What should Trinity, Wall Street have done?

I have had a difficult time understanding exactly what Trinity, Wall Street could and couldn't have done to avoid a situation in which an Episcopal Church was involved in the criminal prosecution of a retired Episcopal bishop and an Episcopal priest for what seems to me, at this point, to be little more than street theater.

The difficulty is exacerbated, I think, by the fact that Trinity itself hasn't answered that question clearly, taking refuge in difficult to penetrate legalistic language in its frequent press statements. That Trinity choose to use the first sentence of the most recent release to praise itself for its long record of giving away a small percentage of its enormous fortune isn't helpful either.

If I understand correctly, and I may not, Trinity was not in a position to have the charges against Bishop George Packard (whose sentencing statement is here), the Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem and their six co-defendants dismissed. Trinity did request that the Manhattan District attorney offer most of those arrested at Duarte Square on December 17--including Packard and Kooperkamp--non-criminal disposition of their cases, that involved neither fines nor incarceration. Some defendants accepted this offer. Some refused.

The defendants who refused bear responsibility for that choice. It isn't as though they were being offered five to ten instead of fifteen to life and felt they had to take a gamble for the sake of freedom. If they had wanted these charges to go away, they could have made them go away. They seem to have made a calculation in which going through with this trial, and risking conviction and the very minor sentences that they received, was in their best interest. Perhaps this had to do with principle. Perhaps it had to do with garnering useful publicity. I don' know. But I do know that a choice was made.

That said, if Trinity's lawyer Amy Jedlicka had not testified, the district attorney would have had no case, so it seems highly unlikely that the prosecution could have continued. Trinity seemingly made some calculation in which publicly participating in the prosecution of a bishop and a priest for climbing a fence into an empty lot in which they were immediately arrested was a better move than just letting the whole thing slide. I don't have enough information to speculate about why that would be the case. I am also unclear on what Trinity has at stake here--but unless they are acting out of sheer stubbornness, it would seem to be so valuable that it is worth withstanding the onslaught of atrocious publicity that they have brought upon themselves, the church leaders--including the Presiding Bishop and the Bishop of New York--who have lent them public support and, the wider Episcopal Church.

I'd be happy to have the story as I have sketched it out above fleshed out or revised by people with first hand information. Happy to hear other's opinions about who should have done what.

Comments (17)

Jim, I've said basically all I can say, and that is, for the sake of forgiveness, TWS could have not cooperated with the prosecution. Are they acting out of stubbornness? I think if you read enough about their rector, you will find that this is likely the case. Half of his vestry has resigned over the past year out of protest of his poor leadership and his inflexibility. You are absolutely correct when you say they have brought negative publicity to themselves, the Bishop of NY, and the PB...and, like it or not, the wider Episcopal Church. All of these have well-oiled PR machines that are spinning the story in a manner befitting corporations, rather than churches.

Trinity is proud of claiming it offers pastoral care and space to the protesters, but there is a bit more of a story there, from what I understand. It would be nice to see someone do some real investigating into what happened.

FWIW, I found Bishop George's sentencing statement to be on point and crystal clear: http://occupiedbishop.blogspot.com/2012/06/sad-day-for-church.html

I would, therefore, recommend you try reaching out to either the bishop or his wife Brook to get more of the story, or at least their side of it. Remember that the bishop started off by attempting to mediate between OWS and TWS but soon found he got nowhere with TWS and Cooper. Perhaps you'd want to speak with the Revs. John Merz or Michael Sniffen or Earl Kooperkamp or Donna Schaper or Michael Ellick. I believe they know more of the behind-the-scenes than I do.

I do thank you for giving the situation some space and providing a forum for discussion. For a while, I thought the Cafe, too, was giving Trinity a "pass."

A few points of clarification:

I know, from many months of conversations with Earl Kooperkamp and George Packard, that in no way were they attempting, demanding, or expecting to "evade" charges. It was, yes, a matter of principle, but moreover, a matter of faith. Both men are deeply committed to nonviolent resistance, and they would have accepted a jail sentence gladly - and had they gone, Rikers Island would have seen a jailhouse revival like none other.

Trinity church pressed charges until they could not un-press them. One of the details that came out in the trial was the unnerving degree to which Trinity and the NYPD (of Stop-and-Frisk fame) were collaborating leading up to Dec. 17. Trinity happily produced Amy Jedlicka, and all the while claimed "we have no say in this matter, we wash our hands of responsibility." It's never a good look on Christians.

The gamble was not that Packard and Kooperkamp might escape charges. The gamble was hoping that the Church both men love and to which they have committed lifetimes of service would be better served by being held up to the light of truth, in order that real reconciliation might be possible. Trinity, particularly Cooper, did not take the offer given.

This was a test. It was never about trespassing: of course the defendants climbed a fence. This is about the place of the Church in American politics. Essentially, the defendants challenged Trinity to pick a side: that of Wall Street, or that of the people they say God so loves. Trinity failed. They're already feeling the effects in the form of the vestry blowup. From a PR perspective, Trinity had every opportunity to spin this, and I'm still shocked at how badly they handled this. But the trial was revelatory, indeed: we have all now seen how badly a love of power and authority can corrupt the mission of the Church.

