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Occupy, Trinity and the meaning of “private property”

Occupy, Trinity and the meaning of “private property”

Tom Beaudoin, who teaches at Fordham University has written an extremely insightful essay about the impasse between Trinity Wall Street and Occupy Wall Street on one of the blogs maintained by America, the Jesuit magazine.

He says, in part:

Often Trinity’s defenders phrase their defense of their space as a defense of the church’s private property. I think, however, that Occupy is challenging (mostly implicitly) the assumption that one can speak of the “private property” of a church in the same way one uses that phrase more generally in Western society. (It is similar to (though of course not the same as) the theological (and legal) challenge that those who occupy Catholic churches that are slated for closing make about who “owns” church property.)

At the risk of sacrificing nuance, and for the sake of brevity, let me be succinct: I think we have a very important theological matter before us when Occupy, through its religious-leader allies, is saying to Trinity Wall Street: We in Occupy — as a multifaith, interreligious, spiritually pluralistic movement that is also and equally a nonreligious, secular movement — can better meet your mission as a Christian church in this particular time, and this particular place, with negligible negative financial impact (Trinity is a very wealthy community), and with a rare and time-sensitive influence, by using this particular private property to host the next stage of Occupy Wall Street, and let’s meet to talk about the liability issues and any other concerns you have, let’s have that dialogue starting immediately, but in principle we have a substantial theological point worthy of your consideration.

The presumption in this theological claim, which I think is correct, is that no Christian church is – on the very terms of its theological existence – permitted to fall back on the mere invocation of “private property” without also a theological conversation about the spiritual significance of what that concept means and how it is being used.

Beaudoin’s essay is the most theologically sophisticated writing I have seen on this topic, and is well worth reading in its entirety.


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Dave Paisley

Interesting comments. A few thoughts, in case anyone is reading any more.

To those who complain of thread hijack, I would merely say that when the subject of the article is the theological justification for the hijacking of private property (which is the underlying premise of the referenced article), then the morals, motives and tactics of those proposing the hijack are fair game for discussion.

Paige Baker: “something which every Christian ought to be on board with, since Jesus…”

Quite clearly, the above implies that you aren’t a “real” Christian if you are not on board with whatever is being proposed because obviously Jesus was on board with it. It’s ironic that WWJD was a religious right meme.

Paige Baker et al: “Have you spent some time with the occupiers? If not, I suggest you owe it to them to do so before you malign them in the way you continue to do here.”

Sorry, I am quite capable of reading their websites, checking out the national and local news reports (and no, I am not a Fox News viewer/listener/reader, nor am I fan of or a listener of AM right wing talk radio – a diversionary stereotype brought up by many an OWS supporter. Really, if I don’t agree with them it doesn’t mean I’m Rick Perry in disguise) to make up my mind. The scene in Seattle played out like a mini-Manhattan with the camp occupying a city park illegally, then occupying Seattle Community College against their will. We had our own “84 year old pepper sprayed by police!” story, which was an internet sensation for about ten minutes. The fact that she is a lifelong protester who put herself in harm’s way meant that story died pretty fast. The fact that in liberal Seattle, the notoriously lefty Seattle Times reporting has been conspicuously unsupportive of OccSea is as good an indication as any that Occupy Whatever has little support among the vast majority of the populace.

BTW, I have also never met any of the people I have voted for, except one guy I knew who ran for the local school board, and yet, somehow I have managed to form an opinion and been able to vote intelligently.

As for OWS being or not being anarchist.

First, a definition of anarchism (sorry it’s just Wikipedia):

“Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, or alternatively as opposing authority and hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations. Proponents of anarchism, known as “anarchists”, advocate stateless societies based on non-hierarchical voluntary associations.”

From the OWS slogan:

“Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement… we don’t need politicians to build a better society.” and so on…

If that’s not anarchist, then what is?

This is the pointless WTO protests all over again (which, oh by the way, were specifically “anarchist”) except that it’s a bit more rambling and trying to steal some street cred from Arab Spring where people are actually putting themselves in harm’s way.

