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Area clergy march, show solidarity with Occupy movement

Clergy and laity from Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalist churches have recently expressed solidarity with the Occupy Spokane movement’s presence at Monroe and Riverside to express a call for economic justice. They said their motivation comes from scriptural calls for jubilee, for sharing and for loving neighbors.

Clergy outside bank
Clergy pray and sign outside bank.

On Friday, Oct. 15, the Rev. Happy Watkins of New Hope Baptist Church reminded more than 300 gathered at the corner that Martin Luther King, Jr., had “the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals every day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

“The ultimate challenge is where people stand in difficult times,” Happy said, pointing out that more men of color are in prison at Airway Heights than are studying at Washington State University, Whitworth University or the Community Colleges of Spokane.

KYRS podcast- Revolutionary Spirituality: Spokane Protest Chaplains + Occupy Spokane

Sandy Williams interviewed Jim Castrolang and Deb Conklin on November 7, 2011.

He was one of several clergy present.

Dan Morrissey, professor of corporate law at Gonzaga University, explained why the Occupy movement is using the claim, “We are the 99 percent.”

He said the cause is “right and just” when the top 1 percent receives 25 percent of the income and owns 40 percent of the wealth in this country.  He added that the chief executive of one corporation made $32 million last year and the next executive in that company made $28 million.

“Corporate America is sitting on money that could put young people to work,” he said.

At the Saturday, Oct. 16, rally and march, nearly 500 people walked from Riverfront Park through downtown Spokane, stopping outside banks.  There were more than 10 pastors, marching wearing their vestments, collars and stoles.

Chants of marchers included:

Their message was a clear challenge to corporate greed and a call for economic justice.

On Oct. 24, about 17 clergy and laity from the various mainline Protestant churches gathered with their crosses and clerical garb at Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ and marched to the Occupy Spokane site, stopping outside several corporate banks to pray, swing an incense burner and sprinkle holy water—symbolically calling for healing of and by the banks.

George Taylor, a retired Presbyterian pastor visiting from Victoria, B.C., told of his recent participation in Occupy Washington, D.C.

“Participants are clear about their goals.  We believe in economic justice for all,” he said.  “We are worried about our country.  We are good folks, reasonable people.”

George anticipates that as mainstream media see people participating and as the movement gains strength, they will recognize that the church’s role in the Occupy Movement is to tell truth to power that wealth needs to be spread around for all to share from Wall Street to Main Street.

“Canadians are protesting, too, but we are calling it ‘resistance’ to what is going on in our two countries with corporate and political leaders unable to solve the problems,” he said.  “We spend $2 billion a week on the war in Afghanistan and are cutting back on programs for people in the United States.”

The Rev. Alan Eschenbacher of All Saints Lutheran Church said he had worked in the business and financial world for 22 years.  When he was there he believed it was right to make money and to invest money.

“I gradually became convinced that people need to understand when they have enough,” he said.  “What’s enough?  When we have enough, we need to share it with others.”

In his ministry serving a meal for homeless people in Browne’s Addition, he said he meets many people who do not have money and who can’t play or participate in the game. 

“Capitalism is a game,” he said.

Alan’s prayer outside one of the banks was for “those who enter to understand the ramifications of wealth.”

The Rev. Linda Crowe, pastor of Veradale United Church of Christ said:  “I’m here because I know too many people who are just hanging on by their fingernails financially.”

Those people are both church members and people who come to the church doors.

“Their numbers have increased,” she said.  “Economic justice is the issue.”

The Rev. Mike Denton, Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ conference minister, participated in the walk in Spokane, visited the site three times in Seattle and visited with people from the Chicago site when he was in Chicago.

“This movement is a basic piece.  It’s something many of us have been waiting for, for a long time,” he said.  “It’s a Pentecost moment in the life of the church.

“The church is at its best in these times, when it brings its moral sensibilities to the world.  The church is frequently at its best when the world is not at its best,” he said.

“The moral arc of the church is moving in tandem with the moral arc of the world,” he said.  “More and more members of the faith community are coming out to demonstrate.

“Chicago Theological Seminary students are building a golden calf that will become part of the demonstrations,” Mike reported.  “We have a false idol in money.”

He said that on Oct. 24, the movement was about one month old in the region.  He knows that more clergy are mentioning the movement in prayers and sermons.

He reported that he knows that within the United Church of Christ Conference,there are Occupy gatherings in Moscow, Yakima, Ellensburg, Wenatchee, Coeur d’Alene, Colville, Chewelah, Northport, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and Anchorage.

His presence in Spokane was in relationship to a movement among clergy to join delegation visits, opportunities for those who haven’t joined other activities to be part of an event for religious leaders to say, “Thank you,” and to ask occupiers what religious folks could do to support them.  On Oct. 24, there were clergy delegation visits in San Francisco, Oakland, Boston, Chicago, New York, Akron and Spokane, Mike said.

Clargy gather in park
Religious leaders gather in Riverfront Park for rally before Occupy Spokane march downtown.

Outside another bank, Lynda Maraby, an urban missioner and Eastern Washington representative on the Faith Action Network board, prayed:  “Lord, we know who you love.  You do not love wealth and power.  We depend on your power.”

