Monday, December 19, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and Trinity Church

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is clashing with Trinity Church Wall Street over a request for OWS to use a vacant lot that Trinity owns. Trinity is a large, historic, and well-endowed Episcopal parish (most of its wealth is from a grant of 200 acres that Queen Anne presented to the Church while the parish was still part of the Church of England prior to the American Revolution).

In an unusual step, the Bishop of New York (the Rt. Rev. Mark Sisk), the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori) and the former Archbishop of South Africa (the Most Rev. Desmond Tutu) have all issued statements in support of Trinity’s refusal to grant OWS permission to use the land.

On the other hand, the former Bishop Suffragan for Federal Ministries (the Rt. Rev. George Packard) and several other Episcopal clergy were arrested for trespassing on the lot this weekend as part of an OWS move to occupy the lot.

Today, I read about a group of homeless families squatting in an abandoned Philadelphia cathedral in the 1990s whom the local diocese threatened with eviction when it decided to sell the property. The homeless hung a banner outside the cathedral with this message:

How can you worship a homeless man on Sunday and evict him on Monday?

I have great respect for Bishops Sisk, Jefferts Schori, and Tutu. The issue of Trinity allowing OWS to occupy the vacant lot is probably far more complex than the media reports reveal. However, I keep coming back to the banner:

How can you worship a homeless man on Sunday and evict him on Monday?


Chuck Till said...

OWS appear to believe that they are exempt from rules. Having seen the mess outside St Paul's in London, I don't have much sympathy for OWS at Trinity.

I interpret Jesus' actions in the temple to reinforce it as a place of worship -- and exclusively so. The banner isn't persuasive to me. Those folks didn't want to worship continually in the church; they just wanted a place to exercise civil disobedience while trying to interpret the Gospel as sanctioning their disobedience. I don't buy it.

George Clifford said...

I disagree. I don't think the homeless in Philadelphia were looking for a place to exercise civil disobedience. I think they wanted a place to live. Unfortunately, our society makes far too little provision for the homeless and, too often, the few shelters that we do provide are unsafe.

Jesus’ actions at the temple did reinforce it as a place of worship. He also taught that what we do for the least among us we do for him, which is also a description of what happens in the Eucharist. The failure to provide services (e.g., trash removal) for the Occupy movement in London, I suspect, is largely a failure in municipal government or St. Paul’s to provide a full measure of support.

Many people live somewhat messy lives. Put those people in close proximity to one another and remove the supportive physical and figurative structures that shelter them, and the result is a visible mess. This was a constant tendency in the field with Marines and at sea with sailors. Good leadership insisted on cleanliness and orderliness; people consistently responded to good leadership with better morale. For a new community, such as OWS, that lacks developed and accepted leadership structures, the challenge is great.

stanchaz said...

You don’t even need to be religious to understand -and embrace- the idea that "Whatsoever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." But many in the 1%, in blind greed and endless schemes, have forgotten this, and have closed their eyes to what the word "society" should really mean. But because of Occupy Wall Street, we are finally talking less about CUTS and more about BLEEDING. Instead of demanding m-o-r-e budget cuts -to be borne by the middle class and poor- we are FINALLY focusing on the shameful bleeding that the poor and middle class has endured for all too long. Instead of talking about even m-o-r-e cuts in the taxes of millionaires....we are now talking about fairness and justice - about an economy and a political system that is increasingly run for the rich, and by the rich. Instead of talking about LESS government, we are talking about a government that WORKS FOR ALL OF US, not just a favored few. Thank you OWS, for reminding us that people -ordinary working people- really DO matter, and for helping open our eyes to what’s really going on in this country. In a city where there is precious little public space that we can call our own, this is much more than a plea for sanctuary: It’s a hard-fought carving out of a protected space amid the repression, an expression of conscience and affirmation... continually reminding us, goading, prodding, annoying, illuminating and encouraging us..reminding us what of we’ve lost, of what we can do, and what we can be. They would pen us in, they would permit us to death, they would tell us to “ move on, move on, there’s nothing to see”.....don’t block the street, don’t trespass, don’t EXIST. You don’t belong, you don’t count, you don’t have a right to even be here.... A city where control-freaks would sweep us under the rug and out of the they deny both us, our lives, and our futures. But OWS says loudly, both in word and in DEED: we BELONG, we STAND our ground, and we DO matter! This is OUR land, and we want it BACK! The word OCCUPY says it all! That’s why this space is important. Trinity Church should look deep into its collective soul, do the right thing, and help OWS. If Christ were physically among us today, as He was 2000 years ago, He would be among the FIRST to climb those fences, and occupy Trinity’s Duarte Square. Of this I am certain... 

Chuck Till said...

Homelessness is a real problem. Unfortunately most church buildings are ill-equipped to serve as long-term shelters.

The problem at St Paul's went far beyond trash removal. It's true that neither the City nor St Paul's was hospitable, but I don't know the sequence of events well enough to say which was the chicken and which was the egg.

OWS is poorly structured. Perhaps leaders will emerge over time, as they did for the civil rights and Vietnam protests. Like any protest movement OWS attracts anarchists and folks who simply want to flaunt society for no particular reason. I can look past that, and I resonate somewhat with the rich/poor dichotomy -- although I would rather frame the issue as the near destruction of the American middle class.

George Clifford said...

You've identified one important question: Will leaders emerge in the OWS movement? Your comment also points to a second important question: Will OWS coalesce around a one to four significant issues or will it lose momentum, becoming an unhelpful, anarchistic protest?

On a positive note, Archbishop Tutu is now calling for Trinity to permit OWS to use the vacant lot.