It looks like the conversion of St Paul’s wasn’t exactly a Damascus Road experience after all.
The delayed publication of the latest report by the St Paul’s Institute shows that, even if the City was unaware of it and the Occupy protesters ended up on the cathedral steps more by accident than design, the Church was already well underway with serious questioning of the values that drove City culture in the 25 years since Big Bang. The Value and Values report (subtitled Perceptions of Ethics in the City Today) was published yesterday.
Contrary to the press accusation that this report had been ‘suppressed’ for a couple of weeks, it should by now be blindingly obvious what criticism (of naff timing and incoherent process) would have been levelled at the Church if it had gone ahead and published according to the schedule. Given that the report is fronted by both Dean Graeme Knowles and Canon Dr Giles Fraser, it would have been kind of hard to put it out with both of them in the process of resignation.
Of course, that inconvenient truth won’t satisfy those who revel in selective amnesia – the same condition that slates the Archbishop of Canterbury for questioning the values of our dominant economic and political culture, then forgets he had done so when the later story breaks and they can’t get him to feed the hungry media machine with further repetition.
Anyway, the report makes clear that there are some good people in the City – people who are already sensitised to the disconnect between the Square Mile and the real world. Indeed, the report makes clear that many of those who work in the City do understand the reasons behind the rage against perceived injustice. It highlights the way technology has dehumanised financial transactions. It recognises that reward has become divorced from work and that the Big Bang created a failure to drive value with values that assumed a common humanity. Money has become an end instead of a means to a greater end that we choose.
I was once asked to give an after-dinner speech at London’s famous Mansion House to a company of insurers and financiers. These people, among whom there was a plethora of motivations, had raised enormous amounts of money for a range of charitable causes and I wanted to recognise this and thank them for it. But I also wanted to reconnect this generosity with a humane appraisal of the transaction. I think I said something like:
this is not a case of the strong giving to the weak, but of the ‘weak who have’ giving to the ‘weak who have not’.
(I finished by quoting Jesus who said “it is easier to get a needle through your eye than for a rich man to pass a camel”… or something like that, anyway.
The point is that wealth can create a security that hides basic human frailty. We all weep and bleed and feel lonely in the universe on a dark night when our relationships have failed or we find ourselves wondering what it is all about. What unites us is the common humanity that has somehow got lost in the scrap for money.
Perhaps the Church is in a good place to stand between the City and the rest of the world. We ‘do’ people and we ‘get’ the people who live in both worlds. It is our business – confusing and compromising though it sometimes feels – and a church that follows Jesus Christ (who opted into this compromising and material world) can do no other than stand where the fault lines fall and try to hold it all together.
Read the report and the critique that concludes it. This wasn’t a craven cathedral at all – it had opened itself up to judgement. The tragedy is that the protestors didn’t turn up just a few days later, once the report had been published.