Huffington Post

The Huffington Post asked me to write about St Paul’s. Who was I to say no?

What a 24 hours! First there was a flash evensong on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral (think the cool T-Mobile advert in Liverpool Street Station, but with a spontaneous church service instead) which I was fortunate to attend. Next came the announcement from the Dean, the Rt Rev Graeme Knowles, that the historic Wren designed London landmark, closed for over a week for unknown health and safety reasons, was to reopen this afternoon. Finally, Thursday morning brought the news that Giles Fraser, the Canon Chancellor who had welcomed the protestors so warmly at the start of last week that he shooed away from the Cathedral steps not the pigeons but the police, was resigning in the light of the Cathedral Chapter and the Corporation of London moving to evict the Occupy LSX village in St Paul’s Cathedral, by force if necessary.

How did we get to this point, where up and down the country people are once again moaning at the mention of the Church of England? What lessons can be learnt from the series of PR gaffes which most people are now acknowledging have been committed by St Paul’s and others?

To begin with, there are lessons of collegiality. Giles Fraser’s goose was cooked the moment he took a different line to that of his boss. You can’t have the boss of an institution (for that is what Cathedral Deans are, a peculiar breed of parish priest who rarely have to answer even to a Bishop) saying one thing and an underling (for ultimately that is what Giles Fraser was) saying another. That’s doubly so when the underling is technically the purse holder (hence the title “Canon Chancellor”) and the point of disagreement was in part over what financial impact the Cathedral would be willing to suffer as a consequence of the presence of hundreds of protestors camped outside.

While Fraser might argue that, “Nobody was a villain in this, it has been a matter of conscience for everyone”, in his interview with the Independent this afternoon, that is a different thing from accepting the consequences of taking a particular consequential stance. Fraser might be absolutely right that Jesus is exactly the kind of God who would be born in a tent as a despised outcast, but now Fraser is joining him there in the wilderness outside the church walls. It is one thing to voice one’s opinions in the closed environment of meeting one’s colleagues; it is another to knowingly contradict your boss before that meeting has ever taken place.

But Giles will be fine – there is a vacancy at St Martin in the Fields (from where the less than conservative Nick Holtam has gone to the see of Salisbury) and he will fit in comfortably there or in a number of other set-piece liberal churches. Fraser will have no problem finding a job, it’s just that after this week it won’t ever again be anything more than being a parish priest. The lesson of collegiality has been learnt the hard way and it is time to move on.

But if only the Church of England could move on with the second lesson it has to learn, and that is to up its game at PR very quickly. The past fortnight has been an utter media relations disaster, with little evidence of strategic planning and even less evidence of a coherent church wide response to the events literally on its doorstep. The until recently Press Secretary for Lambeth Palace George Pitcher’s recent column in the Church Times was a full frontal assault on the way that the Church of England handles its media relations. He wrote how far too many communications professionals in the Church view journalists as the enemy and that the powerful tools of social media are shunned by the hierarchy in an institution that stills employs people to read the daily papers for news items involving the Church. Have they not heard of Google News Searches?

Even yesterday’s publication of a column in the Evening Standard, apparently authored by the Bishop of London Richard Chartres is an example of an institution acting reactively not proactively. The time for such a piece was the end of last week, to set the news agenda not respond to it. The Church of England needs to up its game and learn how to act like a media operation that is ahead of the news. It can be done. Diocesan Communications Directors like Gavin Drake up in Lichfield are clear examples of PR professionals who know how to shape stories and stay on top of, or even in control of, the news cycle.

When the dust settles from the events of this week there should be time for serious reflection on the lessons above. The Church of England should not be afraid of working proactively with modern communications and the digital media world, and at the same time it should train its members how to handle crises like these and to learn what “one voice and one message” looks like in practice. The Church has one huge advantage – the media will listen to it when it speaks and it has the extra bonus of being situated bang slap in the middle of every single community in England whether they like it or not. It’s time it took hold of that opportunity properly, understood how the modern world creates, receives and digests its news and started acting appropriately. Then perhaps we might be able to start talking about some good news for a change.

46 Comments on “Huffington Post

  1. ‘…he will fit in comfortably there or in a number of other set-piece liberal churches. Fraser will have no problem finding a job, it’s just that after this week it won’t ever again be anything more than being a parish priest….’.

