Saturday, 15 March 2014

A speech to Ely Diocesan Synod regarding the response of the House of Bishops to the Pilling Report

I should firstly like to thank the Bishop and the chairs of Synod for this opportunity to speak. I am aware that many of you may not have seen the Pilling Report in its fullness, nor the response of the House of Bishops to it, both in the immediate aftermath in January, and then following discussion in February. However, given the seriousness of what has been said, in a sense on our behalf, as ‘The Church of England’, and its far-reaching and frankly damaging ramifications, I feel that it is never too early to reflect and respond. I should also ask you to bear with me; some of what I say is uncomfortable and some regards sex – but if we can’t talk about it at synod, then we might as well pack up and go home. I may go a little over the five minutes I have been asked to stick with, but we are talking about the future of the church, and I ask your forbearance.

When the house first responded to the Pilling Report in January, many of us who come from a place of thinking and listening within the church were pleasantly surprised. The bishops committed themselves to conversations – indeed they said that ‘human flourishing’ was their goal. This goal, when considering the plight of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians, to me sounded like a real attempt to deal with the terrible abuses that the church has dealt to our gay young people. One only has to consider the horrendous suicide rate, both here and abroad, of young people who are confused and destroyed by society’s, and yes Christians’, attitude to their sexuality to realise just how desperately such a commitment to flourishing is. Maybe it was time that we apologized, rather than pontificated.

How na├»ve we were. So much for facilitated conversation, for out came the great pontification from the house on Valentine’s Day. It has been made clear that the practice of the church (and its associated pastoral guidance) will not change, whatever the conversations; instead, it will become hardened.  Where the genuine opportunity for discussion was mooted, the doors have been slammed shut – in a shameful, intellectually unsound and hypocritical way. And don’t take my word for it – take the word of the laughable number of bishops who have had to apologise to their flocks since.

Let me take a few examples. I don’t think straight people understand just how boring we gays are – there seems to be a belief that every night is spent injecting heroin and having sex with strangers. Let’s take one of the more patronizing phrases in the house’s February guidance. ‘Same sex relationships often embody genuine mutuality and fidelity’. I’m not quite sure why ‘often’ was required – or why this is so specific to same-sex relationships. Do straight relationships always embody mutuality and fidelity? Indeed, do we ask our bishops to inform us and repent of particular non-reproductive sexual acts they have performed in a straight relationship, like we apparently expect of our gay bishops, in line with the guidance on celibacy last year? No, of course we don’t, because it’s ridiculous. And I begin to sense a theme.

Because of course most of this is inconsistent. We are told that ‘man and woman become one flesh’ in marriage – a central doctrine. Yet we permit divorce (and Linda Woodhead has highlighted the frank idiocy of the house’s view on the alleged first ever redefinition of marriage found in the equal marriage bill). The bishops say that ‘abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage’ and yet we know that gay priests and laity are having sex, and lets be frank, our bishops know all about it. And let’s just think about what sex is, exactly. Some gay laity, we hear, ‘chose to enter into a faithful, committed sexually active relationship’. I’d be intrigued as to where sensual behavior ends and sexual behaviour starts. Where exactly are priests, expected to give a ‘wholesome example’, meant to stop their heavy petting? But then again, it’s essentially impossible to enforce this guidance, so is it anything more than hot air?

We are told that ‘no Lord Spiritual voted for the legislation’ for equal civil marriage, yet most of them didn’t bother to even show up. We are told that many gays want ‘formal status’ for their relationship, including ‘the joys of exclusive commitment’ and ‘legal recognition’. Not a word, of course, about the public nature of declaring yourself to want to model a life of love, commitment and, yes, a ‘pattern and example’ to others. And civil partnerships are of course just fine now – unlike the disgusting and openly discriminatory behavior of the bishops led by Lord Carey when they were first brought in.

But let me briefly turn to the two things that make this recent guidance so impressively, frustratingly, offensively inconsistent and ridiculous. Firstly the question of ordination and secondly the utter drivel surrounding same-sex marriage and its role in the church.

