|photo by Episcopal Cafe, New York.|
I remember Spike Lee's film, "Do The Right Thing." I remember the way tensions were building between the various characters in this Bedford-Stuy neighborhood on the "hottest day of the year." Italians, Africans, Puerto Ricans, Asians: everybody's fuses were growing shorter as the day wore on, and anything could tip the balance. When a showdown over the pictures on the wall of fame in a pizza shop ends in the cops killing one of the characters, a riot breaks out.
December 17th is not the hottest day of the year in New York City. And as the Occupy Wall Street movement begins migrating about to find a new public demonstration site, their eyes have become fixated on a portion of land owned by Trinity Wall Street, the main hub of all Episcopalianism in the United States. TWS, which had been supportive of the OWS protestors while they were in Zuccotti Park, hasn't wanted them to occupy this piece of land, called Duarte Square. They've reasoned that it isn't "safe" and would not be an appropriate place for an encampment during the winter because there are no facilities. Today, the OWS movement decided it would scale or crawl under or cut open the chain link fence surrounding Duarte Square and take it over. The response: TWS called in the cops who arrested 50 people, including a retired Episcopal bishop, and carted them off in police wagons.
No one was killed. There were no trash cans hurled through the windows of Trinity Wall Street. But this scene raises many questions and should cause all to pause and think.
As Rev. Canon Dan Webster of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland notes at Religious Dispatches:
I think this comes under the heading, “To those who have given much, much is expected,” and that’s what Trinity Wall Street has to deal with. Like it or not…Trinity Wall Street owns the bulk of Lower Manhattan, they have the largest portfolio of any congregation in the global Anglican Communion, and they reap the benefits of the 1%...We have to do something now that brings a conscience to capitalism…
I'm not there in New York, but one has to wonder why things had to get to this point. Could TWS not reason out a way to accomodate the OWS movement? Perhaps Duarte Square isn't the perfect spot. Is there another place, another way to provide shelter to the protestors who are demanding the very things the church says it wants: economic and social justice for all?
How interesting to have this showdown occuring now as the liturgical calendar marks the moment when Gabriel tells Mary that she is going to bear the Son of God. This is celebrated with the Magnificat. But remember: the Magnificat is a song reminiscent of Hannah from the Hebrew Scriptures and celebrates God's willingness to use the meek and lowly to topple the powerful and conceited. Perhaps there is something for the church hierarchy to hear in this message.
Ever the Episcopalian, I am always thinking that there is more gray than black and white in these matters. There has to be a way for TWS to offer something of their vast holdings of property to push for a fairer, more just economic system. That is truly the heart of what Occupy Wall Street has been screaming about for the past three months. We are a country where there is a growing gap between the haves and have-nots, and the have-nots are finally starting to notice, and demonstrate their anger. At the same time, is OWS willing to be in another place? Is setting up a tent city for 24/7 demonstrations the answer? Has anything changed other than cities growing weary of the occupations? Why occupy a church lot and not storm the New York Stock Exchange, or Bank of America? Or come to Jacksonville and occupy the headquarters of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida (I would love that!)?
Trinity has been a shelter to so many throughout its history. Now's the time for the church to follow this new born baby about to arrive in our midst... and use its wealth to work for a new paradigm. Today's melee in Manhattan doesn't get us there.