- (Photo: REUTERS / Lucas Jackson)
One of the Christian leaders arrested in a peaceful protest for the poor on Capitol Hill is calling fellow religious leaders to be a moral and nonviolent influence in the "Occupy Wall Street" protests occurring around the nation.
The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, was one of 11 ministry leaders arrested July 28 after ignoring calls to leave the Capitol Rotunda and charged with a misdemeanor. The court dropped the misdemeanor charge against 10 of the 11 ministers Tuesday. One of ministers pled guilty and paid a $50 fine.
Despite his brush with the law, Nelson is urging religious leaders to get involved in other protests, namely the "Occupy Wall Street" protests.
"One of the things I am convinced of is that faith has a role to play in the leadership of these movements," he said. That role, Nelson said, is one of moral and ethical authority. He observed that there is no discipline in the framework of the OWS protests.
"I don't always get that there is a commitment to nonviolence," he told The Christian Post.
On Tuesday morning, the Boston Police Department moved in on Occupy Boston protesters, clearing away tents and arresting 100 resisters. Veteran protesters chanted "We are the veterans of the United States of America" and "Shame! Shame! Shame!" according to The Washington Post.
District of Columbia police also arrested six Occupy D.C. protesters this week after they began chanting loudly in the U.S. Senate's Hart office building.
The individuals occupying the city and town squares around the country as part of the leaderless movement seem to be protesting several different things. However, a statement that has emerged from the mass of protesters proclaims that the overall aim is to be to combat "corporate greed and corrupt politics."
Nelson and the other 11 other leaders from the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish traditions protested earlier this year at the Capitol as a part of the Faithful Budget Campaign. The campaign sought to encourage the administration and Congress to protect domestic and international programs for the poor.
The Presbyterian leader said he identifies with the frustrations of the OWS protesters. "There are people who are angry because they may not be able to go to school ... angry because they have been locked out and left out for years," he explained.
However, he fears that without proper leadership and focus, the protesters may descend into violence.
"When we begin to talk about a constitutional right to protest ... there will be a time where people will resist," Nelson predicted.
When protesters begin to resist, he fears, "We could be looking at a Tunisia or Egypt."
Nelson clarified that religious leaders should not get involved to control the movement, but to model to participants how to express themselves through nonviolent means. He recalled how Martin Luther King Jr. helped African Americans living in the civil rights era express their frustrations through peaceful means.
Similarly, Nelson believes Christian leaders can help protesters utilize peaceful means of getting the message across such as letter-writing campaigns, visits with officials and prayer vigils.
He reminded believers that the role of Christians is to be a consciousness to the government and also a consciousness to the people.
Nelson told CP he believes that the OWS protests are important because they are, in his view, not an issue of entitlements, but rather “an issue of how do we hold this country together."