Ordination – the end of a process of individual and collective discernment that the Holy Spirit is calling a person to the priestly ministry. Or at least that’s what it used to stand for. But not any more. The bishops’ guidance states that the house ‘is not willing for those who are in a same sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry’. A man, committed to his husband, hearing the unavoidable call of God in his fifties? Persona non grata. A woman, torn between love of God and love of her lesbian partner? Persona non grata. And why? Because they have taken part in an act of public, and civil, commitment. It is the church that is stuck in the whale’s belly. It is ludicrous in the extreme. And if it’s enforced, what can we say about the nature of ordination from now on? A fundamental change to the meaning of marriage? More a fundamental change to the meaning of ordination.

But wait, there is more. The church authorities would prefer that any gay committed relationship is solemnized and dealt with entirely outside of the church. The church must not ‘provide services of blessing’ for those in civil partnerships, although ‘more informal kinds of prayer’ might be offered. Let me just repeat that. No ‘blessing’ but some ‘prayer’. Are we being serious? What exactly is a blessing other than a prayer? But wait  - there must be ‘a pastoral discussion’. What exactly is envisaged by this? Of course, there’s no answer, but instead a further message. ‘Services of blessing should not be provided’. Clergy must respond ‘in other ways’. Is this really the best we can do? Apparently so. And it is an utter disgrace. We are telling gays in committed relationships that there is no place for them in the church; and it is an outrage.

We say we ‘profess the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and the catholic creeds’, yet permit divorce and women bishops. But gays are a step too far. Why, exactly?

All these examples remind me of the words of a senior clergyman in this diocese – ‘in the church, there are at least some things we are able to discriminate in’. A continuing theme of the Church of England, and one that has been discussed in this diocese, is that of evangelism. If this Synod, and indeed this Church, believes that you will encourage and retain young people coming through the church doors whilst continuing to persecute gays, then you are unbearably foolish.

Gays are fed up of being told to wait – much like those women who were told not to speak in church, and who soon, God willing, will practice authority over men. It’s not good enough. In fact, it’s a disgrace. And it’s about time it changed.


Thank you.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Opposition for opposition's sake?

The budget was an opportunity, and one that could lead to a long-term poll lead.

Add to that a real PR disaster with the party funding debacle, and surely this is the time to start the big fightback that we just haven't managed yet.

Party funding, of course, is a mess, and, much like the arguments about representative democracy, I now really am sold on the idea of state funding for political parties - it's the best of a lot of very bad options. Huge donations, which undoubtedly come attached with huge policy influence, are obviously a very poor way for our politics to be run - and so is the Labour use of union funding, which takes money from unions which could be using it for more specific things their members need, and which often gives the appearance, at least, of union interference in policy. The Labour internal electoral system is also a complete mess, with some members having several votes, and changing that would be much easier when money is no longer involved.

The rich list who would lose out in their influence can, of course, continue to give money to political parties - through paying more tax, voluntarily. And as much as I accept that some people would resent their money going to political parties (and the huge complexity of the system involved) I think the potential increase in responsibility to the tax payer could allay some, if not all, of these added problems. Our current system is a mess, and makes our politics very messy.

But back to the point - our opposition. An opposition has to oppose, of course, and sometimes it might seem that policies are opposed just for the sake of doing so. There is a place for this kind of rigorous checking of government policy, and there is also the place for agreement on major policies which come cross party (equal marriage for example). However, Ed has today called Labour members to arms - and what a paltry offering he has given us (http://www.labour.org.uk/cost-of-living).

First - tax. This makes sense but how are we going to block it? Labour won't, of course, say that they will reintroduce the 50p rate in 2015 - so what concrete measures can be taken? Fees and energy costs are of course important, but where is the evidence behind this - and how will it be done? And rail fares - surely the best way of doing this is removing the ludicrous system of private monopolies that we now have, rather than just capping fares? Train fares are already far too expensive, and it's a structural change that is needed, rather than just messing around at the edges.

And whilst some of these ideas are thinking relatively big - particularly the energy costs (though surely a better long-term strategy is to radically change the way we harness our energy, and provide incentive for the private sector to research and develop) - in reality this is a five point plan of small ideas, little in concrete, and pure opposition. If we want to persuade the majority that we're on their side, we're going to have to do better than that.

