The Protest Chaplains, a Boston-based Christian protest group, joined New York’s “Occupy Wall Street” movement last month. One of the few religious groups present, they witnessed an outpouring of support and a ripple affect of astonishing acts resulted from their presence at the "Occupy" protests.
The group arrived in NYC Sept. 17 decked out in white robes and publicly chanting prayer.
“What we did was simple,” Marisa Egerstrom told The Christian Post Tuesday.
Egerstrom, one of the founding organizer’s of the group said, “ We sang and chanted simple songs. We didn’t have a chance to do anything else. People stopped and turned around. It was something beautiful in the midst of protest chants.”
Composed of Harvard Divinity School students, members of the Episcopal Diocese of Mass., and many other local churches and faith groups, the Protest Chaplains draw strength from rituals of prayer, song, meditation and devotion.
Their website says, “We’re not out to evangelize anyone – seriously. We’re not going to New York in order to convince anyone that Christianity is a good thing; we too are very critical of the genocidal, anti-Semitic, homophobic, etc. abuses of the Church and the Christian faith over the past 2000 years.”
Egerstrom, a Harvard PHD student studying American Religious History said, “So much of the impoverishment and war that has been propagated by Wall Street has been done under the cover of religion.”
Having been a political, social and religious organizer on and off for 12 years, Egerstrom pointed out that not everything happens in a vacuum and reminds critics of the protest that the war in the world has corporate ties.
She says to follow the money and know that war is expensive.
“When public money for war is being handed over to these private corporations, it undermines democratic process,” the Boston leader told CP.
The protest Chaplains were a small group amidst hundreds of demonstrators spending time in the revolving door in New York City’s financial district where protesters relentlessly reside.
Besides the white robes and outward prayer, what was the difference between the Protest Chaplains and regular protesters?
“We had fewer piercings and bandanas,” Egerstrom told CP half jokingly before switching to a serious, passionate tone and said “the superficial differences is ‘we agree.’ We might use different theological language but our ‘differences’ are inconsequential since what most grieves us and what gives us most hope is the same.”
The Protest Chaplains received positive reception from New York protesters in person and on Twitter and Facebook.
One supporter told Egerstrom, “This is the first time I’ve seen religion do something positive.”
The day after the group visited NYC, they received a tweet that said, “I’m an atheist, but it’s so nice to see Christians finally acting Christ-like.”
Egerstrom attributed some of the positive reception to the often-negative perception mass media consumers subconsciously receive about religion.
“For people who are active and go to protests the only time they see a religious perspective is from people like Jerry Falwell and Westboro Baptist Church. It’s usually very hateful and aggressive. And other than that, Christians have been invisible,” she said in a phone interview with CP.
The problem lies, Egerstrom said, in the way religion is presented in the media.
“Politicians like Michelle Bachman get the most airtime. It’s an exclusive and narrow-minded version of Christianity,” explained Egerstrom who asked what other perception could possibly come from that kind of representation.
According to the Luke 4:21 reference on their website, the Protest Chaplains said they are doing this because we believe Jesus came to “proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
However, the Protest Chaplains practice the idea that it’s important to be gentle and understanding.
“We weren’t going to defend Christianity. Many if not most of us had fairly complicated relationships with our faith. It’s not a simplistic view. We are not coming from a place of defensiveness. We believe that the only authentic effort that can be made to change perceptions is to be a better kind of Christian. And that means showing up,” Egerstrom said.
“We were mobbed the whole day in NY asking about who we are,” she added.
Egerstrom told CP that she’s been hearing signs of radical religious movement that have happened since the Protest Chaplains returned to Boston and it gives her chills.
Following the group’s visit, there has been presentations about spirituality and economic inequality, a vigil for Troy Davis on the night of his execution, and most surprisingly is a religious group called Crossing has moved their money out of Bank of America and into credit unions.
One protester was so moved by the relationship-building ministry shown by the Protest Chaplains he said he switched his career focus from MBA to ordination.
“You guys are the only Christians on our side,” another “Occupy Wall Street” protester told the Protest Chaplains.
Egerstrom told CP that the issues protested go beyond feeling rage.
"As Americans, we are forced to be complacent in a war that has killed untold thousands of civilians, and in a tax structure that steals from the poor and the hard-working and gives to the banks,” Egerstrom said.
“This is wrong, we want no part in these things. We cannot be silent while tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy are cast as 'Christian capitalism,'” she added.
“We're heartbroken, we're disgusted, and yet we're finding new life in the generosity, creativity, and dedication we see at the Occupy protests. As Christians, we know something about new life emerging out of evil and death. We see that happening in the Occupy protests."