Does Occupy Wall Street have religious dimensions?

As the Occupy Wall Street movement morphs from a fad to a story with legs to a…what exactly is it?…religious voices are weighing in on where God stands.

Tom Beaudoin, a Fordham theologian, writes for the blog of the Jesuit magazine America about taking part in the protests.  He wonders if Catholics could apply the same “model” to their church (a notion the church is not likely to appreciate).

He writes: “Imagine a group of Catholics whose deep care for the future of their church is matched by their sense of responsibility to name, protest and change what is intolerable about that church today: in the form of nonviolent physical occupation of spaces, in the form — necessarily imperfect and unruly — of democratic organization, in the form of continued open-ended articulations of visions of a different Catholic Church, without prematurely forcing the movement to take on a specific agenda. And yes, in the form of consciousness-raising and of direct action. This would be the Catholic version of the Arab Spring, to combat the long Catholic Winter.”

Scholar Joseph Knippenberg has been tracking reactions to Occupy Wall Street for a blog with First Things, a “conservative” journal on religion. He writes: “I have no doubt that God is with the folks near Wall Street, but I doubt they’ve recognized Him yet.”

“Liberal evangelical” Jim Wallis is, as you might expect, right there with the occupiers. He writes: “The new movement called Occupy Wall Street now has spread across the country, from the very seats of our political and financial power and our largest cities, to suburbs and small towns. In some communities small groups of a few dozen have formed and in some cities thousands have gathered.

“In each instance, no matter the size, people’s frustrations, hurt and feelings of being betrayed by our nation’s politicians and economic leaders are clear and they want to be heard.”

The Jewish Week wrote about 1,500 people attending a Yom Kippur service within yards of the Occupy Wall Street protest in Lower Manhattan: “Participants in the service, organized by supporters of the protest, included many of those involved in the demonstration, local Jewish residents who had come simply for the service itself, and non-Jewish onlookers.”

Today, the JW reports that protesters are building sukkahs — temporary dwellings for the holiday of Sukkot — at OWS protests in nine cities. The first comment from a JW reader says this: “Speaking as a neoconservative, all OCW sukkahs are declared automatically treyf.”

Treyf means non-kosher. Funny.

ADD: The Institute on Religion & Democracy, which promotes traditional or conservative thinking in mainline Protestant denominations, just released a statement on the religious left’s support for Occupy Wall Street.

IRD President Mark Tooley says this:


“The many college age Wall Street occupiers concerned about college debt and real world responsibilities can be possibly excused for youthful naiveté. But middle-aged church activists, some of whom may be trying to relive their street activism of 40 years ago, should show more discernment and wisdom.

“Covetous battle cries for class resentment and even greater coercive wealth redistribution through an ever expanding Big Government do not resemble traditional Christianity.

“Unlike the Religious Left voices who have hailed and even romanticized the Wall Street Occupation, wise religious leaders should call their flocks to the common good. They would know that in a fallen world, no government or system of laws can seize property or massively redistribute income without creating even greater injustice.

“The Scriptures call for believers to put away childish things. Religious activists who have aligned with the Wall Street Occupation should model mature Christian discernment, not echo angry resentments that dream of a secular utopia.”

Remember the King’s College?

This and that:

1. Those who have been around for a while might remember when the King’s College — an evangelical school — was located in Briarcliff Manor. The college shut down in 1994 because of financial problems, leading to a long stalemate over how the campus should be used (it’s now a luxury senior housing development).

The King’s College reopened a few years later in the Empire State Building of all places.

New York magazine recently caught up with the school and its new president, the conservative political and social commentator Dinesh D’Souza. The article covers the college’s mission to engage its secular opponents and to train Christians for careers in politics, finance, the media, etc.

It focuses, though, on D’Souza and whether his “pointed” views may be too much even for the King’s College.

The writer, Andrew Marantz, describes how D’Souza tells a group of students and others about the “unique villainy of Barack Obama.” D’Souza offers this: “For Obama, the radical Muslims are on the right side of history—that’s why he is so unnaturally solicitous toward them.”

One can only wonder which radical Muslims the college president is referring to. Must not be those who have been the targets of all those drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

2. The NYTimes writes today about plans slowly moving ahead for that Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero.

Remember the Islamic center? I think it was a pretty big story just about a year ago.

Anyway, the main developer is moving much slower to build networks of support and decide what to do with the place. This is how the planning should have been done to start with.

If you remember, opponents of the “Ground Zero mosque” were attacking the place last year before there was any staff, money or plans. The few people involved were caught totally off-guard and essentially froze instead of explaining themselves and their intentions.

