Home / Freethought and Humanism: Atheistic and Theistic (Deism) / Protest Chaplains At Occupy Wall Street
Protest Chaplains At Occupy Wall Street

Protest Chaplains At Occupy Wall Street

Who are these ministers?  Why are they at a protest against the current financial system?  Why are they dressed in “funny clothes”?  What is the purpose of religion at a secular event?

It would seem a lot and nothing at all, both at the same time.  The Protest Chaplains do not wish to convert anyone, though they would love it if people did become Episcopalian, Non-denominational Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.  However, they are willing to work secularly and, in this case, with some people who are atheist/humanists without evangelizing.  Their job is not to defend religion, according to rule number four on their site and similarly, if Harvard Humanist Chaplain, Greg Epstein were down there, he probably would not attempt to defend humanism either.

If such a thing as Theistic freethought exists, the Protest Chaplains would probably be it in motion.  Except they are not atheists and they are far from Westboro Baptist Church's insanity theology.  The Protest Chaplains are more like practising humanistic Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, without vocalizing their views, unless asked. Without a doubt, they are practising Universalism.

The Protest Chaplains’ site reads:

We're mostly Christians, based in Boston, with ties to Harvard Divinity School, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, and many other local churches and faith groups.

Somehow or other, we happened to fall in love with God through the traditions of Christianity. And now we find ourselves in a nation whose leaders regularly invoke the name of Christ as they wage war, stomp on the poor, and chip away at the freedoms once guaranteed to us by our Constitution. Our debt, our lack of health insurance, our uncertain futures and the fear we experience in this new corporate world order makes our bodies sick, but the fact that these injustices are labeled "Christian" makes our souls sick.

It seems wherever there is controversy we find Episcopalians, generally on the more liberal and progressive side of the story.  As a rule, they declare “protesters have souls”, as well as many other people, but they are not there proselytize, so their site says amongst the list of rules for a Protest Chaplain.

6. DO NOT PROSELYTIZE. That's not OK. That's not what chaplains do. The Occupy movement is about working together despite the fact we all have our single issues and existing organizational work etc. Not only is proselytizing obnoxious, it's detrimental to the movement. (And we won't claim ya.)

Interestingly, their source of inspiration is the self-proclaimed anarchist, Catholic convert Dorothy Day, who was an American journalist and activist advocating the Catholic economic theory of Distributism.  She also assisted in the establishment of the non-violent, pacifist Catholic Worker movement.

However, at least one Protest Chaplain questioned involvement with Occupy Wall Street, but when Reed Loy, a Life Together Intern through the Episcopal Volunteer Corp, go out there, he realized he did have something to say.

‘Why were we in funny clothes? What were all these people up to? What did Christianity have to do with the whole thing anyway?’ As the questions rolled over me, I found that I did in fact have something to say. I had a lot to say, and hopefully God had a few things to say through me. I talked about coming to ground the protest in love, through the chants and songs we sang throughout the day, and through calm presence. I talked about reflecting on each political idea or angle by asking how it aided the voiceless and the poor. I talked with people about the unrest in our hearts and what we needed to quiet that unrest. I wasn’t giving speeches either, and that was important.

In a nutshell, it was about storytelling. Listening to why others had come, and sharing my own journey with them in return. Something revelatory happened there. That sharing would have been significant even if no one had heard our chants, or seen our marching, because all of us went our separate ways having been strengthened. Strengthened by the revelation of our common humanity being recognized.

“Our common humanity” is the key phrase in what Loy said and many times, when people unite for the greater good, we find things like these various occupations around the United States and the world.  Green, yellow, black, white, even royal purple, atheist, Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, it does not matter, but what matters is when people unite for the common good to make a change for the better without imposing their world view on others.  However, that does not mean one does not share their story, especially when asked, which people do ask and share their stories.

The Huffington Post reports that the Protest Chaplains are a loose group of mostly Christian students, seminarians, and lay people, but along with them, they find a Jewish person, just in time for Yom Kippur, to sound the alarm that we need change.

Ryan Adams, a student at Harvard Divinity School and lead organizer of several Jewish services at Occupy Boston, echoed Friedlander's spiritual call.

"I think it's very important for me, as a Jewish person, to be out here supporting this. Your identity as a protester and your identity as a Jew shouldn't have to be mutually exclusive, "Adams said after a Yom Kippur service.

"As a spiritual people, we have a great responsibility. And if this can be a shofar blast to the world, to recognize the spiritual reality that's around us, telling us to do less in terms of greed and more in terms of people, that would be good."

Huffington Post quoted Marisa Egerstrom, an Episcopalian, doctoral student, and an organizer of the group, as saying, “We had a real desire for there to be a specifically Christian voice of protest.  Advocating for the 99 percent is the same vision for the world that Christianity has, only rendered into secular language.”

The Episcopalian Chaplains, dressed in priestly robes, stand out among the black hoodies and bandanas.  Egerstrom stated people kept coming up to them and saying, “You are the first Christians I’ve seen at the protest… on our side.”  They are Episcopalians not Pentecostals, thus I am not sure why that surprises anyone, especially when Episcopalians are for gay marriage, ordaining gays and women, and often pro-choice.

Just as there are humanistic Jews, many Episcopalians are humanistic Christians and do not know it.  Thus, the statement above concerning the same vision, only Occupy Wall Street puts it in secular wording that appeals to more people.  One does not see that among Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians and Huffington did not appear to interview anyone that came off as such.

Ironically, Sunday October 9, the march took an “Out of Egypt” spin.  A group of protesters, not part of the Protest Chaplains group, carried a handmade golden calf created to resemble the bull statue on the New York Stock Exchange.  However, some, such as Father Luis Barrios of St. Mary's Episcopal Church, were Episcopalian.

golden bull

"We think Wall Street has become idolatrous," said the Rev. Donna Schaper, senior minister at New York's Judson Memorial Church and one of more than 50 clergy who joined the New York protest, independent of the chaplains group.

Shades of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt and much like what I referred to in “The System Is Broken” article, which is somewhat scary that they came up with the same thought and coinciding with Yom Kippur, having someone blowing a shofar, might not be a bad touch.  Out with the old system and in with the new.  Maybe it is the end of an age…  The Age of Wall Street that is.

About Mriana

Mriana is a humanist and the author of "A Source of Misery", who grew up in the Church of God, Anderson Indiana. After she became an adult, she joined the Episcopal Church, but later left the Church and became a humanist. She has two grown sons and raises cats. Mriana raised her sons in the Episcopal Church, but in their teen years, they left the Church and she soon followed. One of her sons became a "Tao Buddhist" and the other a None, creating his own world view. She enjoys writing, reading, science, philosophy, psychology, and other subjects. Mriana is also an animal lover, who cares for their welfare as living beings, who are part of the earth. She is a huge Star Trek fan in a little body.
Scroll To Top