Labour needs to take this opportunity, still a few years away from the next election, and form a story for government. Only doing this will we become the government in waiting in May 2015 - and we're not making enough ground yet. These measures have to be part of this story - sure it's not time to make a manifesto yet, but let's form a set of ideas that sets out the priorities that Miliband et al continually say we should be setting out - the alternative to Cameron's Conservatism.

Small measures may work when we're in government, but we need to radically rethink our policy focus, and the dialogue we want to have with voters. We've heard that we are 'refounding Labour' - well where are the fruits of that labour, and what are the priorities that will guide our policies once we regain Number 10? We need to work them out, we need to get them out, and we need to win - not for our sake, but for the thousands of voters who share our values, but aren't convinced we stand for anything right now.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

What a disaster

That was a pretty pathetic budget - and Ed gave a pretty impressive speech afterwards.

One small point really riled me though; and that was on the 50p tax rate.

The Chancellor gave part of his reasoning for reducing the tax on the rich to be that the 50p didn't bring in as much as was expected - in fact, only a third of what was originally expected. Partly, this was because people chose to retrospectively claim their earnings. Is he really so stupid in that he can't see that is only going to be a problem for the first year of such a measure? And also, that now removing the 50p, we will once again lose a load of the income because people will claim their income a year late?

But wait - it's only going to cost us 100 million quid a year - so that's alright! We don't need that kind of money - we've got loads as it is, and it's not like we're cutting budgets in real terms for universities, schools, the NHS, Aim Higher, Sure Start... oh whoops. Yes we are. Still, what's £100mill between (millionaire) friends?

Because the point is, the Chancellor has told us that the rich will still pay more (5 times more in fact). Some might do, that's true; and people with expensive houses certainly will. But if we're all in this together, and we allegedly are, surely we should be looking at increasing the total amount of money we take in, rather than fiddling around, increasing some and reducing other amounts from the rich. If we can get more money in, then we should be doing that - and not cutting 50p in the meantime. It's a bad message, and yes that is ideological; but it is also working in that it bring in £100mill a year, and it's removal is entirely ideological. It doesn't put business off - there's no evidence for that - and it does increase our annual tax takings.

The rise in personal allowance of course is a good thing - but it doesn't do much to help the squeezed middle who still aren't helped by this change, and are losing tax credits. And neither does it help the pensioners who will be paying more tax in real terms.

The budget was full of some good things and some bad. But the bad things really are disastrous, and this could well be the beginning of the end for compassionate (and intellectually sound) conservatism.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

50p? That's out-bloody-rageous

Apologies for the re-hash - this is a speech I gave to CUS earlier this term. Still pertinent, if a little lacking detail. I only had 3 mins...


I suppose I should start by wondering aloud whether the proposition tonight are heartless or just completely clueless and ill-informed. I’d love to think that it was the latter, but with a student conservative leading the charge (and they really are a special breed) I am not leaping to any conclusions just yet. And with Tory party backers being rather well heeled, perhaps the political pressure is all too much to make a reasoned argument.
Let me make it quite clear here – if the proposition say that tax on the rich is too high, then they want to lower it – and that means one of three things. One – not paying off the deficit. Two – taxing the poor more. Three – slashing welfare and public services more than has been done already.

Let’s get to the heart of this issue; what is tax for? If you listen to some of the Republican nonsense in the US, you’d be forgiven for thinking tax is just there to punish success, and we could do rather well without it. That’s true – if you don’t want roads, public services, a health service and a welfare system (although looking across, I’m not sure if the proponents do want that). And in today’s financial mess, caused mostly because of an obsession with credit and a fundamental misunderstanding of risk, on a personal, governmental and system level, and a pitiful regulatory framework, we need to get back to the simple addition that we all learnt at primary school – we must be able to afford what we spend. And contributions from citizens, or tax, is rather a useful method of creating a state income. And remember that deficit, chaps – the one you keep blaming Labour for? We need to get back to sustainable levels on that too.

What the agitators for tonight’s motion seem to be arguing for is Bush-style US tax cuts for the rich, and hence increasing the deficit (or getting the money to pay it off from cloud cuckoo land). You would have thought this lot would have learnt from their ‘compassionate conservative’ colleagues across the water that that really doesn’t work. Which is fairly obvious to a thinking human being, surely – hence why Bush enacted them, I suppose. And they will, of course, be appalled by government waste – Sure Start for one – and would argue that we could do more for less. Yes, let’s cut inefficiency and support only evidence-based measures, sure. But let’s not kid ourselves that, were we to find we could cut tax, we should pop it back into the Armani suits first. But at the same time, we would clamp down on the tax loopholes which the same suits use to steal from the exchequer.

