Sunday, February 26, 2012

Open Letter to Martin Shaw

Yesterday, I came across a very reasonable and well-thought out Facebook post by Martin Shaw, a (correct me if I'm wrong) Bishop for the Scottish Episcopal Church. I thought I'd make a response, not on behalf of or representing Occupy Exeter as a whole, but merely as an individual supporter and activist within the movement. It would be great if other occupiers could write opinion pieces for our Blogger as well in the future. Anyway, I'll copy and paste the post below, and follow it with my personal response. :)
"Some days ago, you posted through letter-boxes a paper on some of the issues related to 'Occupy'. Although I am deeply anxious along with many about the financial climate and culture adopted by financial services in the UK, I wonder whether you had read what you wrote before you distributed the sheets.

The negative attitude towards the clergy of whom you write raises the question whether you have listened to any of them with any depth of empathy, let alone get your facts even approximately right. Your statement "Jesus occupies your rotten hearts"....such language is not only deeply sad, but certainly does not attract many to do anything other than be sucked into such destructive language themselves or, like me, be alienated by it.

Please try a different attitude and you may draw more not only to understand your sometimes courageous stance but also to thinking through and acting in a way that shows the commercial world an alternative and creative style of life.

If you had really listened and got alongside the clergy of whom you speak, you would moved forward with many more voices and lives, including mine, empathetic towards you and supportive of you.

I remain challenged by 'Occupy' generally and ask you to have a view of your actions and words that seem to me to do you little or no service.

In the Love of God,

Dear Martin Shaw,
I hope you don't mind the format I've chosen to write to you, but I believe it's an ideal opportunity to discuss the issues you've raised in a way that is entirely open, transparent, and can include people in and outside of Exeter regardless of their faith and feelings towards the Occupy movement.
I should emphasise that the leaflet that was distributed that included 'Jesus occupies your rotten heart' was not published by Occupy Exeter. One of the first things we agreed as a movement was that all our publications needed to be approved by the group as a whole (through our general assemblies) before it would be regarded as Occupy Exeter literature. The leaflet was not approved by the general assembly, and was made and distributed by an individual supporter who had the best of intentions of trying to do what he could to contribute to the movement and spent several hundred pounds of his own money on printing costs. However, once he realised that the content of the leaflet was alienating to many people he quickly stopped posting the leaflets at our request.
Occupy Exeter and the Cathedral did have a very strained relationship, especially towards the end of our presence on Cathedral Green. I believe that there is a lot that members of both Occupy and the Cathedral could have done better. For example, Occupy Exeter struggled to ensure that anti-social behaviour on the Green was minimal, but at the same time I personally believe that the Cathedral could have done more to support the Occupation in that capacity rather than leaving us to deal with those issues with very few resources or the social support skills to handle anti-social behaviour. Communication between both groups was poor at times, but there was a joint effort to solve that by Occupy having a Cathedral liaison group and various clergymen visiting the site itself. The issue of our presence on the Green and then the eviction process served as a major distraction and hindrance to having constructive dialogues on the bigger social, economic and political issues which both the Cathedral and Occupy share common ground on. Now that we have left Cathedral Green there is a window of opportunity to build, or rather rebuild bridges and get the focus back on making the world a fairer, more equitable place.
And indeed, we've been reaching out to various religious groups including the United Reformed Church in Southernhay and a number of us attended a talk at Exeter University by Bishop Michael Langrish last week.
There's no denying that individuals within Occupy consider established religion as being part of the 1%, but there are also devout Christians, Muslims, Jews, people from a whole variety of faiths within the movement. Despite these differences within the Occupy movement, we don't let that be a source of division or tribalism. We celebrate the diversity of opinion and faith that's integral to the community that's sprung out of the Occupy movement, and I don't believe there's any reason the same can't be true between Occupy and religious institutions.
So I invite you to join us at one of our general assemblies or working group meetings, and we can get back to the big issues and developing ideas for how to address them. Times and locations can be found here (link)
I hope this has cleared things up and reconciled these issues to a degree. Maybe see you at one of our meetings in the near future!
Yours Sincerely,

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