Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
November 4th, 2011

Faith Occupies Wall Street


As Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests continue across the country, Busted Halo® went to visit the protest in Zuccotti Park in New York City to see what role people of faith are playing in the movement. While some say the OWS movement lacks a clear message, the message Christians standing with the movement share is straight from the Bible: God wants all of God’s children to have enough.

Faith Leaders at Multi-Faith Service

Each Sunday afternoon at 3:30 in Zuccotti Park, New York City faith leaders come together to bring a worship service to OWS. Speakers use a “human microphone” to share their message, shouting “Mic check,” and speaking in short sentences that are repeated by the crowd. On a particular Sunday, one United Methodist pastor shared a short homily:

“There’s just one occupation, according to the Bible. What should occupy your heart? What should occupy your soul? What should occupy your mind? Nothing by love!

“Next time someone asks me to write ‘occupation above,’ I’ll know what to write, I’m gonna write love! Gonna love my God by loving my neighbors. When it comes down to it, that’s what we’re here for!

“So we’re standing here with the 99% whose money’s all spent, who can’t pay the rent, whose spirits are bent, whose last check got sent, who don’t know where it went. But they don’t have a cent. So we’re at this event to raise our voices in dissent, to tell the people in charge that it’s time to repent. We join this occupation because we care about this nation. We want a transformation for this whole situation.”

Peter Lenz, Brooklyn, New York

Peter lives in Brooklyn, moving back to New York City after losing his job with the National Park Service seven months ago. He is still looking for a job. “I could spend my time at home looking for work but come here in the morning and leave in the evening. It’s my job now.” Peter volunteers at the OWS Comfort Station, which collects (except food) for OWS — primarily clothing and toiletries — that are available for the people living in Zuccotti Park.

“OWS is about the idea of freedom of speech,” Peter said. “We are an American movement — not anti-American.” (There’s a donated American flag attached to a tree next to the Comfort Station.)

Peter attended Catholic school for 13 years and identifies that his Catholic faith has played a role in his decision to join the protest. “In Catholic school, I was taught about social justice. That’s the heart of Christianity. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ It just isn’t right. There are people who have much more than they need. There’s a great disparity. Corporatism is unhealthy — it’s against God. They are artificial things, not living things. It’s anti-Catholic that banks have gotten so much larger and bigger than anything else. Large corporations have gotten away from people.”

Erica Richmond, New York City

Erica is a Unitarian Universalist and student at Union Theological Seminary. She is part of a group of OWS Protest Chaplains who are a daily spiritual presence in the park. “We wear signs and name tags that identify ourselves as chaplains,” Erica said. “People come up and talk with us and sometimes ask us to pray with them.”

James Salt, Catholics United, Washington, DC

James and other faith organizers were on retreat in September when they decided to build a Golden Calf in the shape of the Wall Street Charging Bull. They drove from Washington, DC, to New York City with the golden calf in a U-Haul and marched from Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village downtown to Zuccotti Park.

“The experience was exhilarating,” James said. “You could hear the cheer erupt from the protestors. We were trying to bring our voices to the protestors.

“The image speaks to people from a faith tradition. There’s a great suffering in our culture related to consumerism and an emphasis on profit at the expense of others. There’s something not right. Banks are not producing jobs or a product, so there’s something wrong with this. Bank of America wants to pass off fees to bank card users, its not sharing in the suffering.

“This is not meant to personally attack anyone. We are saying that there is a real sickness in our culture — focused on greed and overconsumption.

“My faith makes sense when it’s put in the context of the suffering of the world. Faith just doesn’t happen in church on Sunday. I want my faith to be alive and active in the world. I want the stories of the Bible – idolatry – to be relevant to Catholics today. The biblical stories we are all taught have something to add to this conversation.”

The Author : Barbara Wheeler-Bride
Barbara Wheeler-Bride is editor-in-chief of Busted Halo.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Edward

    made a false start, addressing emptiness, lies and no solutions. Feel better NOT giving vent to this. But… be it ever so humble there is no place like home. Which is one key facet of living . but the apartments cost too much, renting is just plain disheartening , oh its nice in some ways in others not, I preferred when I could turn the water heater off, lower the heat etc. the thing I have to do is realize it is just as real, more so than the Wall Street Occupiers are convinced it is. I will no longer pay for anything but a spartan room,