And even if it isn’t fully anarchism, then it certainly veers towards totalitarianism (we know what’s better for you, so best to just put us in charge and have us figure it all out for you). George Orwell would be proud. It’s only a matter of time before we start hearing “Four legs good, two legs better!”

I’ll leave you with the words of the great Winston Churchill: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

And perhaps the one most apropos to this time: “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Jim Guthrie

Occupy Wall Street? Absolutely! And yes, I did spend time in Zuccotti Park. I’m in the neighborhood most every day.

But Occupy Trinity Wall Street is really off track, I think, and is ahowboating.

The Occupy Canal Street “Over the Fence” folk may think they’re in the same vein as other social justice movements, but the dead giveaway is when they are “Shocked! Shocked!” at the action and SOP of the NY Police Department.

People arrested for, or relatives of those shot to death while, say, guilty of being a person of color might have a more interesting take on the Occupy Trinity people and their comments on being arrested.

But TEC parishes have generally been silent on justice issues. They do not tend to be places where, say, Mayoral candidates (especially the unsuccessful ones pressing justice issues) see as an obligatory stop as are other NYC churches which have taken the lead.

So lets all calm down a bit, figure out what we are doing in our own parishes on justice and economic justice issues — particularly bringing them to the fore in our communities — and maybe put the arm on Trinity to help provide some financial support while we’re at it.

Jim Guthrie



Just one more post, sorry. I want to get my point across, and here’s something from 2010 in Slate magazine that may help do that:

But income inequality is a topic of huge importance to American society and therefore a subject of large and growing interest to a host of economists, political scientists, and other wonky types. Except for a few Libertarian outliers (whose views we’ll examine later), these experts agree that the country’s growing income inequality is deeply worrying. Even Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Board chairman and onetime Ayn Rand acolyte, has registered concern. “This is not the type of thing which a democratic society—a capitalist democratic society—can really accept without addressing,” Greenspan said in 2005. Greenspan’s Republican-appointed successor, Ben Bernanke, has also fretted about income inequality.

Yet few of these experts have much idea how to reverse the trend. That’s because almost no one can agree about what’s causing it. This week and next, I will detail and weigh the strengths and weaknesses of various prominent theories as to what has brought about the income inequality boom of the last three decades. At the same time, I’ll try to convey the magnitude of its effects on American life. The Great Divergence may represent the most significant change in American society in your lifetime—and it’s not a change for the better. Let’s see if we can figure out what got us here.

IOW, many people across the political and economic spectrum agree on this issue – and have been working on trying to address it. The economy is very complex, though, and people are not very sure exactly what the solution is, yet – or, often, the cause.

Which is why I don’t understand what “occupations” are going to accomplish – I can’t see that this can possibly create any real change – or why it’s necessary to demonize people who could be allies.

I’m far more interested in solutions to this problem than in “World Revolution” – so I don’t support OWS (although initially I was supportive). I think solutions are going to come, precisely, from talking about and working on these complex problems, and consulting economists and others who understand them. There are many people who would, actually, very much like to find ways to fix the problem – but who aren’t invested in “World Revolution,” either.


(P.P.S.: I’m afraid that the video you linked to above Joe, makes me even less supportive of OWS.

Clearly, the Trinity woman wanted to know whether the conversation was going to be around “taking space” – i.e., “occupying.” I’d say she disagrees with that particular tactic – her right, of course – and doesn’t want to be a part of it.

But the TWS guy said, “Let’s talk, sure” plain and simple. The Judson guy wouldn’t leave it at that, though – but that’s not the fault of the Trinity guy. What’s the problem with just accepting a plain, “Sure, let’s talk”?)


(P.S.: In a country that’s mostly centrist-leaning-conservative, it’s not actually a very good approach, I don’t think, to use a raised fist for a logo and offer a slogan of “The Only Solution is World Revolution.”

It’s simply not going to fly here – or most anywhere, I would think. I have to wonder if OWS wasn’t doing their homework, when it comes to 20th-Century history….)

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