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:

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“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.”

Statements on gay bullying (Episcopal) and political involvement (Catholic)

I received two statements this morning from New York religious leaders about issues of great importance to them (and to many others).

First, I got a statement from Bishop Mark Sisk, the Episcopal bishop of NY, about the several recent examples of bullying of gay people.

Not long after, I got one from the New York State Catholic Bishops Conference — representing Archbishop Dolan and seven other bishops — about why and how Catholics should take part in the political process.

Two very different issues.

Sisk writes, in part:

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No doubt you are aware of the recent widely reported incidences of bullying and invasion of privacy that resulted in the suicides of five young people in California, Indiana, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Texas. The tragic story of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge last week, may have struck closest to home. But each of these deaths strikes at the body of Christ, and calls us as Christ’s disciples to answer cruelty and intolerance with loving compassion.

The Episcopal Church has long affirmed the dignity, equality and inclusion of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. That these latest deaths should occur so near to the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder in Wyoming 12 years ago (Oct. 12, 1998) reminds us that there is much work yet to do to instill these values in the communities we serve.

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He concludes: “I urge you to remember lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth in your prayers. May Christ comfort and heal the hearts of those most affected by these recent tragedies. And may their memories inspire us to more vocal expressions of justice, compassion and love.”

The Catholic bishops, meanwhile, open with this:

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We Catholics are called to look at politics as we are called to look at everything – through the lens of our faith. While we are free to join any political party that we choose or none at all, we must be cautious when we vote not to be guided solely by party loyalty or by self interest. Rather, we should be guided in evaluating the important issues facing our state and nation by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Church.

Our national and state elected officials have profound influence on countless matters of great importance, such as the right to life, issues of war and peace, the education of children and how we treat the poor and vulnerable. We must look at all of these issues as we form our consciences in preparation for Election Day.

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The bishops focus on the right to life: “The right to life is the right through which all others flow. To the extent candidates reject this fundamental right by supporting an objective evil, such as legal abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research, Catholics should consider them less acceptable for public office. As Faithful Citizenship teaches, “Those who knowingly, willingly, and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil.” ”

The bishops’ statement also outlines questions that Catholics should ask politicians (and themselves) about the right to life, “parental rights in education,” “protecting marriage,” immigration reform, access to health care, protecting the poor, and religious liberty.

The statement ends with a plea to vote on Election Day.

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:

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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.