Occupy Wall Street and the Church

by Charles C. W. Cooke

If, as Archbishop Rowan Williams claimed late last year, Jesus “would have been an Occupier,” he would undoubtedly have disapproved of his disciples. To the sound of the rooster, some of Occupy Wall Street’s members repaid the kindness shown to them by the West Park Presbyterian Church — which had housed them since they were removed from Zuccotti Park — by stealing parts of the bronze baptismal font from the altar and pouring out holy water sourced from the River Jordan. Meanwhile, over the East River in Brooklyn, more occupiers — also sheltered by a church, in Park Slope — peed on a cross. Rumors that thirty pieces of silver were also missing have not been confirmed.

This is not the first time that religious groups have found their kindness toward the Occupy movement matched with insult. In England in October, the dean of St. Paul’s cathedral, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, instructed police to leave the squatting protesters where they were. Days later he resigned. The “occupation” had shut down the sidewalk to such an extent that the entrance to the church became blocked, forcing the cathedral to close and depriving the 300-year-old building of the daily influx of tourist dollars that support its upkeep. A few unkempt naïves had done what even German bombs could not.

As with the authorities in London and across the United States, churches have been extremely indulgent of the movement. Indeed, West Park’s Rev. Bob Brashear had already turned the other cheek when a $2,400 MacBook computer was stolen from his office three weeks earlier. But the theft of the $12,500 sacrament proved too much. In response, he accused the protesters of “pissing on the 99 percent,” and informed them that they had two weeks to leave. (Still a somewhat generous timeframe, one might argue). He noted that, even at the height of the 1980s drug epidemic, nobody given shelter at West Park had the temerity to steal from it: “Not even crackheads messed with that!”

And so we have another example of what is now a familiar cycle: encouragement, leading to appeasement, which leads to frustration, and eventually eviction. What chance does Occupy have of building their heaven on earth if they cannot even keep their friends in the church?