Already excited about Cornel West’s joining her faculty, New York’s Union Seminary president Serene Jones enthusiastically announced that her campus will continue to cheerlead for the Wall Street Occupiers after their abrupt ouster from Zuccotti Park.
“At Union Theological Seminary, we stand in full solidarity with the protestors,” announced Serene Jones in her Huffington Post column. “Questioning the status quo, as well as defying entrenched authority, is one of The Bible’s most powerful themes, especially as it is revealed through the example of Jesus Christ.”
Union was once one of America’s most prestigious Mainline Protestant seminaries. Early in the 20th century, if not before, it bracingly sided with liberalism against traditional theology. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., himself a devout liberal Baptist enthusiast for the Social Gospel, lavished patronage on Union. Its faculty once hosted nationally renowned thinkers like Reinhold Niebuhr. But already in the 1930’s a visiting German student, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, found Union’s watered down, social justice Protestantism to be languid. The future anti-Hitler conspirator looked to Harlem’s black churches for more vibrant faith.
In recent years, as liberal Protestantism has imploded, Union has lost its prestige and struggled with finances. Capturing religious leftist Cornel West from Princeton University certainly is a coup. And touting Wall Street occupiers maybe will revivify Union, which like other leftist institutions, has yearned for an energizing cause ever since the Vietnam War.
Union’s president explained in HuffPo that “flying banners is fine” but not sufficient in these dire times. So Union trained 45 students to act as round the clock “protest chaplains” for Wall Street Occupiers, “be they anarchist, capitalist, or no “ist” at all.” Student activists were put through an “activist drill” that included a “seminar on non-violent resistance, a course on the legal rights of occupiers, and training on how to be pastoral presence in the midst of chaos.”
Jones noted that “so far” no Union students have been arrested or suffered physical harm. She wondered if this will change after the November 17 ouster of the Occupation from the Zuccotti Park. “I’m fearful the protests may turn ugly,” she confessed. “But my heart also leaps as I envision every student at Union Theological Seminary as a budding Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who will have the fearless spiritual discipline of staying present.”
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