    Giles Fraser is well regarded priest who will be an asset to which ever post he should be offered, and there will be no shortage of these. What’s your problem with that? (or do I detect some bitterness because the Church didn’t seem to have a post at a set piece conservative church into which you would fit?)

  2. Richard, if you detect ressentiment then it’s only fair to declare where you find it. Or do I detect a passive aggressive insult?

    • I find it in the snide and sometimes bitter language which Peter uses about Giles Fraser:-

      ‘set-piece liberal churches’ (Does Peter prefer set-piece conservative churches, there are plenty of those around)
      ‘knowingly contradict your boss before that meeting has ever taken place’. (Where’s the evidence for this?)
      ‘Less than conservative’ (Peter of course being ‘more than conservative’ and therefore rather better?)
      ‘it’s just that after this week it (sic) won’t ever again be anything more than being a parish priest’. (Really, or is this Peter’s wishful thinking?)

      It’s a shame because the main thrust of the piece is actually rather good. The handling of this situation by St Paul’s has been catastrophic and the closing of the Cathedral a disaster. It is spoiled by Peter’s rubishing of Giles Fraser and the questioning of his integrity. Only Giles comes out of this with any credit. He knows where he stands and will not be party to the forced removal of the camp. He knows that this situation never needed to arise. It is ironic that the revelation that company directors and executives recieved a 40% rise in income in the last 12 months comes just as the cathedral is proposing to clear away from its steps those who believe that this is obscene. The result is that the church , on the side of the poor and marginalised, as Jesus was, (or that’s how I read my Bible), is severely compromised when it could be prophetic.

      • Fraser has plenty of integrity for resigning, but it was the absolute natural consequence of blatantly breaking the collegiality of the cathedral chapter. That was the point of what I wrote – he stepped outside the boundaries of how to handle an affair like this from a “one message, one voice” perspective of PR management and he suffered the consequence of that.

        Which is not in any way to defend the “one message and one voice” the cathedral presented.

        • I can’t think of anybody less suited to wear the purple. He has been a focus for disunity rather than unity with his wretched Inclusive Church movement, which has driven many out of the Church, including me.

          At least I will be able to set foot in St Paul’s again without fear of encountering his ugly mug.

          He seems to be tailor-made for St Martin-in-the-Fields. He can hoist their rainbow flag to his heart’s content.

          • Jill, on the contrary I would love to see Giles Frazer make purple (and not only to see the look of disappointment on the mugs the Anglican Mainstream groupies) but because he has shown he is a man who is not locked into the box of biblical inerrantism and all the self-righteous judgmentalism that it seems to justify. Okay, we can all be judgmental at times I know that, me as much as anyone, but it is the institutional judgmentalism that literalism can lead to that Christians need to be very wary of.

            • Disappointment, Tom? No such thing. Bring it on. There are plenty of bishops all too ready to hoover up a man of his ‘progressive’ credentials. Pity, though, that the people start leaving when he comes along. He is a good wake-up call.

          • You prefer an EXCLUSIVE church, do you, Jill? Which particular categories of people do you want to exclude? And by what authority?

            • William, I think your question highlights the whole problem with thinking about the gay debate in terms of exclusion/inclusion. Those terms are essentially useless and meaningless for discussing the gay issue.

              Opponents of Inclusive Church aren’t saying “People with homosexual attraction, or those who are or have been in gay relationships, shouldn’t be allowed to worship in the Church of England and participate in its congregational life.” (I would bet anyone any money that they cannot find a mainstream Anglican conservative who has ever said anything of the sort).

              They are simply saying that those who persist in unrepented sin should not be appointed to positions of leadership, responsibility or authority in the Church, nor should the Church bless what is not holy. And that is a New Testament position.

              • Thanks, Wicked, for saving me the trouble.

                In the unlikely event of anyone out there not knowing exactly what it is that ‘Inclusive Church’ wants to include, which was not there already, here is their Mission Statement:

                “We affirm that the Church’s mission, in obedience to Holy Scripture, is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every generation.

                We acknowledge that this is Good News for people regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation.

