Phil Groom writes:
Recently, a friend suggested that I might be able to find better things to do with my time than keep blogging the Brewers, and I have to agree: there are many things that I’d rather be doing — so many books to read, for instance! So why do I carry on? Is it just mindless bleating, like a sheep caught in a briar patch? Or is there something more to it?
My friend also thought that the shops were closing down as a result of the recession. I explained:
…the closure of the SPCK bookshops has very little to do with the recession: they’ve been run into the ground by their unscrupulous new owners, who accepted them as a gift from SPCK on trust that they would invest in them and their staff and maintain them as Christian bookshops.
Instead, however, they attempted to foist illegal contracts upon the staff and drove them to despair with their reprehensible behaviour (most walked out in disgust; one had a nervous breakdown; another committed suicide), then proceeded to close shops down, clearing out the stock without paying the suppliers; they attempted a spurious bankruptcy filing in the USA, changed their trading identities here in the UK and continued trading in the stock they’d acquired from the shops they’d closed — all supposedly in the name of “Orthodox mission”. In September they sold the Exeter branch for £507,000 and — in direct breach of a legally undertaken covenant — have allowed it to become a jewellery store.
In the meantime, the staff they drove out have not received their wages and the suppliers whose stock they took have not been paid.
So for me, the online campaign to expose these evil men and, yes, to bring them down, remains a truly worthwhile use of my time and energy.
In some ways it’s rather like having a toothache: something you can’t ignore until the rotten tooth has been pulled; or even more bluntly, it’s as if the Brewers are a boil on the backside of British bookselling. Until that boil’s been lanced, I, as a British bookseller — and more to the point, as a Christian bookseller — simply can’t sit comfortably.
It’s about justice and truth versus injustice and lies; about treating other people with respect rather than contempt; about honesty and integrity, concepts that J Mark and Philip W Brewer seem to know nothing about.
As for the title of this piece, “orthodox liars for the glory of God” — that’s from one of my all time favourite writers, Geoffrey A Studdert Kennedy, otherwise known as Woodbine Willie: After War, Is Faith Possible? (reprinted by Lutterworth Press 2008, p.68 ). I’m using it completely out of context, of course: it’s from a piece he wrote back in 1919 entitled “Why does God permit war?” — but even so, even from ninety years ago, I find Studdert Kennedy still speaks to our situation:
Christian preaching has very often consisted in pious attempts to make evil good in order to save God’s face. We have suffered from what Hilary of Poitiers called irreligiosa sollicitudo pro Deo, and have become orthodox liars to the glory of God. Passive resignation to evil as though it were God’s will has been exalted into a virtue, and consequently the Christianity which should have turned the world upside down has been turned into a method of keeping it as it is and meekly accepting its wrong-side-upness as the discipline of Almighty God. The Revolutionary Christ has been disguised as a moral policeman.
That’s just a very short snippet of Studdert Kennedy’s writing, enough, I hope, to whet your appetite for more; but more to the point, to emphasise that walking away or doing nothing in the face of evil is not the way of Christ. Christ does not call us to be doormats to be trampled underfoot by the likes of the Brewers; Christ does not call us to accept wickedness as a mysterious part of God’s will in the hope that all will be well in the end because God is ultimately in control, the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. No! God calls us to follow Christ, to call whitewashed tombs what they are, to expose hypocrisy, to be light in the darkness — because our God, the God revealed in Jesus, is not some remote deity who will put everything right at some dim and distant point in the future: our God is here and now, hands on through you and me. We are his hands and feet.
And that’s a call to live dangerously: because Christ’s hands and feet get nails smashed through them. If we raise our heads above the parapet for the cause of Christ, for justice, truth and love, we’ll find ourselves, like Christ, wearing a crown of thorns. Blood will flow and it will be ours, and our enemies will treat us with contempt and wash their hands of us and ask, “What is truth?”
My point, gentle reader, is this: if you are one of the employees or suppliers whom the Brewers have not paid, and if you have decided not to fight for what they owe you because you believe that such fighting is somehow unChristian, that as a follower of Christ you are called to set aside your rights to reparation because it’s all in God’s Almighty hands and he will see it right in the end — then I urge you to think again. Your rights, my friend, are indeed in God’s hands: and God’s hands on earth are your hands and mine, joining hands with our oppressed and dispossessed brothers and sisters to become a joint responsibility to stand together against injustice, lies and dishonest business practices as together we work to fulfil Christ’s call for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven.
God’s kingdom is not some distant never-never land of pie in the sky when we die (although yes, we have that hope) — it’s about how we live now, about turning the world with its twisted values on its head. That’s why, although there are many things I’d rather be doing, I’m still here blogging the story of the Brewers and their rundown of the former SPCK Bookshops.
Getting Involved in 2009
And finally, for any members of the UK’s (or even the wider) Orthodox community who may be reading: most of us here, I think, are well aware that the Brewers are mavericks who do not represent you or your faith; but any formal measures or statements that you may be willing to take or make to emphasise that distance would be warmly appreciated by us and should, I hope, help the Brewers to recognise their increasing isolation. Thank you.