Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Forced removals will cap a PR disaster for the Church of England

So the countdown is on. Within the next 48 hours protesters outside St Pauls Cathedral in London will be forcibly removed from their makeshift campsite. Stockbrokers and fund managers will be free once more to go straight from the Stock Exchange, which is just around the corner, to the church for a little light prayer before lunch.

If you thought things could not get any worse for the Church of England think again. The sight of the Met’ piling in and dragging people off in police vans (perhaps we could kettle them first!) will sink the church to new lows after the resignations of the Canon Chancellor and then the Dean yesterday.

As Andrew Rawnsley pointed out in The Observer at the weekend the protesters are not menacing, untidy, drunk or badly behaved. In fact their tents are arranged in rows, debates are apparently significantly more polite than those you will hear in the House of Commons and many protesters have been popping home for regular showers.

The reaction of the authorities to all of this has been so staggeringly unnecessary it defies belief. Instead of letting the whole thing peter out, the Corporation of London has issued eviction orders, the Mayor Boris Johnson has piled in and even the Prime Minister has put in his two penneth.

All of this pales in comparison to the reaction of the Church of England which has been like a rabbit caught in headlights. Warning lights should have been going off all over this one. Just a little light reading could have told the Church that the vast majority of the public would take banker bashing to its literal extreme if given the chance.

Brownie points were there for the taking. Photo opportunities of men of god serving soup from makeshift kitchens were not taken up. More importantly neither was the opportunity to place the Church at the centre of a global debate. Instead the Church literally locked its doors and metaphorically closed its eyes and ears.

Where in all of this was the leadership? My mother has said for years that Rowan Williams was, in her words, “ a wet blanket”. Being pretty much an atheist I didn’t much care, but now I have to admit she is right!


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