                We believe that, in order to strengthen the Gospel’s proclamation of justice to the world, and for the greater glory of God, the Church’s own common life must be justly ordered.

                To that end, we call on our Church to live out the promise of the Gospel; to celebrate the diverse gifts of all members of the body of Christ; and in the ordering of our common life to open the ministries of deacon, priest and bishop to those so called to serve by God, regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation”

                Readers can see for themselves the elephant in the room here.

              • Well, that sounds reasonable, Wicked conservative. The question is: Is being in a gay relationship a sin to be repented of? Some people would say yes. I would say no.

                  • What, as in the death-penalty-for-gays Ugandan culture? The stephen greens of this world are in no way representative of the good old, everything-and-nothing-and-a-nice-cup of tea, knitwear and kindness C of E majorities.

                    Of course, it might be said that evangelical Christians are at least “properly” Christians, whereas many who used to/still do fill the pews at other churches are mere moderate (or sensible?) ‘cultural Christians’. That being so, how likely is it that those who object to those of a certain sexual ORIENTATION (i.e.: not behaviour) going to nice middle class Family Values Churches are ‘proper’ as opposed to cultural Christians?

          • From Giles Fraser’s resignation to homosexuality in, how many steps? Doesn’t take long, does it, to go from a discussion about the principled resignation of someone on issues of poverty and justice to his views on homosexuality? And it is the latter which is the most important. Of course.

            I am suprised that it has taken Giles Fraser and ‘Inclusive Church’ to have driven Jill out of the church. I would have thought that Jesus and the sermon on the mount would have done so.

            • ‘Divisive Church’ would have been a better title for this organisation. I cannot take anything else he says seriously when he gets this so badly wrong. Nor do I agree with what he has done. If he hadn’t had to stick his self-righteous oar in in the first place, and left the police to do their duty none of this need have happened.

            • Look, Richard, let’s just get this straight, shall we? NO HOMOS. Got it? At least, not any who don’t take a negative view of their natural sexuality, and certainly not “practising” ones. It’s the linchpin of the Church: faith, hope and heterosexuality. And the greatest of these is heterosexuality.

                • Where are you quoting from Jill? I thought the list was something like this: “Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind” KJ version. Who mentioned wife-beaters? Sounds a bit too Giles Fraseresque to me, but I could be wrong :-)

                • Well, I can see how you might think that being in a gay relationship is comparable to adultery, Jill – although I certainly don’t. But are you suggesting that it’s even remotely comparable to wife-beating or child-molesting? Let’s not get silly.

                  • Actually William, as a Scriptural Literalist, Jill presumably has no problem with Men engaging in a bit of OT (and OTT?) disciplining of their wives. Fundamentalist poster boy Stephen Green knew the (literal?) ropes.

                    • Actually, if my ‘sexual orientation’ was towards children, or animals, I would be feeling pretty pleased with Giles Fraser. Or is he not that ‘inclusive’ after all? Perhaps he should make this clearer.

                      ‘Semi-inclusive church’, perhaps.

                    • Unfortunately for you Jill, most people tend not to conflate homosexuality with bestiality and paedophilia (can animals and children given consent? No. Hardly like-for-like then is it?)

                      Actually, the one time I can recall any desire to ‘include’ paedophiles was at an evangelical church. The minister who, to his great credit, makes a point of visiting prisoners and working with Glasgow Mission (aiding the destitute), spoke about reaching out to sex offenders following the example of Our Lord, who came for all kinds of sinners. Cue tumbleweed and stunned silence in the church, from the sorts of people who think Churches, especially Anglican ones, are or should be middle-class (and up) Private Clubs.

                  • You walked right into it, didn’t you, Ryan? Who is ‘conflating’ homosexuality with bestiality and paedophilia? Not me. But believe it or not, there are paraphilias other than homosexuality, and I cannot see any grounds for excluding some and not others. Where is the word ‘consent’ mentioned in Giles Fraser’s mission statement?

                    Besides, those with these orientations will not agree with you that the objects of their desire do not consent. Some will tell you that children have ‘sexual rights’. Peter Tatchell himself will tell you that children as young as 9 are not necessarily damaged by sexual activity. And have a read of this:


                    The thing is, everybody is, and always has been, included in God’s family. No matter what they have done, or what sins they have committed, they are welcome in the Church. It’s the difficult part that follows which some people aren’t too keen on.

