The way that the Occupylsx protest was diverted from its original target of the London Stock Exchange and found itself on the steps of St. Paul’s cathedral has offered the opportunity of widening the issue under debate from an attack on the financial system to a more wide consideration of the state of morality in the country. In these situations it can be difficult to discern the truth of what is going on. The New Statesman gave what seemed to be an informative account of the goings on around the closure of the cathedral last week and the question of how necessary it was. Part of St. Paul’s defence of its self and the part it plays in the question of the morality of the financial system was its claim that the St. Paul’s Institute undertook study and debate in this area. This claim gained added poignancy when the Independent on Sunday announced in an exclusive that it had discovered that this Institute was about the publish a study on the moral standards of bankers which was highly critical of workers in the financial industry for their lack of concern over the impact of their folly but it had been postponed to save church embarrassment.
In the absence of any meaningful pronouncement from the higher members of the church’s clergy this sermon form Paul Nicholson delivered on the steps of the cathedral on Sunday afternoon is worth showing here:
My sermon is directed at the Bishop of London and the Dean of St Paul’s because I don’t think they understand the enormity, the magnitude of the economic injustice that has happened and is happening now, or the hurt it causes, and about which we protest robustly but non-violently and peacefully. My understanding of our faith is that we love everyone and put our impoverished, our sick and our old fellow citizens first. We believe that love should inspire the use of power, which should be exercised in the interests of justice.
The British Parliament lost sight of those principles when it deregulated lending while copying the government of the United States in the 1980s. The next governments in both nations continued to allow the City of London and Wall Street recklessly to exploit that lack of regulation for private gain and to allow landlords to profit from the consequent rise of land prices and rents; so housing benefit rose to £22 billion a year in the UK. Parliament never put the lid on it. It all blew up in 2008.
To deal with the inevitable financial crisis the present government is taking £18 billion out of the welfare paid to the poorest citizens and capping their housing benefit. They have not hit the landlords in any direct way who profited from that £22 billion in 2010 and many more billions each year before that. Parliament is hitting the poorest hard. Parliament is not hitting the wealthy in any effective way. That stands on its head the Christian principle of love inspiring power and justice which put the poorest citizens first.
Dear Bishop and Dear Dean the inconvenience of a few tents on your doorstep is nothing when compared to the anguish of several million tenants threatened with debt, eviction and the bailiffs because they cannot pay the rent in this country through no fault of their own, or the increasing poverty of many millions in many parts of the world because of the reckless, uncontrolled and disorderly behaviour in the City of London and Wall Street. You have lost your sense of proportion. Our peaceful but determined outrage should have your Christian support without threatening the use of the coercive and punitive powers of the State .
The Corporation of the City of London has begun legal proceedings against you. The Corporation’s moral and democratic authority to do that should be challenged. It is a democratic anomaly. Its members are businessmen who have to be resident in the UK, Europe or the Commonwealth. The majority of the Corporation’s electorate do not live in the City and can vote for their own local authority elections as well as the City’s. The Corporation is very wealthy and wields power fare greater than any other group of UK citizens with immediate access to 10 Downing Street. Its failure to regulate its constituency has diminished, if not negated, any moral authority they might have had in a debate about the economic catastrophe which they allowed to happen, and continue to happen, let alone to set the police onto peaceful campers with a fully justifiable anger.
I will finish with a prayer for peace which was first used in 1986 when Pope John Paul invited all the faiths to Assisi to pray for peace. Remember when we say “peace” it means not only the absence of conflict or violence but also the presence of wellbeing and good will—– and justice.
Heavenly Father, in your word you have given us a vision of that holy city
to which the nations of the world bring their glory.
Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth.
Renew the ties of mutual regard that form our civic life.
Send us honest and able leaders.
Enable us to eliminate poverty, prejudice and oppression,
that peace may prevail with righteousness,
and justice with order.
That men and women from different cultures
and with differing talents may find in one another
the fulfilment of their humanity.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Chair, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust