Last Wednesday afternoon, I walked with Clive Larsen, a Changing Attitude trustee from Gay’s the Word bookshop to St Paul’s Cathedral to witness the protest camp.
Jim at Gay’s the Word was his usual enthusiastic self and introduced me to books about homosexuality in Africa that I hadn’t come across, valuable tools for the work of Changing Attitude in Nigeria and Kenya. Gay’s the Word is a great resource for LGB&T people and carries several shelves of faith-related books in a relaxed, human environment.
Relaxed and human describes the atmosphere of the protest camp at the foot of St Paul’s cathedral west doors, rounding the corner to the north where there’s an entrance to the crypt but perhaps not the interior of St Paul’s nor the Dean and Chapter.
As I was taking photos of the tents and banners, the Rt Revd Graham Knowles, Dean of St Paul’s, wandered across the edge of the camp in his purple cassock, climbed the steps and disappeared through the west doors into the vastness of the nave. Access to the cathedral was most certainly not “seriously limited” as later claimed. I was tempted to hurry after him and say hello – we’d met previously in the context of Changing Attitude, soon after he arrived at St Paul’s. Given what has happened subsequently, I wish I had.
Giles Fraser had spoken on his own behalf early on Sunday morning when he came to tell police lined up in front of the Cathedral that their presence was “unnecessary”. He told the BBC that: “I’m very happy that people exercise their right to protest peacefully, which is what people are doing. . . There’s been no damage to the Cathedral, and it’s been a very peaceful process, as far as I’ve seen.”
I support the protest against corporate greed and economic inequality. We are part of the 99% and so are all followers of Jesus Christ who opted for the poor and downtrodden. Clive and I were impressed by the organisation of the camp itself and by the readiness of the cathedral to allow the camp to stay. Alas, too soon.
On Friday the Dean announced that the Cathedral would close “until further notice” citing “fire, health, and safety issues” caused by hundreds of activists. He advised the protestors that St Paul’s had no lawful alternative but to close St Paul’s Cathedral until further notice.
‘Church officials’ say the closure is costing St Paul’s about £20,000 a day and are putting intense pressure on the activists to move. The majority of tourists who arrive to find the cathedral closed are also supportive of the protest, which should shame the church officials.
It was difficult to see what the health and safety risk was from the protest camp, apart from some slightly unusual odours. The entrance to St Paul’s wasn’t blocked – indeed the broad stairs were occupied by far fewer tourists than usual. I wonder who the Cathedral’s “independent health, safety, and fire officers” are. And why – did they actively seek cautious advice to give them a pretext for closing the camp?
My reason for writing here about the stance St Paul’s has taken against those campaigning against economic inequality and injustice is to wonder how supportive they might be of LGB&T people. Giles Fraser was 100% supportive of LGB&T people at St Mary’s Putney, initiating the launch of Inclusive Church in response to the abusive treatment of bishop-elect Jeffrey John and hosting a reception for Bishop Gene Robinson. St Paul’s has now and has in the past lesbian and gay clergy on the staff.
All have been discreet about their sexuality, either for personal reasons or because it is thought inappropriate to the reputation of St Paul’s for it to be a matter of public knowledge.
As a part of the Christian community committed to the radical transformation of human society, a place where the Kingdom of God is made manifest, St Paul’s is part of the problem, not part of the solution. It’s tragic to see St Paul’s apparently siding with the rapacious and undemocratic city financial institutions (and of course, I wonder if that is where the pressure has come from – recompensing the loss of £20,000 means nothing to them, less than the widow’s mite).
St Paul’s stands at the heart of the City of London as a symbol of power, impressive and intimidating. I had hopes that on the inside, the clergy and chapter of St Paul’s might have the courage to stand for justice and equality, whether for the global community or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The clergy and chapter are personally affected by both issues – would to God they had to confidence and courage to stand for the Gospel against the prevailing attitudes of church and city institutions.