                    • Well Jill, in my opinion Victoria Beklempis’s article is far better written than the one you quote by Tim Stanley, who seems to base most of what he says on her content, peppered with an overdose of moral outrage. It is the argument that because some wacky group will take up the legitimate claims made by a long-persecuted minority to get final justice the said minority deserves to be denied justice that turns my stomach…and with his advocacy of the electric chair shows how low his moral position has sunk to.

                    • But believe it or not, there are paraphilias other than homosexuality,

                      Unfortunately for you, homosexuality is not, in fact, a paraphilia.

                      Where is the word ‘consent’ mentioned in Giles Fraser’s mission statement?

                      LOL! So homosexuality should be *assumed* to be analogous to paedophilia and bestiality despite the obvious essential differences? If most people thought that homosexuality and paedophilia were like for like then perhaps some qualification was required, since they don’t, no such qualification is required.

                      I cannot see any grounds for excluding some and not others.

                      Seriously? I must have missed all those ‘conservative’ campaigns arguing that heterosexuals with (e.g.) a foot fetish ought to be banned from church until they “repent” too.

                      Peter Tatchell himself

                      As a great conservative once said: there you go again. You might find this hard to believe but Peter Tatchell is not, in fact, the Pope of Homosexuality (if he was then wouldn’t his atheism mean that gay priests – do your great delight – would not exist?). NAMBLA, for example, has as much “popularity” or “legitimacy” in the “Gay World” (define) as “Lolita” sites have in the straight one. Dan Savage, for example, summed up the “collective” view (in so far as there is one) when he called NAMBLA (pardon my french, but this should give you some sense of the strength of – moral- feeling) : “creepy kid-fuckers”.

                      And surely the sexualisation of little girls – necessarily of interest to *heterosexual* paedophiles – is far more of a problem, evidenced in the (appalling) “pole dancing kits for kids” or “playboy” stationary that I’m sure you’re well aware of?

                      The numbers (percentage straight v percentage gay) being what they are, the vast, majority of anal sex, or threesomes, or pornography, (or whatever else you want to use to denounce homosexuality per se) is *heterosexual*. And of course if you *do* build a foundation against homosexuality on the “basis” of particular acts then the logical implication is that non-bummers, 3sommers or porn-users ought not to be condemned!

                    • Jill, you wrote:

                      “The thing is, everybody is, and always has been, included in God’s family. No matter what they have done, or what sins they have committed, they are welcome in the Church.”

                      You are absolutely right about that, Jill. And yes, that must include, whether we like it or not, those whose sin has been the molesting of children. I remember reading quite some time ago a report issued by a committee of the Methodist Church, saying that those who have molested children must be welcome in the Church, if they fully acknowledge that what they have done is seriously wrong and express sincere contrition for it, and if they are prepared to accept certain necessary conditions and restrictions, e.g. they will sit where instructed in church, they will not attempt to befriend minors in or connected with the church, they will not volunteer for any youth activities, they will not accept invitations to the homes of members of the congregation who have children at home etc. Even if they find such restrictions irksome, they must be prepared to accept them if they are genuinely repentant, and if they are determined to avoid repeating their offences and are willing, in so far as that is possible, to make amends for what they have done. (I am paraphrasing, not quoting verbatim, as I do not have the report by me.)

                      In the case of gays, however, no such considerations apply, since gays as such do not pose a potential risk to anyone, and since neither being gay nor being in a gay relationship is a sin requiring contrition or reparation. On the other hand, any deliberate attempt, whether successful or not, to break up a committed adult gay relationship would, in my view, be seriously wrong.

            • The Anglican Communion, Jill? Who cares for facts when there is no single unitary moral viewpoint among Christians about dozens of things, including the historical approval of slavery, the biblical submission of women, the directives to genocide for starters, the least being the injunctions against (male) same-sex activity (disingenuously identify by some as the modern experience of homosexuality). No, I’ll go with Blake when he says:

              I laid me down upon a bank,
              Where Love lay sleeping;
              I heard among the rushes dank
              Weeping, weeping.

