Our guest blogger is Jack Jenkins, a writer and researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.Fed up with an unjust financial system that disproportionately affects the poor, Episcopalians in Massachusetts are speaking – and praying – out against unfair banking practices and corporate greed through a series of protest actions and church overtures.
This past Sunday a group of worshipers representing 10 Episcopal parishes in the diocese of Massachusetts, an ecumenical cadre of “protest chaplains,” and several members of Occupy Boston gathered in downtown Boston to protest and pray publicly for a better banking system.
“As Christians, we are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper,” Marisa Egerstrom, Campaign Director for Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation and lead organizer of the event, said in a press release. “We are obligated to love our neighbors by moving our accounts, credit cards, and investments to banks that do not commit mortgage fraud, practice discriminatory lending, unfairly foreclose with illegal robo-signing, or gouge consumers with hefty and often financially crippling fees.”
Attendees of the worship service sang hymns as they marched from the Cathedral of St. Paul through downtown Boston to a spot between city hall and a branch of Bank of America. There, Episcopal Bishop Thomas Shaw led the group in a “liturgy of commitment” where worshipers publicly committed to move their money out of Bank of America and other Wall Street banks and into local credit unions. People then placed “commitment cards” into offering plates, some cutting up their Bank of America credit or debit cards and placing the pieces in the bowls during the service before taking communion.
Episcopal Bishop Thomas Shaw delivered a sermon that invoked St. Francis of Assisi and explained the importance of speaking truth to financial powers, saying: “We’re standing here before a branch of Bank of America right over there, and what we’re saying to those people who make the decisions for Bank of America … is that somehow what we want to do by this little demonstration today, is to invite you into your humanity … to remind you that you’re just like all of us, and just a part of creation. We want your restoration as human beings.”
Episcopalians in Massachusetts aren’t just praying for change in the financial system, they’re also trying to put their money where their faith is. In preparation for the Diocese of Massachusetts’ annual convention this coming weekend, several clergy ad organizations such as Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation and Episcopal City Mission are pushing for a resolution that would ask the diocese to divest – both individually and organizationally – from Wall Street Banks.
Divestment activists in the Diocese of Massachusetts are part of a larger movement of faith groups working to divest from big banks. Last year, for example, religious leaders and congregations from Episcopal, Catholic, Muslim, and Adventist traditions in California joined LA Voice in pledging to divest more than $2 million from Bank of America. Similarly, Most Holy Trinity Church in San Jose, CA divested its $3 million from Bank of America and moved their money to a local credit union, and the PICO National Network even launched a nationwide Faithful Banking Campaign.
To Egerstrom, protesting unjust banking practices comes naturally to many faithful.
“They’ve seen the effects of the economic crisis on their parishes,” Egerstrom said. “So part of what we’re doing when we make these public statements is to say ‘I’m not going to stand by while people tell you it’s all your fault … That it’s your fault that time and time again banks walk off with more of your paycheck than you do.’ This is an attempt at acting out the kind of solidarity that I understand is Christianity.”