So what do we ask of our rich that is so unreasonable – and remember here that only 300,000 out of our population of 70 million pay this amount? 50% of their income above £150,000? Outrageous! Of course, we don’t have much leverage over their shares, and the super-rich still get paid an obscene amount in bonuses, but come on – how unreasonable we are! Why on earth should the state levy high levels of tax on people, like the Chief Executive of Boots, who earns over a thousand times that which an average employee earns? It’s a moral outrage! It’s punishing ambition, surely. It’s doing down success. Or is it asking people who have benefitted from our financial system to pay some of their success into helping the less fortunate (and indeed, in some cases, the less greedy).

But wait, they have another solid argument up their sleeve – people will run away, businesses will leave, the world will end. Which is of course likely in a country with competitive rates of tax on business – and which has of course been borne out by the fact that the entire executive work force legged it overseas when the 50p rate was introduced. The bank bonus tax was to cost the exchequer 1.2 billion when everyone departed for more iniquitous shores – but no, we raised 2.3 billion. And a recent report into the Laffer curve of tax burdens becoming counterproductive for the government shows the 50p rate as being very much a revenue creator.

We’re behind here – rich mainland Europeans and some very rich folk in the US, Bill Gates amongst them, are calling for more voluntary contributions, either to the exchequer or charity. But here we seem to be having an argument about an intolerable burden being placed on our richest. And don’t get me wrong – were there to be a more equal spread of income, tax rates would certainly be different. But whilst we have gross, some would say disgusting, inequality of income, our rich must, with the rest of us, accept their civic duty and responsibility, and help to pay for the liberal democracy that has helped them get rich. And, if they have any soul, they should give a lot more to those in need, voluntarily. I urge you, with all the moral fibre and intellectual ability that you have, to oppose this outrageous motion.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Sorry, Varsity - you can't silence me that easily


The University of Cambridge doesn’t seem to be very good at PR.

These last two weeks, we’ve seen the rather lenient slapping of the wrists of a paedophile Don, whilst at the same time seen a student sent down for two and a half years for taking part in a protest. It doesn’t sound quite right – and surely this is just another own goal in the list of own goals that our wonderful institution seems to score. And to single out a student seems bizarre at best – unless there is information that we haven’t yet been told.

Now don’t get me wrong – the protest was ludicrous, erring on dangerous. I fundamentally oppose any attempt to shut down an event when the sole reason for doing so is because someone with a differing view to one’s own is speaking. David Willetts, the universities Minister, has undoubtedly upset a good number of students and Fellows alike in his higher education ‘plans’ (education plans, we must admit, which were a natural conclusion to Higher Ambitions, the Mandelson-sponsored Labour predecessor). So, like any thinking person at the time, I was fairly appalled by the crass way that our so-called saviours, some of whom hailed from, Cambridge ‘Defend’ Education, attempted to destroy the idea of debate.
But the whole argument got a bit more convoluted yesterday when a petition against the suspension, partly fronted by CUSU, had as a major statement that ‘opposition to the government's higher education policies is a stated aim of a broad range of organisations’. In what way is this relevant to the petition? Rather, it gives implicit support to the protest, as a method of ‘opposition’. I do not support the government plans. I do not, however, see the protest as anything other than idiotic, misjudged, childish and useless. Therefore, I do not see this rustication as having anything to do with ideology – and nor, seemingly, does the university court, given their ruling on grounds of freedom of speech. Once again the extreme left, who doubtless had some shaping over the statement, have attempted to justify their actions by lumping an ideological viewpoint with the petition – and it will put people off signing it.

They didn’t help themselves, either, by C’D’E’s release of a tweet stating ‘this means war’. What on earth does that mean? Why are the extremists so imprudent that they can’t realise the best way to win an argument is to stick to the parameters in which that argument is framed. Students who protest do so in a country where it’s legal – and where we should defend that legal right. They also go to a university which prides itself on freedom of speech – something these fanatics prevented that day. How they manage to do their degrees at the same time, I have no idea – some of us have to work for ours. And for some in the protest movement, two and a half years away from studying won’t be much of a change, I might uncharitably suggest.