Unfortunately, the most lasting effect will be that non-Christians, non-Episcopalians, as well as many Episcopalians, have just had their suspicions confirmed: that the Church is a hypocritical, legalistic, wealthy artifact left over from colonial sins past, happy to commit further sins upon the present. The hundreds of tweets and facebook posts I read to this effect last night made my heart sink.

It is a strange time in which non-Christians are using theological arguments and a church is making legal ones. Occupy is literally taking a page from our playbook, placing bodies in the way of an unholy alliance between government and wealth. If we are wise, we will be grateful for the invitation to self-examination. How is it that we expect to quietly comply with the juridical circuses of an increasingly unjust government while still claiming divine moral authority? Is this not false prophecy? Do we expect to evade God's judgment?

Marisa Egerstrom

I scanned the NY Times to try to find an article about Bp. Packard's arrest. The only note I could find bore the headline, "Eight Occupy Protesters Convicted of Trespassing". In the first paragraph reference is made to "a Manhattan church". Although Bp. Packard and the name of Trinity Church are mentioned later in the short snippet, it seems as though the only folk who are paying any attention to this incident and giving it publicity are members of TEC who support the mission and goals of OWS, and who seek to embarrass Trinity and TEC. Quite obviously the NYT does not seem to think it is newsworthy beyond mere, almost anonymous mention.

That said, and I stand willing to be corrected if I misstate facts, the protestors sought and were refused permission to occupy Duarte after being evicted from Zuccotti. If it were just a matter of "climbing a fence," with no other history, I would agree with every point above, but alas, it was much more than that. It was the culmination of a number of acts of civil disobedience which included, among other things, seizing and occupying at least one foreclosed home, being forcefully removed from Zuccotti, and failing to negotiate successfully with Trinity over the space at Duarte.

I have no gripe with the attempt to win hearts and minds through civil disobedience, but, when people choose that path they must also accept the responsibility for their behaviors. In this sense, I give a tip of my hat to Bishop Packard and the other seven for going to trial and accepting punishment. It is a logical conclusion of their civil disobedience.

I fail to see, however, how Trinity is culpable here, unless one feels that Trinity simply had no legitimate reason to decline the original request to cede their land to the OWS protestors. Given the many ways in which Trinity was reaching out to OWS at the time, and lending their facilities to OWS for meetings, etc., it seems to me less than candid to suggest that Trinity's decision not to cede land is either inappropriate or immoral. Quite to contrary, it seems to me that this story is about the dog which bites the hands of those who feed it.

Jim Hammond
Warrenton, VA

Trinity realize that the OWS protesters speak only for a tiny minority and the "atrocious publicity" you speak of comes only from leftie whiners (who admittedly whine loud and long and get a lot of press so it sounds like a lot).

Most of us realize the protesters did so for the publicity and they, as you note, would rather have gone to court and get their names and faces splashed in the papers than let it go quietly. So they got what they wanted and what they deserved.

The guy with the bolt cutters got extra - good for the judge, recognizing that that deserved extra.

Trinity was pretty much held hostage by OWS - "let us use your property or we'll make you look bad", so I don't blame them for standing up to bullying, obscene fortune or not.

Nobody, not a single church, community college, city council (all of whom have "helped" Occupy Whatever in various cities and had their hands that fed them bitten) have an obligation to do squat to support or help OccW/e, especially the way any help that was given was taken for granted and spit on.

Oh, and now Occupy can't even occupy their own rallies:
"(Van Jones) lamented at the opening session, where half of the 500 seats were filled." Wash. Post

Joe, everybody at the Cafe has a day job. We aggregate news from what seems to us to be credible sources. We weren't seeing a lot of information that we felt we knew what to do with. Having been a reporter for many years, I am more or less aware of who full time reporters could reach out to if they were interested.

Jim Hammond commenting above wrote "it seems as though the only folk who are paying any attention to this incident and giving it publicity are members of TEC who support the mission and goals of OWS, and who seek to embarrass Trinity and TEC. Quite obviously the NYT does not seem to think it is newsworthy beyond mere, almost anonymous mention."

For the record, Episcopal New Service had an extensive report: http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2012/06/18/bishop-priest-convicted-of-trespassing-in-occupy-demonstration/

So the decision is not being ignored. What is remarkable about ENS's otherwise extensive report is that it fails to report that PB and Bishop Sisk took the side of Trinity v. OWS and have not had anything to say about the pursuit of charges that I know of. See their statement here: http://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/faith_and_politics/breaking_presiding_bishop_and.html


Thanks for laying this out there, and I'm glad for more clarifying comments. Nobody is coming out smelling like a rose, as far as I'm concerned. Such a shame. Although in a way, I think this is a bracing reminder that we're not perfect and our holy veneers can come off quite quickly when we are pushed from our comfort zones.