  • Arlene horrigan

    I have found these comments interesting. My thoughts. Christ did not come to make life on earth just. That does not mean we should not act justly because if we did there would be a lot less problems. Christ also said you will always have your poor. I personally do not want what others have earned for themselves. Good for them. And I do not want the government to give me anything because if they give it, they can take it away!! If you want to think about RICH people take a look at Congress…do they act justly? Americans, especially Christians need to do what is right for all people not what is easy and selfish. I also might mention that there were a lot of people that were not very nice at these occupy places. Rape, and other crimes not to mention using kids for political reasons. Too many people want you to think their way, and believe that only their way is right. Use your God given right of free choice and study all sides before you make decisions. More investigations on your part will give you a broader picture of really is going on in life. God bless

  • Jeanne

    The Bible & Jesus did teach us to care for one another but there is not one mention of Rome caring for the people…it is the people who are to care for the people. I do not think that God is in favor of socialism or corporate greed. But government can not fix this…only the people can.

  • Joan David

    Mary, I am a Catholic precisely because our church believes in the concept of social justice. Christ’s message was very strong on helping the poor, the sick, the old, the widows, and all children. The church created hospitals and universities, which helped citizens all over Europe. Long live the Catholic Church!


  • Steve

    Mary, how do you reconcile Matthew 25 with your views on social justice and Christianity?

  • Mary

    Now I know why I don’t go to Catholic church anymore. Social Justice has NOTHING to do with Catholicism or the Bible. It has to do with Socialism which is evil, plain and simple. The devil has you blinded and the real culprit is our government policies, mostly those implemented by Obama. Look no further than the White House and Congress for all the current problems. WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!

  • Christy

    @ David: Flaw in your argument: Here in Canada, we usually end up following the USA’s economic highs & lows because we’re so interconnected. However, our country (which is much more socialist in nature than the US will likely ever be) is recovering quite well from this economic disaster. We don’t have the levels of unemployment you guys do. We had plenty of government intervention, and have lots of intervention in many different aspects of our lives. Perhaps it was the KIND of government intervention that your country didn’t need, not government intervention as a whole.

    On another note, I get the point of the protests, but it sounds like a lot of whining to me. Yes, corporations have entirely too much control over our lives. But you don’t have to let them. If you want to change the world, give your time to real social justice organizations that, with enough man-power and money, can affect a real, lasting change in the world. I’m pretty sure that most corporations are just mildly annoyed by the protesters and are patiently waiting for the movement to die off. (which it will).

  • http://ruthhousman.com ruth housman

    Occupy Wall Street reminds me of Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. Another wall, where people go to offer up prayers often borne of despair. Life is hard. Life is often more than we can bear. There are other walls—walls that separate people, myriad barriers of which race and economics play a part, but there are others. Surely we all put up walls and so often as in Pink Floyd’s The Wall we scream tear down the wall!

    I see profound metaphors that apply to us all running rampant up and down our lives and also keys within words. We MUST work togethet to move towards a more equal playing ground and such movements as this are impotant as acting in concert brings about ‘a chord’, one song, accord.

    The key signature is in the music we make together with Hope and Positivity. Hands around the world!

  • Barbara Wheeler

    David, I think it’s very important not to paint with broad strokes, as you say, b/c there are many people from many different backgrounds and philosophies and faiths identifying with the message that greed and materialism are part of our country’s (and our world’s) economic woes. And there are most certainly people involved with OWS protests who do believe in freedom and human rights, so again, important to not paint with broad strokes.

    People of faith see this as a moment to lift up some of the teachings of economic justice/concern for the poor that the church has been working on since, well, the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.

  • David

    We are becoming too materialistic but the Occupy crowds are mostly ignorant young “social justice” people who don’t understand that Socialism has been tried and has failed. I went to one to look around an saw many Communist symbols and anarchists. They don’t want to spread love and justice. Take a look at the people behind the movement.

    I’m not trying to paint with a broad brush but I know who these people are. I used to be one. They are not for traditional values or freedom or human rights as we understand them. Leftists college professors have tainted their worldview to think that big business is somehow responsible for their problems. It is not. Government intervention into the housing market caused the major collapse. As riots spread from Oakland and Portland across the country, I think many will regret favoring this group.

  • Mary Beth

    I agree with this! I have found our society is becoming way too materialistic. (And always at Christmas, I find this is true.) I want to find joy and meaning in friendships, community, and faith. I am glad to see a movement where love and justice trump profits and greed. WWJD?http://mbcoudal.wordpress.com/

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