Turning over tables

It is Holy Week – the days leading up to the high point of the Christian year: the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is a week of high drama, as Jesus enters the holy city of Jerusalem and faces off with the powers and authorities – the corrupt religious leaders, the oppressing rule of empire, and the fickle shouting of the crowd…

Today in the timeline of this great week we see Jesus going to the Temple – the heart of worship in the Jewish faith – to throw out money changers, turning over the tables. This was a deeply symbolic act – purifying the place of worship and connection with God. But the corruption Jesus was challenging went far deeper than tradespeople swindling people with inflated prices. The money changers were there to provide an essential service for pilgrims who have travelled to worship – Jesus knew this, on a different day He might even have done business with them. But today he turns over their tables – not because He is angry with them, but because they are the front line of a system of religious collusion with the oppressive might of Rome. This was about politics, economics and a few people (the Temple leaders) controlling and exploiting the people. Jesus rides a donkey into town and proclaims a different kind of kingdom – the Kingdom of God: justice, right living, peace, restored connection.

Make no mistake: Jesus turning over the tables in the Temple is a protest. Non violent direct action. “Jesus was a social revolutionary, a radical.”

There are other protests going on this week. Extinction Rebellion and other affiliated groups are back out on the streets of London. Just Stop Oil have been halting work at oil refineries around the country. Groups of people taking a stand against the politics and economics that value profit over people; against systems of oppression and injustice that are driving our shared home to destruction. Some of the action has been very disruptive. Can doing this kind of thing be justified?

The United Nations group of climate scientists (the International Panel on Climate Change – IPCC) released another report last week. It is sobering reading. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Gutteriez, describes it as ‘a litany of broken promises’. You can watch his speech here (5min watch).

When the head of the United Nations says that governments and corporations who are investing in fossil fuels are dangerous radicals, then personal changes and signing petitions isn’t enough. The moral thing to do is to protest – to exercise the democratic right and responsibility to call government and business to account.

Getting involved in protests doesn’t come naturally to me. I am British, and as such I tend to avoid ‘making a fuss’ where possible. When frustrated I normally bite my lip, or carefully express myself – even balancing my strong words with an attempt to empathise with the other person. I still firmly believe that one of the most important things we can all do is to have better conversations about the Climate Crisis – but I also think that there is an urgent need for a change in the posture of our political and business leaders towards this challenge. This needs attention, time, resources – commitment now and for years to come. This is not happening (who can say why – ignorance, vested interests…) and it needs to.

And so I have found myself protesting.

The decision to get involved came for me around Autumn 2019. I remember watching the news of the Extinction Rebellion protests in London and having a deep sense that I wanted to be there taking a stand too, but that it was too far away and felt too big and intense. I bought a small book of Greta Thunberg’s speeches and read it in one sitting – in a small cafe in Bolton on my day off, my hands shaking and my eyes tearing up as the clarity of her words connected with the instinct in my gut. I spoke with Joanne, I searched online to see whether there was a local XR group (there was, I went, they were lovely). I connected in with the Christian Climate Action network – ‘the Christians of Extinction Rebellion’ – and made contact with a couple of excellent people in Manchester and beyond. And before long I plucked up the courage and went out to the streets.

Our first protest march was in Manchester, February 2020. We joined in with a big ‘Fridays for Future’ march as a family – even taking child1 out of school for the day so she could be there (we asked the headteacher first – said it was an important opportunity to learn about democracy and citizenship, which it was). It was loud, full on, thrilling, terrifying, excellent and wet (well it was in Manchester!).

Not long after I decided to make a stand in the town where we lived (then Bolton), and did a solo protest in the town square there, where I nearly got a fine for drawing on the pavement with chalks but managed to charm it out – flashing my clergy collar at them helped too I think!

I’ve since been part of protest gatherings in Bridlington on my own and with others, and most recently in Beverley.

These protests have all been different – in size, people, and feeling. Being part of a crowd of thousands is SO different to being one man with a cardboard sign – but the smaller scale things have been fantastic opportunities to actually talk to other people. Normal people. To explain why I am giving my time to stand around making a point. To ask and answer questions. To hear their perspective too, and often to find common ground.

I’m still feeling my way forward, this is still all very new and feels quite vulnerable. But I look at the example of Jesus, at His passion for justice and right-ness, and at His willingness to take a stand – even when the shadow of the Cross was already looming. For me this is part of what it means to be following Him.

I don’t expect everyone to close their computers and rush out into the streets. But I do think that how our systems and structures are acting towards the world needs your attention. Read, watch, listen to content from trustworthy sources. Talk to your family, friends, co-workers, church about what you find. Talk to your MP, find a local action group, make a sign, write a letter. And maybe, find out where a group will be gathering and wander down to find them…

If this has sparked your interest you can watch and read personal stories from a range of different people on the Christian Climate Action website, and read about recent actions and responses on the comment page.

Published by oikoslife

I am married, father of 2 young children (2014 and 2017), pioneering priest in the Church of England, surfer, climate activist and much more. Born in Yorkshire, and currently living on the Yorkshire Coast. Doing my best to live in good connection with God, self, neighbour and creation - working it out as I go.

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