3. The Times also writes today about an Islamist insurgent group blocking aid to starving people in Somalia.

When I was reading the article, it struck me that this would be a good time for American Muslim groups to condemn what these people are doing, supposedly in the name of Islam.

When Americans call on Muslims to denounce terrorism, this is what they mean.

When church & state meet in court

Came across an interesting new report from the Pew Forum on court cases involving the relationship of church & state.

As they explain it:


These and related lawsuits raise complex constitutional questions that have been troubling American courts for more than a century: Do the First Amendment’s religion clauses – which guarantee religious liberty and prohibit all laws “respecting the establishment of religion” – bestow a unique legal status on religious organizations that puts some of their decisions and actions beyond the reach of civil laws? To put it another way, are legal disputes involving churches and other religious institutions constitutionally different from those involving their secular counterparts, and if so, how?


I like the way the Pew people frame how religious cases are related and may be different in some ways from other cases.

They look at four different cases that illustrate issues/conflicts that often come up: property disputes; employment of clergy; the treatment or discipline of members; and how religious organizations deal with employee misconduct.

As Pew explains:


Although the four types of cases raise different legal issues, court rulings on all these matters have been consistent regarding one important principle: The government must not regulate religious entities in any way that would require a judge or other government official to interpret religious doctrine or rule on theological matters. At times, this “hands-off” principle might require courts to treat religious organizations differently from their secular counterparts.


Pew looks at one case where a Lutheran school dismissed a teacher who missed a lot of time because of treatment for narcolepsy. The school might have a problem because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it claims a “ministerial exception” for the way it handled an employee.

Interesting stuff.

A statement on (traditional) marriage

So a group of religious leaders released an open letter yesterday affirming that marriage is between one man and one woman. Period.

The letter repeats a common argument of recent years, that maintaining the traditional understanding of marriage is not only right but the best thing for everyone.

“Marriage is an institution fundamental to the well-being of all of society, not just religious communities,” says the short letter, officially called “The Protection of Marriage: A Shared Commitment.”

The letter is signed by 26 religious leaders. You can, more or less, guess who they are: Archbishop Dolan; Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals; H. David Burton, presiding bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; and other Orthodox Christian, Orthodox Jewish and conservative Christians leaders. Also: Manmohan Singh of the American Region of the World Sikh Council.

Who’s missing? Who do you think? Episcopalians. Presbyterians. Non-Orthodox Jews. Other liberal or progressive religious types.

Here’s the full text of the letter:


Dear Friends,

Marriage is the permanent and faithful union of one man and one woman. As such, marriage is the natural basis of the family. Marriage is an institution fundamental to the well-being of all of society, not just religious communities.

As religious leaders across different faith communities, we join together and affirm our shared commitment to promote and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We honor the unique love between husbands and wives; the indispensible place of fathers and mothers; and the corresponding rights and dignity of all children.

Marriage thus defined is a great good in itself, and it also serves the good of others and society in innumerable ways. The preservation of the unique meaning of marriage is not a special or limited interest but serves the good of all. Therefore, we invite and encourage all people, both within and beyond our faith communities, to stand with us in promoting and protecting marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Jogging to church with Teddy Roosevelt

I went to Oyster Bay, Long Island, yesterday to tour Sagamore Hill — Teddy Roosevelt’s home — with a bunch of history teachers from Westchester and Putnam.

There was no religious element to my story. Or so I thought.

After lunch, we walked a few blocks to Christ Episcopal Church, where Roosevelt was a parishioner from 1888 to 1919.

The rector, the Rev. Peter Casparian, was used to seeing Teddy groupies coming through town. He said the locals call them “Ted Heads.”

Casparian, who was off-duty and was wearing sandals, told us that Roosevelt came from a Dutch Reformed Church background. But there was no Dutch Reformed church in town.

Plus, Roosevelt’s second wife, Edith, was already a member of Christ Church.

So, “He sat dutifully in the back pew,” Casparian told us.

He also told us that Roosevelt would have his children trot 2-and-a-half miles to church and then back home.

I’d like to see some modern suburbanites have their children jog to church or synagogue. That would be a story!

Although the church building we visited was not the same one that Roosevelt worshiped in (it was built in the 1920s), Teddy’s old pew is still there, right where he left it.

The teachers crowded around to see where the 26th president sat and kneeled.

This being a modern-day Episcopal church (i.e. liberal), Casparian couldn’t resist a pretty funny one-liner: “I always invite people to sit in Mr. Roosevelt’s pew and to pray for the Republican Party.”

Roosevelt, who read and wrote A LOT, apparently wrote down the reasons that a man should go to church.

I made the trip with a group of history teachers who are part of a terrific program funded by a federal grant to Northern Westchester/Putnam BOCES. My article should be up tomorrow or in a day or two.

