The displaced occupiers had asked the church, one of the city’s largest landholders, to hand over a gravel lot, near Canal Street and Avenue of the Americas, for use as an alternate campsite and organizing hub. The church declined, calling the proposed encampment “wrong, unsafe, unhealthy and potentially injurious.”Yesterday, the OWS folk jumped the fence, led by the Rt. Rev. George Packard, in full cassock:
And now the Occupy movement, after weeks of targeting big banks and large corporations, has chosen Trinity, one of the nation’s most prominent Episcopal parishes, as its latest antagonist.
“We need more; you have more,” one protester, Amin Husain, 36, told a Trinity official on Thursday, during an impromptu sidewalk exchange between clergy members and demonstrators. “We are coming to you for sanctuary.”
Trinity’s rector, the Rev. James H. Cooper, defended the church’s record of support for the protesters, including not only expressions of sympathy, but also meeting spaces, resting areas, pastoral services, electricity, bathrooms, even blankets and hot chocolate. But he said the church’s lot — called Duarte Square — was not an appropriate site for the protesters, noting that “there are no basic elements to sustain an encampment.”
Bishop Packard was arrested, along with approximately fifty other "occupiers". In the wake of these arrests, Rev. Jim Cooper, the Rector of Trinity, released a statement leaning rather heavily on the argumentum ad verecundiam (that's the "argument from authority" when it's at home):
We are saddened that OWS protestors chose to ignore yesterday’s messages from Archbishop Tutu, from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and from Bishop of New York Mark S. Sisk. Bishop Tutu said: “In a country where all people can vote and Trinity’s door to dialogue is open, it is not necessary to forcibly break into property.” The Presiding Bishop said: “Other facilities of Trinity continue to be open to support the Occupy movement, for which I give great thanks. It is regrettable that Occupy members feel it is necessary to provoke potential legal and police action by attempting to trespass on other parish property…I would urge all concerned to stand down and seek justice in ways that do not further alienate potential allies.” Bishop Sisk said: “The movement should not be used to justify breaking the law nor is it necessary to break into property for the movement to continue.”I find this argument less than compelling, in the context in which it has been deployed. First, one need not embrace OWS; but Trinity has chosen to do so. It's one thing to say of a movement, "we do not believe it serves the common good" and decline to support it, and quite another to justify a decision to refuse a request from a movement one has publicly embraced. Instead, Trinity grounds its decision in a rather--forgive me, but I can't think of another word--paternalistic statement that it knows best for OWS what would serve its mission. As to Trinity's mission, it is unclear why leasing, for a limited use (because of the prior lease) and on limited terms (to address safety and health issues), a vacant lot which Trinity owns would effect its mission in any negative way. Certainly if OWS declined reasonable terms, that would be grounds for Trinity to deny a lease; likewise if OWS overstayed, Trinity would have the moral high ground. Instead, well, as the comments at the Lead, a pretty mainstream Episcopal news blog show, Trinity's commitment to social justice (of which it rightly is proud) has been drawn into question, and a key question asked, by Jim Naughton (a well established blogger), "whether we can examine the notion that Trinity is an ally in attempting any real economic reform."
OWS protestors call out for social and economic justice; Trinity has been supporting these goals for more than 300 years. The protestors say they want to improve housing and economic development; Trinity is actively engaged in such efforts in the poorest neighborhoods in New York City and indeed around the world. We do not, however, believe that erecting a tent city at Duarte Square enhances their mission or ours.
I think the question as posed is unduly harsh; but Jim makes a larger point--which is whether Trinity, and other Episcopal parishes, spend so much time focusing on ameliorating the harshest results of our system that they do not reckon with more fundamental challenges to it inherent in Christian ethics. In 1921, Charles Gore sardonically described the viewpoint of so many of his brethren that the laissez-faire system was divinely ordained:
It must have been expressed originally in sublime unconsciousness that the whole industrial system, then in its glory, had been built up on a basis of profound revolt against the central law of Christian morality, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ There are few things in history more astonishing than the silent acquiescence of the Christian world in the radical betrayal of its ethical foundation.I think that Gore's words remain pertinent today, as demonstrated by the widespread valorization of the market, whether in the cognitive dissonance of professed Christians adopting the explicitly anti-Christian writings of Ayn Rand or the "insipid heresy" known as the prosperity gospel. The 2010 Trinity Institute, Building an Ethical Economy: Theology and the Marketplace, addressed some of these issues, but in an academic/intellectual way. OWS's request provided Trinity with an opportunity to seize the moment, and put itself into relationship with those speaking for the casualties of our system, a chance to put its ideas into action. The bishops are quite right that the decision was Trinity's to make, both legally and morally, but one can regret the chance not taken, and the opportunity foregone in the name of safety.