Occupy/Faith Dialogue at Temple University Hosts Conflicting Points of View
The Dialogue Institute at Temple University hosted a panel discussion this afternoon to talk about the role of religion in social reform and, specifically, the Occupy movement. In attendance were about 20 religious leaders, members of the Occupy movement, Temple students and others. The discussion was presented as a panel, in which each member had a few minutes to speak about their thoughts on religion within the Occupy Movement, then pass the mic to the next participant.
One of the most noteworthy of the panel was perhaps Sgt. Robert Allen Mansfield. The former Pennsylvania gubernatorial and senate candidate who recently announced he’d be running for U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania’s second district, began his short talk mentioning the movement he identifies with: the Tea Party. He said African Americans “need to be spread out so we have some leverage.”
Mansfield went on to speak about the Reformation’s place within general protest and the rights of the 99 Percent. “The Roman Catholic Church in the 15th Century believed only the leaders should have the Bible, and that the leaders should read that Bible to the layperson,” he said. “Martin Luther believed that everyone should have that Bible and although the Roman Catholic Church said if you do this, we’re going to have 95,000 denominations and interpretations.”
But the point, he added, was that it’s up to the individual to decide how s/he is going to determine the Bible, amongst other things. “We may disagree,” he said to those who counted themselves part of the Occupy movement. “But we do agree on one thing: That we need to change the way we do business, how we address these issues of social justice and economic disparity.”
The panel continued with Islamic, Quaker, Christian, atheist and “spiritual, not religious” voices. There was no consensus on what the role of faith within the Occupy Movement was, per say; but rather, speakers offered what it could be and whether or not affiliated groups should join the same process or splinter off. Some members of the panel compared the Occupy movement to the Civil Rights movement, while others, like Vivek Ananthan, a member of the Green party of Philadelphia who says he was a participant at several Occupy protests and General Assemblies, noted his disappointment with the protests.
“There is racism in this group,” said Ananthan, who is originally from Sri Lanka. “It’s terrible.” This, he added, was common amongst all institutions. “So something has to be done practically and I don’t know that that is possible with the knowledge we have.”
Ananthan also spoke of the plight of the American Indians. “Only 30 percent of them are employed in this country. Why is that? …. So, I’m wondering…if this is practical. You all can talk. Well, that is great. But I want to see something in practicality if that’s possible. Which I don’t see.”
A Temple Ph.D candidate in Political science who spoke toward the end said the Occupy Movement has to watch out for institutions in general, citing Occupy Wall Street being evicted by Trinity Wall Street, a church which had originally been on the protest’s side. Trinity would not hand over a vacant, gravel lot for the protesters to stay after they were evicted from Zuccotti Park and Occupy then turned its sights on the church. He noted that both Occupy and religious movements are important because they “make people announce where they stand.”
The session was recorded and I’ll link to that when it’s online.