The Christian Church in an age of protest: no signals no hope?

by Dave Perry

No signals no hope

Jesus would have wept. Not at the loss of tourist income or at the rumoured discomfiture of the bankers and city grandees whose interests register so strongly in the life of St.Pauls Cathedral. No. He would have wept for the sell-out of his gospel and for the missed opportunity of prophetically and demonstrably being good news for the poor which has unfolded in London over the last week.

It has been heartbreaking to watch the bright flame of Canon Giles Fraser’s solidarity with the encamped Occupy the London Stock Exchange protestors sputtering out in the increasingly suffocating and oppressive darkness of a cathedral which, in an act of almost suicidal misjudgement and failed leadership, closed its doors on the world outside and turned its back on the protest. When they tried to get us to buy their "Health and Safety" excuse they were peddling snake oil in public. Small wonder that The Guardian editorial likened St Paul’s to a "whited sepulchre", with all the bitterly ironic connotations which that reference carries for Christians, or that Giles Fraser, displaying admirable integrity and with the full courage of his convictions, has now resigned as Canon Chancellor.
Jesus would have wept.

In an age of protest, Christianity finds itself absolutely on message and in tune with popular outrage at the economic and social chaos which the elites of the global banking and financial systems have brought down upon the masses worldwide. For the church to offer no signals and no hope at a time like this is just unforgiveable. It empties the gospel of meaning and reduces it to something vacuous, facile and futile. Who in their right mind would follow something so obviously lacking in spiritual authenticity?

Living in New York in the 1930’s when the great skyscrapers were being built, the legendary photographer Alfred Steiglitz was fascinated by what he saw happening to the city’s skyline outside his window, and pondered its significance for his identity as a photographer. He said "If what is happening in here cannot stand up to what is happening out there, then what is in here has no right to exist." That piece of insight applies equally powerfully to the Christian Church in an age of protest.

If we choose not to signal Jesus’ solidarity with the poor, marginalised and exploited members of our societies, living desperate lives beyond our stained glass windows and pews, and if we fail to offer them hope through our own costly discipleship, then what happens within our holy huddles has no right to exist in his name. No signals. No hope. And real Christianity will be expressed ‘out there’ by those who really ‘get’ Jesus.

Slavoj Zizek, writing in yesterday’s Guardian, gets the point across splendidly as he coins this memorable phrase: "one should remember what Christianity is: the Holy Spirit, the free egalitarian community of believers united by love. It is the protesters who are the Holy Spirit, while on Wall Street pagans worship false idols." At which point I rather think Jesus would dry his tears, put down his hankie and cheer.

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