Photo: Library of Congress

Dolan vs. NYT, Round ?

Archbishop’s Dolan ongoing criticism of the New York Times is getting a lot of attention this week.

As I’ve pointed out before, Dolan has been going after the Times since he came to New York, often using his blog to point out examples of what he believes to be anti-Catholicism.

In a blog post last week, the big guy pointed to an “insulting photograph” of a “nun” that accompanied a write-up of an off-Broadway comedy. And he strongly objected to a review of an art exhibit featuring posters produced by ACT UP, the anti-AIDS advocacy group that often attacked the Catholic Church. The review included a photo that showed a poster denigrating Cardinal O’Connor.

Dolan opened his blog by acknowledging that he’s been there before:


I know, I should drop it.  “You just have to get used to it,” so many of you have counselled me.  “It’s been that way forever, and it’s so ingrained they don’t even know they’re doing it.  So, let it go.”

I’m talking about the common, casual way The New York Times offends Catholic sensitivity, something they would never think of doing — rightly so — to the Jewish, Black, Islamic, or gay communities.


Numerous Catholic blogs have supported Dolan’s stance.

One said: “Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice it seems to me in America.” Another: “It seems every time you open a paper or scan the news, there is someone else misunderstanding or mocking the Catholic Church.”

The producers of the play, called Divine Sister, actually responded to Dolan. Their response in part:


Charles Busch is a wonderfully talented playwright who for decades has lovingly parodied classic Hollywood films in his work. His newest play, The Divine Sister, continues that tradition as a comic homage to nearly every Hollywood film involving nuns: “The Song of Bernadette,” “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” “The Singing Nun” and “Agnes of God.”

The image the New York Times ran on Friday, October 15, 2010 of The Divine Sister shows Mother Superior teaching Timothy how to properly hold a baseball bat. This scene references the classic 1945 film “The Bells of St. Mary’s” where Ingrid Bergman as Sister Mary Benedict gives a young boy boxing lessons.

The Divine Sister is not a commentary on religious faith; it is a joyous look at these films. While our show is indeed irreverent, it is a celebration of the nuns in those iconic works, with a wink and a smile.


Mark Silk, a prominent analyst of media coverage of religion, caused somewhat of a stir by dismissing Dolan’s criticisms as off-the-mark, if not silly.

He writes: “I don’t exactly know what it is the Dolan would have the Times do. Avoid reviewing plays that deal with nuns and popular culture? Bar from its pages any organization that disrespects his church? Do penance by urging the Empire State Building to light itself up for Mother Teresa?”

CBS New York followed up on the story (as GetReligion points out). CUNY Prof Paul Moses — former religon writer for Newsday –told CBS: “That’s a really scathing image of Cardinal O’Connor. I think that was a lapse with the Times, not that they’re anti-catholic. Maybe it’s more they simply didn’t do a very good job on that story.”

Dolan wrote a second post today.

He’s standing by his guns. But he promises: “No more comment from me on this spat.”

We’ll see.

Where is God on ‘Mad Men?’

I’m a Mad Men fan and watched the season finale Sunday night with great interest.

I look forward each week to dissecting the show with my mad colleagues at the JN.

But, honestly, it never occurred to me that religion is an afterthought on the show until I read a blog post today by Diane Winston, a religion scholar who holds the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at USC (not a bad gig).

She starts off:


Religion never registered in this season’s installment of Mad Men. It didn’t need to. The implications of faith, morality and Protestant privilege echoed through the episodes, delineating expectations about work and family, gender roles and even child-rearing. Off-screen in 1965, the Supreme Court Case Griswold v. Connecticut upheld women’s right to contraception, the Rolling Stones spread “Satisfaction” and the Roman Catholic Church absolved present-day Jews for the crucifixion. LBJ declared the Great Society, Vietnam escalated and Watts burned. In each instance religious tropes and taboos that had seemed immutable were summarily overturned.


She’s right on, I think. The show deals largely with the social transition from the ’50s to the ’60s. And part of that transition was the loosening of religious observance in the U.S., across traditions and denominations.

I don’t think a single character on MM attends church — or, at least, mentions it. I have to assume that most are Protestants.

The character Peggy did have an interesting relationship with a Catholic priest during the first few seasons. I couldn’t possibly summarize it here.

Winston notes that Don Draper, the show’s central figure, has had relationships with two Jewish women (among a cast of thousands). She writes:


n 1960, Don Draper never seemed fully comfortable with Rachel Menken, the Jewish department store heiress with whom he had an affair. Seeing her as another “Other,” his uncomfortable kinship climaxed with a surprising proposal that they run away together. But five years later, Faye Miller’s Jewish identity barely rates a mention. When she compliments Don’s handsome punim (Yiddish for “face”), Don barely arches an eyebrow. Could it be that the Herbergian trinity–Protestant, Catholic, Jew—has, ten years after the publication Herberg’s seminal essay, finally taken hold?


