THE lectionary can be a cruel mistress. The evensong readings set for what was my last sermon at St Paul’s gave me Luke 6: “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. . . But woe unto you that are rich! For ye have received your consolation.”
The whole point of having a lectionary is that it obliges the preacher not to avoid the hard bits of the Bible. Were the readings up to me, I would have chosen something much safer. But that is the whole point of having a lectionary: it stops you retreating into safety. There are some things that just must stay on the agenda, however uncomfortable.
And uncomfortable it is. St Paul’s sits on a fault-line between the City of London — the boiler room of global capitalism — and texts such as this. It is no wonder that the presence of the protest camp has given the cathedral a great deal to think about. Issues of financial justice are at the heart of the scriptures, and, like the lectionary, there is no way of avoiding it.
None of this is to say that the Church must be in league with any particular secular ideology. We are not the Labour Party at prayer, just as we are not the Tory Party at prayer. I have no truck with those who want to bring down capitalism. Markets create jobs and generate wealth.
The idea that there is some golden field available to us if only we smashed the banks is a dangerous fantasy often generated by the intoxication of protest.
But there is still a great deal that needs to change in the plumbing of the global marketplace. Markets were made for man, not man for markets.
My own view is that we need to think carefully about the Tobin Tax, and about the separation of high-street banking from the casino-style risk-taking investment banking — as the Vickers report has suggested. Neither of these ideas are without problems, but they need very serious consideration.
My own views aside, one of the things that is clear is that the present, very difficult situation at St Paul’s is in fact a historic opportunity for the Church to reset its relationship with the marketplace (something the Roman Catholic Church is much better at than we have been).
For too long the Church has been obsessed with its own internal workings and with silly arguments about sex. Now is the time for a new debate and a new emphasis. For if we are not fully involved with complex discussions about the relationship between financial justice and the way our financial institutions work, then we might as well give up on being a proper Church and admit that we are the spiritual arm of the heritage industry.