Anglican church struggles with ‘occupy’ response

Anglican church struggles with ‘occupy’ response

The protestors of London’s "Occupy" chapter have chosen to camp out in the forecourt of St. Paul’s cathedral. The site of the tent city was originally to be further down the road at the home of the London Stock Exchange and rightful equivalent to Wall Street, but Paternoster Square is privately owned property and, right now, it’s heavily guarded. But the cathedral locale has become a flashpoint of a larger, unexpected controversy: a schism in the Anglican Church.

A lawsuit has been filed by the City of London Corporation (CLC) to evict the protestors on the grounds that they are blocking traffic. While the demonstrators aren’t actually occupying the streets or, more specifically, the highways which are the jurisdiction of the CLC’s Planning and Transportation Committee responsible for the suit, committee member Michael Wellbank explained that "encampment on a busy thoroughfare clearly impacts the rights of others."

In fact, the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral closed its doors to worshippers and tourists last week due to safety concerns for the first time since WWII and joined the CLC’s lawsuit last Friday. But since the court action could lead to the forceful removal of protesters, and ultimately violence, the cathedral proceeds without three of its clergymen who have already resigned in protest. One of them, Canon Chancellor Giles Frase, explained his decision to the Guardian:

St. Paul was a tentmaker. If you looked around and you tried to recreate where Jesus would be born — for me, I could imagine Jesus being born in the camp. It is not about my sympathies or what I believe about the camp. I support the right to protest and in a perfect world we could have negotiated. But our legal advice was that this would have implied consent. The church cannot answer peaceful protest with violence.

Church leaders seem divided between general sympathy for the protesters’ goals, and a desire to have them advocate those goals somewhere else. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams addressed the controversy for the first time today,  saying, "The urgent larger issues raised by the protesters at St. Paul’s remain very much on the table and we need — as a Church and as society as a whole — to work to make sure that they are properly addressed."

Meanwhile, the bishop of London, Rev. Richard Chartres, was called a hypocrite by angry protestors as he tried to walk a fine line with his remarks supporting both their causes and their peacefully disbanding. On Sunday, he told the crowd, "You have a notice saying, ‘What would Jesus do? That is a question for me as well."