At another bank, the Rev. Kris Christensen of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in West Central Spokane, prayed:  “Oh God, whose name defies any captivity of our naming, may your Spirit come on those who rule with money and power, and stir in their hearts compassion for the lost and least.  In the name of your son.”

Kris said that from serving in a poor part of town she sees people who are being “further ground into poverty in the economic system.  It can’t continue.  I can’t be silent any more.”

While Episcopalians may hesitate to talk about evil and sin, Kris asserts that “what is happening to the most vulnerable is sin.”

In front of the downtown mall, the Rev. Jim CastroLang, pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Colville, noted:  “God is present here with us and is not happy about the divide between the rich and the poor.  God is here and God’s love reigns, even in stores and banks.  God of love, teach us to love, to share, to protest faithfully.  You love and respect all people.  Empower everyone that our voice will be heard speaking truth to power and wealth.”

Jim later affirmed:  “This is what the Gospel is about.”

In Colville, he has been preaching that the church’s role is about more than making people feel good.

“We can’t stop there.  The church is to be God’s voice for justice in the community.  God’s vision for the world is that there not be a divide between the rich and the poor,” he said.

“I sense we are in an historic time, but it will take hard work.  Pastors have busy lives.  We need to deepen our commitment if we are to sustain our involvement,” Jim said.

He reported that Occupy Colville meets at 4:30 p.m., Wednesdays, and noon, Saturdays.  Twenty-five people gathered on Saturday, Oct. 22.

At the Occupy Spokane site, clergy came in solidarity to say thanks to those who stand on the corner, sharing the messages and receiving affirming honks from passing cars.

The Rev. Kevin Dow of Highland Park United Methodist Church said:  “I felt I couldn’t not be here.  I’ve been worried for a long time about the growing gap between the rich and the poor, wondering when it would become intolerable enough.

“More and more people are out of work and depend on others to help them survive.  There have been increasing numbers of people coming to the food banks and becoming homeless,” he said.  “We need to be about the business of sharing and caring for one another.”

The Rev. Jane Nelson-Low, a retired Episcopal priest who served six years in Wallace, Idaho, said that in the biblical tradition of Leviticus there is the Jubilee tradition.

“It’s a process for wealth to be redistributed on a periodic basis.  Every 49 years, the land was to be returned to its original owners to prevent the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few and to prevent passing it down generation to generation,” she said.

Recognizing that was public policy then, she said the 21st century needs to find its own techniques, aware that “God’s will is that no one be obscenely rich and no one be wretchedly poor.”

Jane added that when Jesus announced the year of the Lord’s favor in Luke, he was announcing jubilee.  When he called people to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and to love their neighbors as themselves, she said, “It’s partly about charity, but also about justice, specifically economic justice.”

Spokane clergy have formed Protest Chaplains, aligning with a national organization of that name and having their own Facebook Page, in addition to the Inland Northwest Coalition for the Common Good group. Some clergy it connected began discussing  the Occupy movement among other issues.

Kris said that the role of Protest Chaplains is to be available to the Occupy Spokane participants, to be a resource, a presence and a training source on dealing with conflicts that arise so the movement can be healthy.

One idea is for pastors of different denominations to each take different days of the week to be present, such as the United Church of Christ on Mondays, the Episcopalians on Thursdays and the Methodists on Fridays.

“Part of our presence can help those holding signs and waving when people with mental illness, using drugs or in need of resources approach them,” said Kris.  “We can be there to be a listening presence and a referral resource.”

The Rev. Andy CastroLang said she is “tired of the wicked levels of inequity.”

She said that Americans need to remember that the government is an incomplete project and “we are part of it.”

She expects things may get worse as people work to make the country better for everyone.  As a downtown pastor, “it’s so in my face who is sick, homeless and hungry on the street outside our building.  It’s getting worse.  With the cutbacks, there is less money than ever.” 

The church itself has less money to help people with rent or bus vouchers, so she has to refer people to other programs, some of which are referring people back to her church for help .


National, world leaders voice support

With the Occupy Wall Street movement now in every state and more than 900 cities around the world, national religious leaders are speaking out.

The United Church of Christ’s Collegium of Officers released a statement saying, “we live in a very rich country in a rich world; however many continue to suffer the consequences of greed on the part of a few.  There is enough for all if we share and if we organize our life together in ways that care for each other.”

Despite the varied messages of those in the protests, the UCC officers see the protests as “a reminder that thoughtful, faithful, and committed people can make a difference when voices are united for the common good.”

The director of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness has urged faith leaders to join the movement saying, “faith has a role to play in the leadership of these movements.”

However he warns that religious leaders shouldn’t seek to control the movement “but to model to participants how to express themselves through nonviolent means.”

Even the Vatican has aligned themselves with the movement saying, “the basic sentiment behind the protests is in line with Catholic social teaching.  The economy should be at the service of the human person and strong action must be taken to reduce the growing gap between the rich and poor.”

In addition, the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church also affirmed that “the growing movement of peaceful protests in public spaces in the United States and throughout the world in resistance to the exploitation of people for profit or power bears faithful witness, in the tradition of Jesus, to sinful inequalities in society.”

Revolutionary Spirituality Interview with Jim CastroLang and Deb Conklin, KYRS