Magazine article The Christian Century

The 'Occupy' Movement Includes Religious Groups

Magazine article The Christian Century

The 'Occupy' Movement Includes Religious Groups

Article excerpt

As waves of demonstrators descended on New York City to unite with others to protest corporate greed, they were met by typical sounds of raucous youth-led protests: drum beats, police sirens and shouted political slogans* They didn't expect to hear hymns.

Yet protesters rounding the corner of Zuccotti Park encountered dozens of white-robed worshipers singing spirituals and blessing the demonstrators while holding signs reading "Blessed are the poor" and brandishing handmade Christian crosses.

The group, calling themselves the Protest Chaplains, had traveled from Boston to join the Occupy Wall Street movement, which claims to advocate for "the 99 percent" of Americans against the "1 percent" who control much of the country's wealth.

The Protest Chaplains, a loose group of mostly Christian students, seminarians and laypeople organized through Facebook, expressed support in early October for the movement the best they knew how: through their faith.

"In a group that had a lot of bandanas and black hoodies, we stood out," said Marisa Egerstrom, an organizer of the group and doctoral student at Harvard University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. "But people kept coming up to us and saying, 'You know, you are the first Christians I've seen at a protest ... on our side.'"

As police helicopters hovered overhead, seminarian Rix Thorsell, wearing a clerical collar, marched on October 5 with other members of Brooklyn's Greenpoint Reformed Church in a protest that has captured national attention. "Jesus stood with the 99 percent [of society that is not wealthy]," said Thorsell, a student at New York's Union Theological Seminary. "He didn't support the establishment. He ate and lived among the poor."

Also joining the protests were members of Brooklyn Congregations United, a grassroots interfaith group assisting those facing bank foreclosures on their homes. Tom Martinez, a United Church of Christ minister, said faith communities are involved in the protests for varied reasons, including worries "about the growing and unchecked power of corporations."

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Religious protesters, once a staple of American progressivism, have become a rare sight at liberal demonstrations in recent years. But as the Occupy Wall Street movement rapidly expands to Boston, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles and other cities, progressive religious groups are playing an increasingly visible role. …

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