But taking it all together, and rising above the nonsense spouted by the self-confessed radicals, I still support, and have signed the petition against the sentence, on the sole grounds that it is disproportionate and will not help in the university’s furtherance of freedom of speech. The university should have every right to punish people who obstruct lectures, occupy their property and prevent freedom of speech – but should be proportionate about it.

But the extremists should be warned – your aggressive, all pervasive, flawed ideological posturing is unhelpful to your cause, and may one day just mean that you lose any empathy the rest of us would otherwise feel.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

A bit of a Balls-up?

 You could be forgiven for thinking that the two Ed’s had offered to go and sack a bunch of public sector workers themselves after the furore this weekend. The image of Ed Balls marching into our hospitals and schools, arbitrarily laying people off, must have been on the minds of many members of the public by the way they reacted, not to mention the unions. And who is to blame? And what does it say about the way Labour is seen in a modern Britain, post-crash, mid-crisis?

‘Red Ed’, the man elected by the unions (allegedly for the unions) never had an easy run of it to start with. In the minds of many, simply not being his brother was an immediate turn-off, and with his fingers very much in the Brown government’s pie, and his alleged ‘far-left’ leanings, the ride was never going to be easy. Ed, of course, isn’t far left; but what exactly is he? Unfortunately, his start hasn’t seemed to have improved with him necessarily appointing Balls as Chancellor (a man so intrinsically linked with bank deregulation and the deficit) simply because there was none other after Alan Johnson resigned. A seeming dearth of talent who aren’t attached to Labour’s mistakes on the front bench, together with a lack of sense of direction, has certainly hurt the first few months of ‘Next Labour’. ‘We are a new generation’, we were told; well, deliver.

Balls et al have a number of problems, and the worst of them is the past. No Labour minister is willing to say they are proud of the past, despite the Blair-Brown government enacting some of the most popular and most progressive policies of any party in the world. Instead, they skate over things which the public blames them for – namely the deficit and the huge deregulation of the banking sector. What caused the crash was the reliance on credit, the spend-spend culture which was certainly not unique to the UK, but was rife here. We were all guilty – consumers, banks, government. But for a Labour government to be losing the argument now on regulation, being outregulated (if you will) by a Conservative administration is extraordinary. Labour must admit that they let the city rule far too much, and thought the good times would never end. It’s only once we accept the failings of the administration, that we can hope to celebrate some of its successes (take gay rights, women’s empowerment, the national minimum wage, the reduction in crime). In the good times, we didn’t prepare fully for the bad; and there was a deafening silence from the Conservatives as well. There was a consensus, and history has shown it to have been a faulty one – but to deny it is wrong.

But wrong too is suggesting that the financial crash is all the fault of the past administration – it’s not, of course. We got it wrong on regulation. We were desperate to keep taxes relatively low whilst improving public sector pay and services, and after the crash, the deficit was unsustainable. If we’re honest, we didn’t come clean about tuition fees, and we left the pension crisis for post May 2010. And if we’d won, what would have been the result?

That is partly what Ed has to answer. The current Labour leadership seems to be devoid of a narrative, a story of where the Labour Party should be going. And the political landscape is just waiting for one. We have the Tory narrative – we are responsible, we are dealing with Labour’s mess, and there is no alternative. And Labour’s? Well, at the moment all we seem to have is scared rabbits in the headlights – look at the recent drive at credibility which so affected the party this weekend. Labour has to regain credibility, sure, but simply being credible, with no actual policy direction, no new ideas, and no passion for an alternative is not going to win votes, and certainly not inspire traditional Labour heartlands.

It is time for Labour to lay out their vision of the future. The argument that it’s too early to come out with a manifesto is absolutely accurate; Labour members and disaffected members of the public are not looking for a manifesto, but a story. We need to tell people what the financial sector would look like under Labour. We need to tell people what our priorities would be in state funding, rather than describing the exact cuts we would reverse, or indeed simply state the obvious, that we cannot promise to remove specific cuts if the economy will be in the state it is likely to be in by 2015. We need to talk about our plans for improving state education rather than trying to match cut-for-cut. And we need to do this within a new framework of economic sustainability, both financial and environmental, so that we are both credible and progressive, legitimate and exciting, truly social democrats living within the state’s means. And if we think these means must increase, then we must be honest when we talk about tax linked to public services; we must close the loopholes; and we must cut waste from inefficient systems.

