Thus the question is posed over at Religion Dispatches regarding the internal turmoil in London around the presence of Occupy protesters at St. Paul's Cathedral:
The cathedral was faced with an unenviable dilemma—as Dan Shultz noted in these pages, we should not be too quick to cast the Dean and Chapter as Pharisees, for the right to protest should not trump all other considerations about the use of public space. The Church of England has genuinely been trying to foster discussion about reform of the banking industry—in fact St Paul’s has been leading such discussion. But how radical can an established Church be? Don’t its huge financial commitments mean that a certain realism is inevitable? This rather abstract question was suddenly tested by the protest.
One of the more amusing dimensions of this story is the revelation that apparently St. Paul's gets a pretty good revenue stream out of the mandatory admissions fee that they pay in order to let people into their church. Let that just marinate for a second: a mandatory admission fee. I'm just going to go ahead and say that it is impossible for any church to take a radical stand that has at the center of its pastoral model the idea that you can only attend if you've got enough money.
But regarding the larger issue: It's always instructive to see how religious hierarchies are likely to respond to movements for social change. Religion is often, though not always, a conservative force in society, so that militates against the possibility of Anglican officialdom siding with the Occupy movement. But beyond that, it seems that religious leaders only really start to lead when they're forced to follow the most radical implications of their traditions. And it's fortunate that there are many Christians in the square outside St. Paul's who are more than happy to remind the men in the great big building behind them that the building itself was erected in honor of a man who overturned the tables at the temple, who preached good news for the poor, and who died horribly at the hands of the representatives of the official party line.
And now, Woody Guthrie: