Action, inaction and the consequences … COVID-19, the death of George Floyd, the coming economic crisis and the Church

Action, inaction and the consequences … COVID-19, the death of George Floyd, the coming economic crisis and the Church.

The Winter Palace massacre took place on 22nd January 1905 in St Petersburg, Russia. Known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ (Крова́вое воскресе́нье) unarmed demonstrators led by a Fr. Gregory Gapon came with a humble petition to their ‘Little Father’ the Tsar Nicolas II, when nervous soldiers of the Imperial Guard fired on them. Numbers killed vary widely in estimation but the event is reckoned to be the active start of the first Revolution of 1905 and thence to the 1917 Revolution, the overthrow of the monarchy and the beginnings of the Soviet Union.

It is historical incidents such as this that teach us that the past both shapes the present and informs the future a simple interpretation perhaps exemplified in Chaos theory? In short in times of crisis we do well to act carefully and after considerable thought about the ramifications and potential consequences of hasty action. Which is precisely not how current world leadership, with some exceptions, seems to be tackling what have become global crises.

First, there is the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak; it has been indisputably disastrous for the economy, society and not least the most vulnerable. Political oversight of what should be a science-directed response has often dissembled, prevaricated, denied, fantasised, obfuscated and misdirected.  One might single out particular examples, it isn’t hard to do so, make your own choice and be very annoyed. It is a near miracle that despite such failures in leadership some halting progress has been made towards slowing the virus.

Secondly, the economic ramifications of Coronavirus are yet fully to unravel but they will certainly include a generation of hardship, unemployment and financial upheaval. In the case of the U.K. one must wonder just why a ‘no-deal Brexit’ is still so appealing to right wing isolationists? Elsewhere there is the prospect of social unrest to accompany the expected downturn. This could become extreme and related to much longer-term simmering injustices in society of the sort that have ignited the sudden explosion of outrage after the killing of George Floyd in the United States or the riots in Hong Kong against the growing control of mainland China. In both cases one a democracy and the other an autocracy the response of the political leadership seems to be authoritarian and partisan rather than consensual.

Lastly, not least as this website is a depository of all things related to the generic theme of Anglicanism, there is the question of the Church’s response:

In England’s two ecclesiastical Provinces a complete lockdown and exclusion of even the clergy from their churches has recently been quietly eased. This came after pressure from over 600 petitioners who sent a letter to the Times newspaper calling for a lifting of what were perceived as excessive restrictions.[1]  This has been followed by more (as yet unanswered) appeals to let the people back into their places of worship in line with the retail sector.[2]

In the United States, the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Washington Mariann Edgar Budde, objected strongly to Donald Trump’s clearing of protestors by force in order to stage a photo-opportunity in front of St John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square. She spoke of his “inflammatory” language and criticised his “putting on the mantle of religious authority” for political purposes.[3] N.B. * For an eyewitness account of the event see the end of this editorial.

Sadly, the Anglican response to these tumultuous events has been mixed with what often looks like a retreat into Quietism.  One can think of previous heroic examples in similar circumstances such as the small Anglican Church of Guinea in West Africa and its front-line ministry at the time of Ebola but during the current pandemic there is little evidence of a strong message of hope or action. The principal outcome has been to close the churches and leave clergy celebrating (admittedly often quite imaginatively) online by Zoom, YouTube or similar platforms.

It was Fr. Gregory Gapon who led his people in 1905, he did so with courage not foolhardiness although the outcome was pitiless. Overall, it is hard to find our own religious leaders doing or saying anything. This doesn’t mean to say that they and we won’t be held accountable as Jesus has reminded us of the long-term consequences of our actions or inactions: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels with him’.[4]

Nicholas Henderson
Trinity Sunday 2020


* Eye-witness account regarding the circumstances of Donald Trump’s visit to stand ‘Bible in hand’ photo-opportunity outside St John’s Episcopal Church, Washington Wednesday 3rd June 2020

Full details of the contributor withheld for security reasons.
Date: June 3, 2020 at 10:09:06 AM PDT
The account of an 80 year-old protester…

“Friends, I am ok, but I am, frankly shaken. I was at St. John’s, Lafayette Square most of the afternoon, with fellow clergy and laypeople – and clergy from some other denominations too. We were passing out water and snacks, and helping the patio area at St. John’s, Lafayette Square to be a place of respite and peace. All was well – with a few little tense moments – until about 6:15 or so. By then, I had connected with the Black Lives Matter medic team, which was headed by an EMT. Those people were AMAZING. They had been on the patio all day, and thankfully had not had to use much of the eyewash they had made.

Around 6:15 or 6:30, the police started really pushing protestors off of H Street (the street between the church and Lafayette Park, and ultimately, the White House. They started using tear gas and folks were running at us for eyewashes or water or wet paper towels. At this point, one of our seminarians for next year (who is a trauma nurse) and I looked at each other in disbelief. I was coughing, her eyes were watering, and we were trying to help people as the police – in full riot gear – drove people toward us. Julia and her classmates left and I stayed with the BLM folks trying to help people.

Suddenly, around 6:30, there was more tear gas, more concussion grenades, and I think I saw someone hit by a rubber bullet – he was grasping his stomach and there was a mark on his shirt. The police in their riot gear were literally walking onto the St. John’s, Lafayette Square patio with these metal shields, pushing people off the patio and driving them back. People were running at us as the police advanced toward us from the other side of the patio. We had to try to pick up what we could. The BLM medic folks were obviously well practiced. They picked up boxes and ran. I was so stunned I only got a few water bottles and my spray bottle of eyewash.

We were literally DRIVEN OFF of the St. John’s, Lafayette Square patio with tear gas and concussion grenades and police in full riot gear. We were pushed back 20 feet, and then eventually – with SO MANY concussion grenades – back to K street. By the time I got back to my car, around 7, I was getting texts from people saying that Trump was outside of St. John’s, Lafayette Square. I literally COULD NOT believe it. WE WERE DRIVEN OFF OF THE PATIO AT ST. JOHN’S – a place of peace and respite and medical care throughout the day – SO THAT MAN COULD HAVE A PHOTO OPPORTUNITY IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH!!! PEOPLE WERE HURT SO THAT HE COULD POSE IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH WITH A BIBLE! HE WOULD HAVE HAD TO STEP OVER THE MEDICAL SUPPLIES WE LEFT BEHIND BECAUSE WE WERE BEING TEAR GASSED!!!!

I am deeply shaken. I did not see any protestors throw anything until the tear gas and concussion grenades started, and then it was mostly water bottles. I am shaken, not so much by the taste of tear gas and the bit of a cough I still have, but by the fact that that show of force was for a PHOTO OPPORTUNITY.

The patio of St. John’s, Lafayette square had been HOLY GROUND today. A place of respite and laughter and water and granola bars and fruit snacks. But that man turned it into a BATTLE GROUND first, and a cheap political stunt second. I am DEEPLY OFFENDED on behalf of every protestor, every Christian, the people of St. John’s, Lafayette square, every decent person there, and the BLM medics who stayed with just a single box of supplies and a backpack, even when I got too scared and had to leave. I am ok. But I am now a force to be reckoned with.”





[4] Matthew 25 vv 31-46