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Occupy Faith': This Is What Christian Pastors Are Doing to Help the Occupy May Day Protests


"It’s especially important for us to show up tomorrow as people of faith."

Image Credit: OccupyFaithNYC.org

Since Occupy's inception, select faith leaders have been pledging their support for the movement. But as time goes on, it seems their devotion is only increasing. From progressive pastor Jim Wallis to the Rev. Michael Ellick, leftist preachers have latched on to both the initiative and its adherents. It seems, based on increased activities and planned events, that leftist Christian leaders will now be helping Occupy transition into its next phase of protest and action.

A few days ago, the official Occupy Wall Street blog promoted the fact that Christian pastors will be supporting today's May Day events. Their involvement, though, is certainly strategic and intended to assist in the spring and summer growth of the movement. After all, churches are localities that provide access to a large number of people who are bonded together by shared beliefs. If properly accessed and utilized, faith communities can be valuable in spreading any and all messages -- including Occupy's.

"May Day is really going to kick off a whole series of actions that are going to go on this summer," the Rev. John Merz, the head faith leader at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, recently explained. "There are sleeping bags in front of the [New York] Stock Exchange. There may even be attempts at various reoccupations, whether it’s Zuccotti or elsewhere. That may happen on a mass scale."

Merz, of course, is only one of the many preachers who is currently mobilizing believers to support the movement. When examining the overall participation coming from preachers, the Episcopal Church has a heavy-weighted presence. A few weeks ago, the Episcopal News Service highlighted much of the denomination's involvement:

Episcopalians and other people of faith have supported the movement from the beginning. Harvard doctoral candidate Marisa Egerstrom organized a group called Protest Chaplains that participated in the launch at Zuccotti Park and has supported Occupy Boston. In New York, Episcopal clergy, including Diocese of Long Island Bishop Lawrence Provenzano and those arrested Dec. 17, spent time with occupiers at Zuccotti Park and have been involved with Occupy Faith NYC.

In late March, Occupy Faith members from across the country...attended a national planning meeting in Oakland, California, where members of various religious groups had maintained an “Interfaith Tent” at Occupy Oakland and 14 were arrested in November after refusing to evacuate that encampment.

The Oakland meeting included discussion about national coordination and actions, including what will happen May 1 and a push for a commission on debt and debt culture — “something along the lines of a truth commission around wealth and debt” — Merz said. But it also showed the challenges of a national strategy for a diverse movement.

Apparently, some faith leaders also see Occupy has a way in which conversions can be more readily made. This, of course, could be the root cause of some of the more outright outreach attempts that churches like Trinity Wall Street are engaging in (we reported earlier this morning about the church's teach-in event later today).

"The camps taught us that there is no substitute for face-to-face conversations," explained Egerstrom. "And the camps taught us that there is nothing that scares the wealthy elite and their institutions more than a collection of people having face-to-face conversations."

As for May Day itself, in addition to Trinity's efforts, other churches in New York City are planning heavy involvement. On the Occupy Faith NYC web site (the group is headed by Ellick, whose church, Judson Memorial, is affiliated with American Baptist Churches and United Church of Christ), a special event is being held to commemorate the "general strike." The web site explains:

Tomorrow is May Day, the true launch pad of the “99% Spring,” and the culmination of much hard work on behalf of “Occupy” activists, as well as their labor & immigration allies. OccupyFaithNYC will gather at 4pm at the Gandhi statue in Union Square Park tomorrow; several of us will arrive to welcome you as early as 3:30 pm. There will be a General Assembly beginning at 5pm at Union Square’s NW corner. Around 5:30, we march to Zuccotti Park which. It’s especially important for us to show up tomorrow as people of faith.

Several of us wear many hats, and have deep commitments on several levels to the work of economic justice as well as to Occupy Wall Street. Yet we believe our most effective testimony right now, particularly with the possibility of escalating police violence, is to provide a nonviolent, faith-based voice for justice. I encourage you, if you are clergy, to wear garb consistent with your faith tradition. If you are laity, I encourage you to wear faith symbols consistent with your practice. Most of all, I encourage you to bring with you the spirit of your tradition throughout this long and important day. We look forward to seeing you in the streets tomorrow.

In Chicago, The Anglican Catholic Mission Our Lady of Guadalupe will march alongside Occupy to protest against the deportation of illegal immigrants -- yet another example of the diverse involvement of faith leaders.

So it seems some members of the faith community will continue to take an active role in the progressive Occupy movement -- even as some of the tactics protesters use seemingly contradict the tenets held within the Christian faith.

(H/T: ENS)

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