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The Rev. John Merz, Occupy-arrestee, writes his bishop

The Rev. John Merz, Occupy-arrestee, writes his bishop

Updated at bottom with Bishop George Packard’s latest blog entry.

The Rev. John Merz, priest in charge at Ascension, Brooklyn has written a letter to his bishop, the Rt. Rev. Larry Provenzano, and it has been posted on the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.

The issue is not Wall Street’s Church but the archetypal significance of Wall Street itself. Every aspect of our culture has been “Occupied” by the force of corporate greed, an ethos sold to all in our market culture in the form of market values.

Such values separate us into private spheres, our destiny is fulfillment as private consumers; that is our pen, and our acceptable bounds: Emere Ego Sum – “I buy, therefore I am.”

Our churches themselves have become private enclaves where, piecemeal we salve and bandage social and corporate wounds borne of market values; and rarely do we address the enormity of suffering such values engender, so we send people out unprepared to comprehend and defend against the confusing forces that “destroy the creatures of God”. The actions of the last weeks shot a flare up, over and past this reality not in one church, but over all our houses of faith. Disagreements will abound but a conversation will be open. We are fine with charity, dressing the wound, and yet justice is a hollow word dribbled from pulpits all about. It is needed to serve soup to the needy but for me it is not an act of justice. And it doesn’t make me feel worthwhile.

and many others have been inspired by your patient witness in these last 3 months, your urgings and your calm assurance that we are witnessing and supporting something powerful, and that powerful movements are hard to understand; that listening and building relationships is what is required. As per yesterday, if I put you in an awkward position I am sorry. As my Bishop, with the respect I have for you, I understand whatever you have to do in relation to my actions. People in the movement want to see the church step out in real solidarity and most churches will not. To cross that line for me, in solidarity, was an enactment of that, and that is my ground.

Bishop George Packard has also written of his experience being arrested at Duarte Square on Saturday. He has some choice words to “senior bishops” in our church.

I recall sitting with my group, handcuffed, and watching the NYPD deploy a maneuver outside the Trinity property, on the street, which must have a name: the rear of a group was now defined by a quickly assembled perimeter of cops, sort of rear guard. But then an odd thing happened: the contingent of police inside the property where I was, pressed the cyclone fence in the opposite direction making a spectator sandwich. Keep in mind these people–not the arrestees–were growing uneasy as the fence started to squeeze them more and more like the Edgar Allen Poe short story, “The Pit and the Pendulum,” even to lower onto their noses. Little did I know my wife was in this crowd.

This became an opportunity for individual and gratuitous violence by policemen. The simple arrests were done, why were they messing with these people? Which brings me to the melodrama of the day and the forecasts by our leaders. The only “force or arms” present on Saturday was not in (or at) the hands of demonstrators. Such a statement is woefully out of touch with what Occupy Wall Street stands for. It is the corporate culture which employs these means either grossly or through manipulation of money and power. So much so in this case that the NYPD was called out as gendarmes for the latest corporate client, Trinity Church. We avoided any real tragedy in the midst of peaceful protest, but barely. Should this have really unravelled I would not have held the NYPD accountable as much as those who brought this bizarre, and needless, construct into being.

The cop who kneed my wife in the chest three times and threw her into other demonstrators was the same Officer who walked me harmlessly to the paddy wagon.

Here’s a question I have for anyone so free with advice on what conduct OWS should employ at a protest–please answer it honestly. “What would you have done if it was your loved one who had gotten beaten after you had behaved so decorously, and non violently, in the course of your arrest?” Spare me your lectures on non-viloence; we’re already well-versed in the discipline.

After discussing Occupy Wall Street, he turns his attention to Trinity, Wall Street.

Privately I must remark on the shocking dissonance between their professed support, their vast resources and power and the things they provided: leaving a drop in center open, allowing group meetings in other space literally a handful if not less of times, deleting posts on their blogs that enjoined them for basic relief of human needs (porta-potties). They never intended to connect, listen to and support this movement in any real way.It is a re hash of their 9/11 record and as many know all too well, locally in times of social crisis, they do the right thing only if self preservation (image) requires it and even then only haltingly. There is no amount of explanation that can dissuade me of that. I do hope that I can forgive them and perhaps one day they will also understand and forgive me for my hard comments since this started the first weeks of OWS. Time will tell. But to devote another second to them would be a second wasted.


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Michael Russell
John D. Andrews

I do not think that the OWS movement is anti-capitalism. To say it is I believe shows a bias against the biblical imperative to not just help, but to also, and most importantly, reform the capitalist system so that it is just. The OWS movement has started a dialogue about just that. This is why, as Brook Packard previously stated, it is important that OWS have a place to occupy that is visible in order not to die.

Tom Sramek Jr

I have no issue with capitalism per se (certainly most reading this blog benefit from the same). My issue is that we are in the process of gutting already existing social programs in the name of fiscal responsibility so that we can finance a tax cut that benefitted tose who least needed it. Sort of a reverse Robin Hood–taking from the poor to give to the rich.

As a priest with full-time employment, good (though expensive) health insurance, and an anticipated pension that largely depends on investments in corporations, I can hardly claim victim status. However, as I see college costs skyrocketing, the social safety net disintegrating, and city budgets streached so thin that police can only respond to violent crimes, my conclusion is that we can’t afford to keep tax rates for the 1% at their historic lows. It isn’t class warfare to suggest that giving a huge tax cut to someone who makes $250,000+ a year, while it might be nice, is no longer financially sustainable. To sustain it by cutting basic services makes zero sense to me.


I don’t think the OWS movement is anti-capitalism per se. THey are against unbridled greed being elevated as the only goal of capitalism, which appears to be the problem today.

American capitalism used to be about generating capital by making things– widgets, cars, computers–and employing people to do it. It’s possible to do that with respect, and sufficient profit for all to benefit. Rising tides raise all boats.

Now, the wealthiest are those who contribute nothing but push money around, with obscene incomes and no sense of social responsibility. Hence occupy WALL STREET as opposed to MAIN STREET.

LIke the word “Christian” now associated with the right wing fundies who hate gays, the word “Capitalist” is associated with insanely wealthy market manipulators (who continue to profit in this depression). SEems those words need to be reclaimed by counterexamples.

Susan Forsburg

Michael Russell

I do not disagree, Juan, indeed the CPF has enough cash to perhaps shape investment practices even as they demonstrate prudent fiscal responsibility. With them also holding lay investments this is even more true.

But let’s be sure of what messages we want to endorse, send, or bestow glowing theological assessment upon. Capitalism freed people from caste, guild, and land based wealth to strive equally in the market. And what was true of work was true of ideas too with freedom of speech and press. Neither Communism, Socialism, communitarianism nor other utopian ideas have demonstrated a greater capacity for free exchange and free decision in what to buy or own.

So unfocused anti-capitalism, with a hope for some emergent “new” will not convince. And rather than being a faultering paradigm, capitalism is now spreading freedoms to billions of new people, busy setting aside communism and caste. Much of our own economic decline is because we have not been resilient enough in a broadened global village market, not because capitalism is inherently evil.

This next presidential campaign will be about economic resiliency. And it will focus around the basic rights of working people to organize and participate in formation of contracts and protection from unsafe working conditions. The radical conservatives want our policy to emulate China’s so we can exploit labor, including children and plunder the environment.

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