Peter Owen-Jones: The Church is now well and truly in the dock

We should stand up and adopt hard moral lines – and take the hits for doing so

Share
Related Topics

St Paul was by profession a tent-maker. He was also a Roman citizen, which gave him access to a certain degree of "diplomatic immunity" when he needed it. So it is a wonderful twist of fate that the London cathedral built in his name, whose grounds are now filled with tents, faces this dilemma: Is it part of the protected elite? Or is it with the tent-makers?

Giles Fraser, the Canon of St Paul's who announced his resignation yesterday, has made it clear where he stands. The question for the wider Church remains.

The Church of England has always trodden a narrow path between serving the needs of the wealthy and those of the poor. As the national church, it has felt that it needs to be accessible to all sections of our society and that a problem arises when it becomes beholden to just one of them. But also as the national church, it is effectively licensed by the state and the Crown.

The hierarchy of the CofE is appointed not chosen, it is selected not elected, a nice little arrangement that goes back to the end of the English Civil War. It is the state, Parliament and the Crown who pull the strings governing the CofE's identity, a process of unnatural selection designed predominantly to garner against religious fundamentalism, the kind of which tore this country apart during the Civil War, and quite rightly none us would ever want to go there again.

The problem with these good intentions is that over the centuries what has evolved is a naturally cautious and inherently tepid Church. Very occasionally the mask slips and archbishops confront the gathered parliamentarians in the wake of a conflict saying that war is always the result of human failure, or they point out that the current status quo is not something that any of us have voted for. But by and large we remain, as a Church, suitably compliant and that is because we have been genetically engineered to be that way.

The Church's own institutions remain gloriously unexciting, and the Church Times continues to serve up its weekly fair of lamb dressed as mutton. And all was bumbling along much as it should do until a small group of protesters decided to make their point in the churchyard of St Paul's Cathedral.

None of us should be surprised that the Bishop of London and the Dean of St Paul's have asked the protesters to leave. They are simply fulfilling the terms of the job description that they have been selected for. One of the very good ideas that emerged from the Civil War was that the Church of England should act as grit and gruel for the excesses of the State, that we should be the ones to stand up and adopt the hard moral lines and – quite rightly – take the hits for doing so. At best the Church's role is to act as a counter-balance to the predations of power and the aching emptiness of materialism – to provide a different perspective on wealth and poverty.

Over the past 50 years we have all felt the cold hands of capitalism squeezing more and more of our humanity out of us. We have all by and large allowed it to happen, believing it was progress. The Church of England has just gone along with it, and we are now utterly embedded in that system.

Under the banner of balance, we at some point took it upon ourselves to "steady the ship" even if it is – as now many of us feel intuitively – going in the wrong direction. As priests we are not supposed to uphold the needs of the State – we are here at best to provide balance against the excesses of power, both political and financial. But we have not remained true to our calling.

The Bishop of London has apparently offered to organise a debate as long as the protesters leave the cathedral grounds. Both he and I know that that is just more of the same and will achieve precisely nothing. Really the days when the Church could offer to arbitrate over debates have long gone. It has taken a while but we are well and truly in the dock now. I find it rather reassuring that after all these years, all of the politics, all of the posturings of the Crown appointments commission, our fate – it would seem – now rests with the tent-makers.

Perhaps St Paul should have the last word. "Finally, beloved whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise think about these things."

Now there speaks a tent-maker.

Peter Owen-Jones is a Church of England vicar and the author of 'Small Boat, Big Sea – One Year's Journey as a Parish Priest'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband with Liverpool City Council leader Joe Anderson, raising a Saltire on Liverpool waterfront on Tuesday  

Scottish referendum: How did Labour manage to end up on the losing side?

Andrew Grice
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media  

The response to my Pizza Express review has been overwhelming, and taught me a lot about journalism

Holly Aston
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week