The season just ended with Draper, recently divorced, getting engaged to his secretary.

I wonder if they’ll marry in a church.

(AP Photo/Evan Agostini for Chase Sapphire)

Rabbi calls archbishop to apologize for rabbi (even though they all kind of agree)

The repercussions continue from Carl Paladino’s attempted buttering up of Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish community.

Paladino, of course, appeared with Flatbush’s Rabbi Yehuda Levin to denounce gay marriage and try to build support in the ultra-Orthodox community.

Paladino wound up backtracking a bit — even though he still opposes gay marriage. And Levin pulled his support for the Republican’s candidacy for governor.

Levin, who has worked with evangelicals to oppose gay marriage and abortion, decided to denounce Paladino from outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

As a result…Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union, called Archbishop Dolan to apologize.

Levin is not a member of the Orthodox Union.

The Orthodox Union surely opposes gay marriage.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes gay marriage.

But Weinreb didn’t think that it was right for Levin to take his stand outside St. Patty’s.

So there you go.

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

God is coming to public television

On three nights next week — Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — PBS will show a 6-hour documentary called…“God in America.

It’s no big deal, just 400 years of religious history in the U.S.

WNET — Channel 13 in New York — will show it each night from 9 to 11 p.m.

I’ll let PBS explain it:


God in America examines the potent and complex interaction between religion and democracy, the origins of the American concept of religious liberty, and the controversial evolution of that ideal in the nation’s courts and political arena. The series considers the role religious ideas and institutions have played in social reform movements from abolition to civil rights, examining the impact of religious faith on conflicts from the American Revolution to the Cold War, and how guarantees of religious freedom created a competitive American religious marketplace. It also explores the intersection of political struggle and spiritual experience in the lives of key American historical figures including Franciscan Friars and the Pueblo leader Po’pay, Puritan leader John Winthrop and dissident Anne Hutchinson, Catholic Bishop John Hughes, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, reform Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise, Scopes trial combatants William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, evangelist Billy Graham, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Moral Majority’s Jerry Falwell.


You can read program summaries HERE.

IN ADDITION, Channel 13 will add a local show called “God in New York” on Monday from 11 p.m. to midnight.

As WNET describes it:


God in New York is a one hour program that address how religion has shaped the social and cultural landscape of New York City. By tracing the roots of New York’s religious history, God In New York examines how New York evolved into an urban center of religious diversity where Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others peacefully live and worship alongside one another.

Religion affects thinking on some issues more than others, poll finds

So our religious beliefs affect our thinking on some social issues more than others, according to a new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Not a surprise, I suppose, but an interesting subject to consider.

The issue colored most by religion is same-sex marriage. 35% of respondents said religion was the most important factor in determining their position.

26% said their position on abortion was most influenced by religion. I would have expected the percentage to be much higher, at least 40%.

Religion is far from the chief influence on other hot-button subjects, such as government assistance to the poor (10%), immigration (7%) and the environment (6%).

The immigration result makes sense on at least one level. The Catholic Church is strongly in favor of immigration reform, including amnesty for illegal immigrants already here. Catholics make up a quarter or so of all Americans, but many have their own thinking on this most emotional issue of the day.

The Pew poll cover A LOT of ground. Check it out.

On the abortion question, the Pew people write: “On the issue of abortion, half of Americans (50%) say abortion should be legal in all (17%) or most (33%) cases while fewer, 44%, say it should be illegal in all (17%) or most (27%) cases. Support for legal abortion has edged upward since last 2009, when 47% said it should be legal in all or most cases.”

And on gay marriage: “On the issue of same-sex marriage, about four-in-ten Americans (41%) say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 48% are opposed. A slight majority of Democrats (52%) favor same-sex marriage, while independents are evenly split (44% favor, 45% oppose) and two-thirds (67%) of Republicans are opposed. Democrats are divided sharply along racial lines; 63% of white Democrats favor same-sex marriage, compared with just 27% of black Democrats and 46% of Hispanic Democrats.”

And on gays in the military:


By a two-to-one margin, most Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military (60% favor vs. 30% oppose). The level of support has been consistent in recent years. Majorities of Democrats (67%) and independents (64%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military, while Republicans are more divided (47% favor and 43% oppose).

Large majorities of white mainline Protestants (68%), white Catholics (71%), Hispanic Catholics (60%) and the religiously unaffiliated (66%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, while support is lower among white evangelical Protestants (43%) and black Protestants (46%). Even among the least supportive religious groups, though, less than half oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military.