              Then I went to the heath and the wild,
              To the thistles and thorns of the waste;
              And they told me how they were beguiled,
              Driven out, and compelled to the chaste.

              I went to the Garden of Love,
              And saw what I never had seen;
              A Chapel was built in the midst,
              Where I used to play on the green.

              And the gates of this Chapel were shut
              And “Thou shalt not,” writ over the door;
              So I turned to the Garden of Love
              That so many sweet flowers bore.

              And I saw it was filled with graves,
              And tombstones where flowers should be;
              And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
              And binding with briars my joys and desires.

              Or as Dr Patrick Chapman says, what Evangelicals really say to gays is “Thou shalt not love”.

              • Thank’s Tom, I had forgotten about this. It’s rather better than Bosie and the love that dares not speak its name!

              • Well I agree with most of William’s post, until the last paragraph.

                And Ryan, you need to look up ‘paraphilia’. Homosexuality was certainly considered one until the 1970s when the APA removed it from the DSM register under pressure from gay activists. They also took a step towards removing paedophilia on the same criterion of those with these attractions did not feel they were harmful, but had to backpedal on that one. There is a bit more information here:


                But never mind all that, where are we now with the situation at St Paul’s? It seems a pity that the Church has been dragged into this, especially as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are well known to take a dim view of the inequalities of global finance.

                • And Ryan, you need to look up ‘paraphilia’.

                  Jill, I have a DSM-IV TR on the shelf beside me. You might think that homosexuality *should* be a paraphilia but the fact remains that, in claiming that it is, you are simply, demonstrably wrong.

                  Also: what is the basis of cultural homophobia? In the US, many would say the kind of fundamentalism that sadly marred the liberal intentions of the Bill of Rights and the assorted other Enlightenment-influenced foundational documents of the US. The fact that “gay activists” played a part in overturning an ideological decision is hardly necessarily a bad thing if that position owed more to uncritical acceptance of religious/cultural influenced societal norms than it does (depending on your view of psychiatry/psychology) “science” or science.

                  And that fact that paedophilia was nearly (wrongly) declassified hardly proves that it was wrong to remove homosexuality.

                  • Ryan, with regard to Jill’s insistence on calling homosexuality a “paraphilia”, perhaps it would be best to follow the example of Dr Proudie, Anthony Trollope’s fictional Bishop of Barchester:

                    ‘If he is out on bail –,’ commenced the bishop.
                    ‘Of course he will be out on bail.’
                    ‘Then I think he should feel –’
                    ‘Feel! Such men never feel! What feeling can one expect from a convicted thief?’
                    ‘Not convicted as yet, my dear,’ said the bishop.
                    ‘A convicted thief,’ repeated Mrs. Proudie; and she vociferated the words in such a tone that the bishop resolved that he would for the future let the word convicted pass without comment. After all she was only using the phrase in a peculiar sense given to it by herself.

                    ANTHONY TROLLOPE, The Last Chronicle of Barset, Chapter XI

            • Richard, I agree with you as a conservative on sexual issues. The topic is Giles Frasers resignation over the OTC issue. Christian teaching on poverty and justice are bang on the topic, as is how St Pauls has dealt with the occupation. GFs views on homosexuality are not an issue in the case of this particular post.

        • I don’t think that I have thought that Giles Fraser should be made Dean of Southwark, I understand that the announcement of that post will be made shortly. However I think that he would make a great Bishop. You may well think that is ‘deluded’ but am proud to share my ‘delusion’ with many others.

          • No, I don’t think it’s deluded to think he’ll make a great bishop. It’s deluded to think it will actually ever happen. And I’ll happily eat humble pie if I’m proved wrong.

      • ‘The result is that the church , on the side of the poor and marginalised, as Jesus was, (or that’s how I read my Bible), is severely compromised when it could be prophetic’.

        I totally agree, Richard. I disagree strongly with Giles Fraser’s arguments and stands on identity politics. But he is 100% correct in this situation in my view. The parallels between the expulsion of the OLX protestors and Jesus’ expulsion of the money-changers are obvious and will quite reasonably be drawn.