Ed is not leading the party to oblivion, but he doesn’t seem to be leading it anywhere. This is the time that we either accept 10 years of in-fighting, seen as the public either as ineffective or as extremists, or we grasp the hope that we have had in the past, build on the successes of 1997-2010, accept the failings, and redefine economics for the future Labour administration. I hope we choose the right path.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A radical rebirth?

Yesterday was All Saints’ Day – the day when Christians the world over are expected to build on the faithful witness of generations of good people who have lived out the Christian message. What a good day, then, to visit St Paul’s Cathedral, and see the protest that has caused so much trouble to the church in the last few days, and see what the current good people of the church are doing.

I’m an Anglican, albeit a liberal one. And the way the church has behaved has been a deep embarrassment. 

Now whatever we think of the various parts of the protest (and to be frank, there are an awful lot of seemingly professional protesters, people who do it for ‘lolz’, anarchists and extremists, together with people who genuinely have a cogent argument), there is a central idea – the idea of human rights, and of an end to poverty in the UK, particularly with reference to unbridled capitalism, the rich getting richer and the poor poorer (and I would suggest it should be world-focussed on the poverty side, with children the world over unable to even find clean water to drink). These, from any Christian perspective, are things which should worry the church; but they just don’t seem to.

The church has been a monumental waste of space on issues like this for years. This, of course, is the same ‘church’ that supported slavery and prejudice against people on grounds of race (and still does on gender and sexuality). But this is a wake-up call; and if our Anglican leaders don’t answer (the Romans have always been far behind in some ways – God forbid that people are put above an institution – but there is a lot of ground work going on that is simply obscured by sex scandals and homophobic ranting), then the church is in crisis.

I suppose the real problem is that the church has been caught unawares. One moment it is doing what it’s always done; and the next there’s a protest on its door step, posing all kinds of questions about poverty, capitalism and exploitation (together with a million causes that far left extremists cannot stop themselves from stapling all over their agenda, many of which are far more controversial and simply don’t garner public support). And what has the church done? Been pretty pathetic, if we’re honest.

When I was a younger and less cynical student, I remember a priest saying to me that university is the time that people should be radical about religion. Well, if this isn’t the time, then when is? I think he was pushing me towards becoming an evangelical; well maybe Christians should be more evangelical, but not in the classical way of shoving the Bible down people’s throats, but instead genuinely showing the good news in their lives.

So has St Paul’s woken up to the call to arms that this situation has proven to be? All that seems to have happened is that a Canon has resigned, and then the Dean, in a fit of nerves and perhaps one might uncharitably suggest, in a fit of peak, has resigned. We have been warned that, if protests like this continue, the Monarch might not make it to St Paul’s as part of her Jubilee Year – shock horror. So I suppose we should simply be brushing issues under the carpet, and rooting the camp out right now – we certainly can’t have our Queen having to deal with real day to day issues. The problem that the church is having is that it’s too late on these issues; it’s missed the boat, and all it can do now is appear on the side of the protesters, or on the side of the city. And neither is really being authentic to the voice of the Gospel. But it’s fairly obvious which side Jesus would have been on – and I’m not sure that he was a huge fan of pin-stripes and braces.

Rather than waking up, let me tell you what St Paul’s has done. If I might us the words of a priest sat near me tonight, what was preached from the pulpit – the place of moral argument – last night was ‘the worst sermon I think I have ever heard’. It seems that St Paul’s has decided to become deeply introspective and protectionist – to place the church in a place of separation and difference – and to completely ignore the issues which it is being forced to address.

Let me briefly tell you a story, told to me by a senior clergyman of a country cathedral. On Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem before the crucifixion, a lady of the establishment left the cathedral, and noted to this clergyman ‘what a lovely day, Father. I wonder if our Lord had such a lovely day on his ride into Jerusalem.’ It’s at times like this that even the most rose tinted amongst us must look at people who profess to be Christian, and wonder if they have really got the point. Even her husband mentioned ‘I think he probably had more important things to think about’. And this is exactly what St Paul’s, and the wider church, is missing. St Paul’s is an institution first, and a place of Christian worship second. Rather than putting the institution first, we should be putting the communities and people of the earth first. Which we categorically fail to do each Sunday, and which is a huge sin for the church.

