The Detroit News ran my piece on Christians, churches, and the Occupy movement today, “Protests, pews not always linked.” One of the reactions to the piece rightly noted that I did not fill out in detail what “the moral and spiritual formation necessary to be faithful followers of Christ every day in their productive service to others” looks like. Another comment at Patheos worries that my advice might leave Christians “complicit with structural injustice.”
One of the important implications of the Christian imperative to occupy the world in all its various calling is the necessity to engage institutions critically and constructively. This is what I was driving at in juxtaposing the views of Chaplin and Fujimura, for instance. But again, what that institutional engagement looks like is left indeterminate.
On this score I’ll cite Michael Novak: “It is not those who say ‘The poor! The poor’ who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who actually put in place an economic system that helps the poor no longer to be poor.” Such economic systems require a variety of institutions, including governmental, profit-oriented, charitable, voluntary, and faith-based.
I’ve been working on putting together a collection of stories from my grandfather. One of these stories is set at Michigan State University in October in the late 60’s. There was an anti-war demonstration happening, which he describes:
A makeshift stage was set in front of Beaumont Tower at the center of campus and bull horns and tinny microphones battled for the attentions of the crowds. The audience numbered in the tens of thousands. The “freaks” were at it again. On stage were individuals whose message was “kill the pigs,” “take this place over,” and “stop the war.” Musicians with peace symbols painted on their guitars sang of disobedience and mayhem. The “pigs” kept a watchful eye from a distance hoping and praying that violence did not break out.
But what happened next is truly interesting:
A gray haired gentleman in a business suit and necktie made his way to the edge of the stage. He stood transfixed by the scene around him. At last he mounted the stage and spoke briefly with the one who currently held the microphone. I recognized him as John Apple, Ph.D., a renowned professor of social science. Dr. Apple took the microphone and turned to face the milling throng. To my amazement a hush fell over the entire scene and only the voice of Dr. Apple could be heard. He cleared his throat and thus spoke the most deadly prophesy I have ever heard.
The professor’s short speech to the protesters was the following:
Ladies and gentlemen! Your ideals are noble! You are MARSHMALLOWS hurling yourselves against a brick wall! You are wasting your energy by throwing yourselves uselessly at the administration! A MARSHMALLOW CAN destroy a brick wall! A MARSHMALLOW can destroy a brick wall from INSIDE! Do you wish to destroy the administration? BECOME THE ADMINISTRATION! Become the presidents of universities! Become the law makers of this country! Destroy the administration FROM WITHIN!
If well-formed Christians don’t occupy our institutions, others most certainly will. And as my grandfather observes, we are today reaping the consequences of those occupiers of various educational and governmental institutions over the last forty years. For what’s happening today at Michigan State University, check out “Despite strong Occupy Lansing movement, Occupy MSU fails to gain momentum.”
In just the few days since my piece first appeared last week, however, it seems that the question of how churches ought to engage the Occupy protests has taken on a more definite shape. In the case of Trinity Church in Manhattan, when the Occupiers’ “interest in setting up an organizing camp on vacant Trinity property at Canal Street and Avenue of the Americas” was met with denial from church officials, “The Occupy Wall Street forces then directed their skills at the church: They took their arguments to the streets. In familiar fashion, police officers converged on the area, standing around the perimeter.”
The Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper of Trinity Church reacted to what followed, trespassing on church property: “O.W.S. protestors call out for social and economic justice; Trinity has been supporting these goals for more than 300 years…. We do not, however, believe that erecting a tent city at Duarte Square enhances their mission or ours.”
Ecumenical News International (ENI) reports that Episcopal clergy were among those arrested in the Occupiers’ attempt to take over Duarte Park:
A retired Episcopal Church bishop and at least two other Episcopal priests were arrested on 17 December after they entered a fenced property owned by historic Trinity Episcopal Church in Lower Manhattan as part of an event to mark the three-month anniversary of the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.
Livestream video showed George Packard, former Episcopal bishop for the armed forces and federal ministries, dressed in a purple robe and wearing a cross, climbing a ladder that protesters erected against the fence and dropping to the ground inside the property, called Duarte Park. Other protesters followed, including the Rev. John Merz and the Rev. Michael Sniffen, Episcopal priests in the Diocese of Long Island (New York), Episcopal News Service (ENS) reports.
The full story appears below. But it’s clear that Trinity Church and so many other churches in cities where Occupy protests have occurred find themselves being forced to take sides. And its also clear that the Occupiers are no respecters of persons and property. If you are not for them, you must be against them and be ready for the consequences. Ready to cling to your guns and religion, anyone?