Occupying Our Faith

by Will Fuller, Kairos-Milwaukie UCC

Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Portland have received a lot of attention, but their meaning for the faith community has not. As a denomination committed to social justice, the United Church of Christ is intimately involved in the issues and precedent-setting nature of Occupy, and so we need to reflect on our role, responsibilities and relationship with this evolving social phenomenon.

Rev’s Chuck Currie and Kate Lore at Occupy Portland

Shelter and Hospitality

Some Occupiers are homeless, and people from out of town may lack shelter. Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon is asking downtown Portland churches to help out. Portland First Congregational Church UCC, St Stephens Episcopal Parish and First Unitarian Church have been helping with shelter and food , while opening doors for meeting space. There is an open conversation with Multnomah County and Portland regarding congregations being more engaged, opening doors for hospitality to homeless, and helping those living on the margin. Downtown Chapel has doubled the people it sees, and St Stephens served 182 in one recent evening.

There is a great need for more congregations to get involved. For more about this need, see the Nov. 17 letter to Nick Fish and Gretchen Kafoury. One possibility is to look at camping ordinances like those in Eugene and Seattle for faith communities and nonprofits to open parking lots to campers and people living in cars as safer places to stay at night than the streets, without the commitment of a residential shelter.

Social Justice and Nonviolence

A Nov. 11 statement signed by downtown pastors and this piece by Kate Lore emphasize principles and ideals of the faith movement, including the need for nonviolence in tactics of both police and Occupy participants.

We need to keep our eye on the message of Occupy, independent of tactics or individual events. Occupy has opened the eyes of religious leaders about possibilities of social justice. We are trying to drive what’s needed. Portland is a livable city but not for all its citizens, an inequity that is a profound social justice issue. Occupy has highlighted this for all of us.

Congregations are a link between the status quo and its change, between spiritual tradition and spiritual innovation, recognizing commonalities between the discontents of today and the discontents of 2,000 years ago, which were based on the ancient Hebrew teachings on social justice and the active practice of religious faith.

People are “mad as Hell” about the economic situation we face. For a look at that fierce emotion, see this clip From “Network” 1976 – I’m mad as Hell. People are also frightened, confused, and uncertain, looking for some assurance that there is more than anger-provoking frustration in their lives and our society. Faith organizations can provide that assurance in tangible, direct ways.

Direct Witness

Not only have UCC minister Chuck Currie and Unitarian minister Kate Lore taken an active role, but Lynn Smouse Lopez of Ainsworth UCC, Anton DeWet of First Congregational Portland (and the other signers of the letters above), and a host of others have stepped up to bear witness.

When the Mayor of Portland ordered city parks cleared of overnight demonstrators, several faith leaders went to the parks to provide a witness of faith. Their presence may well have helped the police response be as measured as it was.

May the faith community continue to be a present witness of light in the darkness and a steady source of faith, hope and charity in the days and weeks ahead.

(I am indebted to David Leslie, EMO Director, and Kate Lore, Social Justice Minister of First Unitarian Church, for their kind thoughts, incorporated above, and information on shelter and EMO-related activities)

 

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2 Comments

  1. Michelle R.

    Reply

    Thank you all for keeping in perspective what is really important about this movement and about humanity. It helps us all to keep things in perspective and I’m very grateful for your activism.

  2. Jean Doane

    Reply

    I had been wondering where our UCC clergy and congregations were in all this. I am so glad to see that our pastors have been among the clergy witnessing to the struggles of the Occupy participants and their itneractions with the police. It is also heartening to know our church buildings are being opened for meetings and our congregations are responding to the root causes of the unrest, powerty, hunger, and the disparity between rich and poor. Thank you to those who have been brave enough to stand with the Occupy Movement.

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