In what conservative columnists are describing as a martyrdom for Christian lefties, the iconic “jeans and T-shirt” canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Reverend Rev Dr Giles Fraser, has resigned in protest as the cathedral moves to evict Occupy London from its steps.
Fraser, a lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford, has written for a number of radical newspapers including the Socialist Worker. Fraser advocates for marriage equality and understands the Christian message to mean solidarity with the oppressed.
Fraser supports the right of about 400 protesters to camp outside the cathedral after London police prevented them from occupying London’s stock exchange on October 15.
The day after their arrival, Fraser preached a sermon against corporate greed and successfully instructed a police-line at the top of the Cathedral steps to disband.
However, the other Cathedral staff had been divided about the situation.
The cathedral dean, and Fraser’s superior, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, reacted by shutting the Cathedral down because of a perceived threat to worshippers.
Naomi Colvin, representing Occupy London, denied that there was any reason to close the Cathedral. “Having the cathedral open is very important for us. We weren’t doing anything to necessitate its closure.”
Worshippers at the Cathedral seemed to have welcomed the occupation.
Diane Richards, a 36-year-old mental health support worker said to the October 16 Guardian: “The general atmosphere within the church this morning has been quite supportive. The protesters have kept it well organised, they are trying to keep a very peaceful demonstration.”
When BBC reporters asked Fraser on October 27 if the church had been disrupted, Fraser said: “We had three services this morning, it was very straight forward to get people in, it all went down really well, and I couldn’t tell any difference from inside the cathedral.”
While Fraser tried to advocate for the protesters, Knowles considered legal action to have them removed.
Fraser said he would not resign unless the church threatened violence against the protesters.
He told the Guardian: “It’s not a good advert for Christianity for a church to be shutting out people who aren’t causing problems to anyone. It’s a very well-organised protest. It’s peaceful.”
However, when the Cathedral decided to take legal action to remove the protesters, Fraser decided he could not remain complicit in what he regarded as an act of violence.
On October 27, Fraser tweeted: “It is with great regret and sadness that I have handed in my notice at St Paul’s Cathedral.”
In a statement to the Guardian, Fraser, who was appointed canon in May 2009, confirmed his resignation, saying: “I resigned because I believe that the chapter has set on a course of action that could mean there will be violence in the name of the church.”
Occupy London said it was “deeply moved” to hear of his resignation.
“He is a man of great personal integrity and our thoughts are with him. He respected our right to protest and defended it. For that we are very grateful, as he ensured that St Paul’s could be a sanctuary for us and that no violence could take place against peaceful protesters with a legitimate cause – challenging and tackling social and economic injustice in London, the UK and beyond.”
Colvin added: “Courage like that is really very inspiring. It reassures us that what we’re doing is important. The people who have a bit of integrity, it’s becoming more obvious who those people are. I hope we can do well enough to justify their sacrifices.”