Giles Marshall 6.03am
It would be easy to mock the Church of England over the St Paul’s shenanigans. On the surface of it, this looks like another wonderful example of an unworldly, do-gooding church getting into a right old mess over its desire to be radical and anti-establishment.
First, the good clergy of the cathedral allowed an army of protestors to occupy their entrances and churchyard; they called on the police to back off; they expressed support for the politicised sentiments of the protestors.
Then they find that not only does the protest inconvenience workers, tourists and the general public, it inhibits their freedom too. They close the cathedral and subsequently find themselves in a bind.
Now, it appears, they want to support the protestors while wanting them to go and carry out their protest somewhere less inconvenient. Anthony Trollope would have had a field day.
But the tendency to mock should be resisted, and the resignation from St. Paul’s of the man who first welcomed the protestors, Giles Fraser, should be seen as the act of a man determined to show Christ’s compassion through the current travails.
The former Canon Chancellor leans towards the gospel of the poor. No reader of the Bible has to look far or hard to find such a bias. Revd Fraser, confronted with well-meaning protestors on his own doorsteps who wish to register their opposition to an increasingly venal and material culture, could hardly have refused them. Indeed, he almost certainly realised that he and his Church had been offered a rare opportunity to identify the gospel message with the struggles of so many who wonder how it is that they should accept a society that continues to reward the very few, while leaving many in dire circumstances.
Jesus Christ, who announced that the poor were blessed, and who likened the ability of a rich man to get into heaven with that of a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, would surely have expected no less. And if Dr Fraser found himself in conflict with some of his more legally minded colleagues, he might even – one hopes not for long – have been tempted to draw comfort from Jesus’ regular attacks on the lawyers in the form of the Pharisees.
Yet as the protests continue to obstruct St. Paul’s Cathedral, there are those who might suggest Dr Fraser created the very circumstance that made preaching the gospel from his church’s pulpit so difficult.
There are, in fact, disputes as to how necessary the closure of the cathedral actually was. But even if the protestors seemed ungrateful towards their clerical supporter, Dr Fraser at least understands the significance of the core message of the gospel he preaches and seeks to live out.
Grace is a remarkable concept. Grace is what Christianity centres on, and the willingness of Dr Fraser to extend the Church’s support to a protest against mammon - whether or not the protestors chose to acknowledge his support or make life difficult for him - is a welcome reflection of Christian grace.
Dr Fraser appears to have resigned because he would not countenance the forced removal of the protestors. In allying himself with the protestors, no matter how flawed they might be in the articulation of their message, Dr Fraser has shown that there is at least one cleric who understands that living the gospel is the foremost role of a pastor, even at the expense of his institutional job.
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