Faith overtones heard in Occupy protests but many religious leaders wary

November 15, 2011

(A banner outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London October 31, 2011. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett)

Religions condemn greed. The “Occupy Wall Street” protests around the world condemn greed. So theoretically, religious leaders should find common ground with the rallies denouncing the inequalities of capitalism.

Some activist clergy have turned up at protest camps. Not long after Occupy Wall Street began in New York, some Christians arrived in Zuccotti Park with papier-mache statues of a golden calf, a Biblical symbol of idol worship.

But the hierarchies have kept their distance – or tried to – even though the protests have religious overtones with appeals to equality, charity and justice. When protesters camped at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, its Church of England staff found itself torn between God and Mammon.

In the United States, Roman Catholic bishops are meeting this week without economic inequality on their agenda. The Jewish Week newspaper called the Occupy movement a “new third rail for the Jewish mainstream”. Some imams have joined the protests to speak about the advantages of Islamic finance, which bans interest and focuses on investing in the real economy. But the movement has not been a central issue for most large Muslim organizations.

The diffuse nature of the protests, which have no central leadership or agreed list of demands, make them a difficult partner for established religion even if they seem to share some basic values.

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