        Giles Fraser has caught both the mood of the protest and the moment, which is in my view a growing anger at world leaders who have proven to be both cowardly and clueless in response to the world financial and banking crisis which now promises to get much worse. Of course, the OLX protest doesn’t have a detailed plan – so what? The role of protest in a democracy is to focus political attention and will on problems with which politicians are failing to deal. And I would argue that the world financial and economic crisis is a good example of such a problem par excellence!

        Giles Frasers action also stands in stark contrast to the Bishop of London, who appears to think that the offer of a series of St Pauls Institute debates between the protestors and his City finance buddies is an adequate response. This is patrician condescension, effectively saying “get out of the way and let the adults get on with the job”. It also massively misses the very real anger at the failure of politicians to regulate a financial system that has made massive profits in good times only to pass the costs onto the public purse when it all quite predictably went belly up.

        • I agree with you Philip. To the outsider, as I now must count myself, the organised churches invite unfavourable comparisons between such images as “Jesus on a donkey” and “bishops in a £17000 p.a. limo”. I know many will think that unfair but the church down the ages has known about the power of image and theatrical parades before simple folk. The imperial purple magnificence of a post-Constantine episcopate has no longer the power to impress (and keep the faithful infantilised) that it once had. Unfortunately for them it is no longer the clergy who are educated – and hasn’t been for a long time though to hear some of them you wouldn’t think so with expressions like “we mustn’t scandalise the faithful” when they mean “tell them the truth”, or from the faithful, as my parents’ next-door neighbour once told me, speaking of Dr Fisher, “if the Archbishop of Canterbury says something it really must be true”.

  3. Actually Jill, given the high amount of gay priests in the C of E (whose existence you’d have to concede given you deplore them so), the Roman Catholic Church, and better ( ;-)) denominations like the Scottish Episcopal and Fabulous Church, don’t you think your own comments are pretty “divisive”? No offense, but if a “either homophobes or gay people have to all leave here tomorrow” rule was enacted in the church do you a) think it would work to your favour and b) accord with what the Church should be?

    Interesting above that you objected to the inclusion of those of a particular sexual orientation. Guess all those celibate Christians better sling their hook, take some drugs, and have oodles of promiscous sex, eh?

  4. Wouldn’t this be an appropriate time to examine what the point is of cathedrals such as St. Paul’s? £20k per day to run – really? Is it providing ‘value for money’ in terms of furthering the Christian gospel? Are those the costs for opening the building for tourists (i.e. heating, tourist guides, etc.) – in which case are they met entirely out of tourist entry fees? Or do they include the cost of providing a bevy of clergy with grand titles who might be put to better use running the rural parishes for which the church is ‘unable’ to afford clergy?

    • I tend to agree with this, much as I love St Paul’s. They are after all beholden to capitalist institutions for part of their funding, so having people like Giles Fraser sticking two fingers up to them must have been a bit embarrassing. Biting the hand that feeds you is not a good idea. Such an expensive building has to do what it can to get money, so one can hardly blame them, but I don’t think the Church should be restricted in this way.

  5. I am glad this thread has settled back a little to discussing the case in point.

    All too clearly some are allowing their views of Giles’ position on other issues to guide them rather than thinking carefully about the questions specifically raised here.

    Yet, interestingly there may be some parallels!

    For most of its history the Church distinguished itself as a place of sanctuary – a safe space where people could not be harmed by those pursuing them with “lawful” authority.

    Giles is being decried for his support for Inclusive Church and their openness to gay partnered Christians – yet my friend Mark Greene (LICC) has argued that his constituency has almost completely failed to provide a “safe place” or sanctuary for gay evangelical Christians.

    While on the question of “collegiality” there are several important factors and more than a couple of layers to consider. As priests we are not just bound as colleagues to those we presently work alongside, we are bound together with all priests in our diocese in a special way, and with all the priests in our Church also in a special way. We are bound by our oaths and our conscience too and each of us respects this in the other.

    Nowhere have I seen this respect and collegiality expressed better than in the way Giles has described his Chapter. To resign in these situations was once seen as honourable, in the present bitter division where everything that happens is used as a blunt tool to attack those with whom we disagree there is little if any place for honour or respect for those who hold a contrary view. That is the poverty we have sunk into. This bitterness blinds us to good.

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