Laura Toepfer

Just to add on to what John has said, it isn't useful to assume that what ends up in The New York Times is the last word on the distance to which news has traveled, or the audiences it has reached.
The Daily News, which may have more readers in New York than the Times (I have worked for both of these papers, but haven't kept up with the readership numbers in the five boroughs) covered the trial. And the impact of social media should not be underestimated.

I am not making this point to puff up the influence of Occupy Wall Street. I have no idea what they are up to. I have a professional interest in the reputation of the Episcopal Church. This is bad for it.

TWS is a church, part of the Body of Christ. What about hospitality? What about forgiveness?

June Butler

Not sure if the Occupy Wall Street Movement represents the "least of these" or the 99%. Frankly, someone in the top 25% + or - in our country is wealthy by world standards.

If the Diocese of West Michigan is a sample, most priests and bishops make at least the median wage, if not a whole lot more. So, I don't think priests and bishops are necessarily the least of these either.

The greed that is Wall Street (and many Main Streets USA) is sad indeed when one considers the poverty and social injustice not only in our own country for our neighbors who struggle day to day, but for the billion or so on this planet who live on a $1 or $2 or less per day.

Rob Burgess

P.S. I attend church in Benton Harbor Michigan, arguably the poorest community in our state where more than 95%+ of children qualify for free/reduced price lunch. I wish I (and a whole lot more Episcopals) had the courage to climb a fence and be arrested for the least, IF indeed that was the purpose intended by the good bishop and priest. But then my great great etc. (8X great) gramps Roger Williams of Rhode Island pretty much thought the established church long ago abandoned and was indifferent to the poor.

I don't have a "boots on the ground" perspective here, but I do think one worthwhile practice (for anyone thinking through this) would be to imagine the ideology of the movement were reversed.

If, say, a Tea Party group, believing that the structure of American society had become corrupted in a way that disadvantaged real Christian principles, determined to non-violently occupy church real estate in one of the more nuanced and high-priced real estate markets in the country, what would the appropriate church response be?

Occupy Wall Street is a political movement, and it strikes me that while the questions they raise are ones that we can/should examine theologically, the question of discernment is "How should we the church respond to our awareness of these issues?" One possible response might be to jump wholeheartedly into the movement, as some clergy and laity have done, but I'm not convinced on the face of it that this is the immediately appropriate one.

(Also, from the framework of that question, it's unsurprising to me that part of TWS's response has been to articulate a portion of both their outreach and the hospitality they have seen themselves able to extend to OWS)

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.
-- The Merchant of Venice, Act IV Scene 1

There is much wisdom in Shakespeare.

Susan Forsburg.

Coincidentally, I am participating on a panel this evening with the topic, "Justice and the Homeless: A Faith Perspective." My prepared remarks, which address the Trinity/Occupy issue are here: http://gracerector.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/justice-and-the-homeless-a-faith-perspective/

At heart, Benedict, I'm an anarchist.

Regardless of who's doing the "occupying" (see re anti-choice demonstrators blockading abortion clinics for a RL example. See, even closer to home, trespassing "Anglican" schismatics in TEC churches), I believe in responding to direct action, w/ (nonviolent) direct action. Not in calling the cops.

[I recognize many, if not most, will disagree w/ me. I understand calling the cops, to stop trespass. But I wouldn't do it.]

JC Fisher

Marisa Egerstrom said it very well.
As far as "boots on the ground," I was outside the lot on D17. The protesters made a symbolic gesture that hurt no one. In response, TWS sent in a police force they knew or should have known would employ violence against peaceful protesters, as they had already done so many times before. They did, on behalf of a _church_!
Whatever you think of the efficacy of the protesters' actions, Trinity Wall Street acted as a force of political repression through violence. Then, they failed to ask the DA to drop charges. The "non-criminal disposition" offered to some but not all of the protesters was an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD). This means that if the defendant isn't arrested for a specified time, usually six months, the case will be dropped. However, the NYPD has made it clear they are happy to arrest people without any reason to do so. So, accepting an ACD means deciding to drop out as an activist or know that the ACD is likely to fail, in which case the original charge goes to trial. For an OWS activist targeted by the police for unlawful arrests an ACD is either a waste of time or a sicxmonth hiatus from any, even strictly legal, protest.
In addition, not only did TWS supply their attorney to the prosecution to provide testimony against the defendants, they fought subpoenas from the defense, doing their best to weaken it.
Make no mistake: TWS made a decision to go after these folks to teach them a lesson, putting property over the gospel.

Nothing was wrong with what they did in the first place.

Does anyone think that TEC was wrong in defending its property in the places where dissident clergy and congregations sought to retain title to Church property?

Granted, this is light years away from TWS vs OWS in degrees of malice, but some issues are similar.

It would have been kinder and more appropriate (read Christian?) if TWS, with its considerable clout, had thrown its weight on the side of OWS and helped them find an alternative site when Duarte was unavailable.

Adelaide Kent

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