But back to the ‘sermon’ we were subjected to. We got the standard platitudes about God (albeit performed in a somewhat Gilbert and Sullivan way), but it was the rest of the content that followed which was most offensive. We were told that the church was acting with ‘courage and certainty’, ‘making known the good news’, and were reassured that those professing to be Christian both ‘know and are known by God’. We were also told that we must ‘live the eternal now as revealed to us in Jesus Christ’. So far, it seems pretty sensible; that church goers must live the life as given in the gospels, from the Jesus who says ‘love your neighbour as yourselves’. In fact, the gospel for the day included the words ‘Blest are the poor’; a call to action for those of us who have much to give, if ever there was one. However, it was the preacher’s concentration on Jesus’ words that ‘blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you’ that was most disturbing. Because he seemed to think the church needed some sympathy.

He claimed ‘it’s not our job to justify ourselves’. Just let that sink in for a moment. Because, St Paul’s, yes it is. The church has failed. It has failed in its basic goal; to reflect God’s love in its actions and deeds. You can tell a million people about how great a man Jesus Christ was, and about how to get happiness, but if you fail to tell the whole story, or fail to make those words into actions, by speaking up and acting against poverty, corporate greed and exploitation, and making that one of the major, if not the major, parts of your mission, then every time the Lord’s Prayer is uttered, ‘thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven’, you lie to yourselves. The church just becomes a bunch of men in frocks talking about the rules that God wants us to follow.

In the same sermon, he said we should ‘look death in the eyes’. The church looks death in the eyes every single day, when people die because of hunger, and the church doesn’t seem to care, doesn’t seem to speak up, and lets any good message on world peace and equality get smashed down by something far more irrelevant and minor, whichever it is that week that ‘threatens to break the Church apart’. The Church is just a group of Christians – the institution is a distraction, and any obsession with it is harmful and damaging. Focussing on love for humanity would be a good start.

That’s not to say that St Paul’s doesn’t do some things about poverty; the work on corporate greed, for example, that the foundation has done – but then it hasn’t released it, in case it was bad PR. And that is the problem with the church’s seeming obsession with PR – they don’t want to look on the side of the protesters, in case they upset people. Someone who was quite happy to upset people, including the officials and religious authorities, was Jesus Christ. The church isn’t agreeing with everything the protesters are saying; but by blocking a report, and refusing to engage with the issues (they are engaging with the protesters, provided that it’s a well-media-managed situation) they are making the church into an irrelevance. How pitiful it is that we have barely heard from our leaders, who almost obsessively jump about when gay marriage, or female clergy, or threats to religious power are mentioned.

The sermon ended with ‘this saints day is business as usual’. Well, what exactly is business as usual for the Church of England at the moment? And does the business as usual really leave so little to be desired that the church need not justify itself because it is so perfect and does so much good?

The reality is that the church has been caught unawares, and from its point of view, these protests are an unfortunate, but timely, reminder that they should have the moral high-ground here, but don’t. It shouldn’t have come to this, but it has, and it’s time that the church got off the fence, stopped worrying about what it looked like, followed its founder Christ, and created real life, modern saints, ones who do genuine good in the world, rather than some in the dubious list, who have fought valiantly against other Christian denominations, killed at least a couple of hundred people, and been canonised.

It’s time for a radical rebirth for Christianity, and this is the chance for the Church of England to redefine itself as a church for the next era. If the state doesn’t like it, disestablish. If some wealthy parishioners don’t like it, Jesus has an answer – sell all you have and give it to the poor. The Church is an institution first, and a communion of people second – it’s time to turn the tables, much like Jesus did in the temple, and leap forward in faith like never before.

We’re lucky – Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Anyone who professes to be Christian in the western world carries the collective sin of the church, both now and across the centuries. So let’s take this call to arms, take the true message of the Gospel to the streets, speak up and act against greed and poverty, and be the prophetic voice that our world badly needs.