London” protests, and it’s not hard to see why.
Whether the Cathedral’s Chapter force the protesters to leave, or allow them to stay, their reputation will not emerged in any state other than badly damaged.
To simply capitulate and leave the protesters in place indefinitely looks weak. The Cathedral will be portrayed as having been taken hostage by a bunch of angry and incoherent campers (most of whom are probably atheists), and the story would definitely not be about them. Just the latest phase in the perceived decline of the Church of England into irrelevance.
To force the protesters to leave, by contrast, instantly draws accusations of worldliness and hypocrisy taking the place of genuine, Christian compassion for the poor. Caricatures of latter-day Pharisees; guardians of the hollow marble tomb, abound.
This is why the Cathedral, to coin a phrase beloved of Mr Blair, badly needs to find a Third Way. What the Chapter seem to have largely missed is that this protest is a golden opportunity for the Cathedral to positively and proactively engage on issues of serious concern to a great many people, even if the rambling, neo-Marxist solutions proffered by the protesters themselves fall far short of genuine solutions.
What the Cathedral should be doing is flinging open its doors and using this situation to encourage real debate, drawing in high profile figures from across politics and industry, the left and the right, and bringing the media along in spades.
Not only would this insert the Cathedral into the centre of one of the most important issues in the British public conscience today, they could also use this opportunity to robustly convey the Christian message on these issues, both on panels and in the down-time in between.
At the outset, the Cathedral should announce a timetable for these debates of one month, making clear that after that time they will have played their part and the protesters must move on. Christmas will be round the corner and the Cathedral must understandably honour its many other commitments at this important time of year.
If the protesters failed to move on at that point, no longer would the Cathedral look callous and uncaring; on the contrary it would be the protesters that would be perceived as petty and unnecessarily stubborn; and rightly so.
But time is fast running out. The Cathedral can still seize the initiative, but to do so it needs to recognise that by viewing the situation through the binary spectrum of ‘should they stay, should they go’, they risk committing a very public and very unnecessary suicide.
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