Friday, June 8, 2012

When Choice is Honorable

Jack Boyle and I before he lost 20 lbs.
Everybody has choices in life. Some are painful and honorable others are portrayed as important for appearance's sake.  We are facing such stark examples in the drama between protesters-on-trial and Trinity Church. Recently there has been commotion about the wisdom of Jack Boyle’s decision “to choose” a hunger strike and refuse to take his AIDS medication as a witness against Trinity Church’s prosecution of the December 17th protesters.
Jack says, “Drop the charges and I will eat and take my meds.” At first I thought my friend was a little batty, worse, showing signs of PTSD from that violent early morning roust on November 15th at Zuccotti. He wouldn’t be the first to exhibit signs of that trauma’s aftermath. But after spending two hours with him at his home last Sunday I’m not so sure.

Jack was arrested with me and 32 others at Duarte and since then our relationship has grown from cell mate, to good acquaintance, to better friend. I could always count on Jack’s enthusiasm at meeting;  we’d share a fist bump and an update at many street actions. I’d placed our pairing into a certain category of casual familiarity and so it was a jolt when he announced this potentially fatal decision of a meds/hunger strike. Surely I could talk him out of this choice. 

But during that long talk at his apartment I realized I didn’t really know him at all and the dignity of the man who had the right to make such an existential choice. I didn’t know his fears of being HIV positive since 2003, his sense of his own finitude and what “it was good for” or of his dual Irish citizenship, or, most tellingly the minute-by-minute recall he had of that violent sweep of Zuccotti on November 15th and how a cop had disfigured his hand.

Those of us who had turned down the District Attorney’s plea bargains electing instead for a bench trial knew the consequences. We felt it was important to call into question Trinity’s authority to cite ownership, declare a trespass, and even to act as a corporation and landlord when its avowed mission was the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ours was a choice but Jack’s take on this standoff brought it to a different level. Even if ill-advised his action made my worries about 90 days on Riker’s Island look silly and pale. The rest of us were pikers compared to him. Jack was taking Occupy at its word: the only control one has is of one’s body. It is the last social and political discretion we have left--all else has been taken away. Why should we be surprised that one in our number would commit life and health to this cause?Compared to his more regal use of the term when “choice” is folded into Trinity’s press releases it is embarrassingly transparent. 

Trinity Church is not seeking retribution or punishment..Trinity fully supports the District Attorney’s decision to offer protesters non-criminal dispositions without fines or incarceration, and also respects the protestors’ right to make a choice…Trinity has welcomed and continues to welcome OWS members, like all members of its community, to its facilities in the Wall Street area. However, Trinity unequivocally does not support the seizure of private property. 

It is “corporate-speak”using  law to protect interests and a landlord making money.This parish could have “chosen” to step outside of history and given refuge to OWS instead of saving it for today's huddle of food trucks. This clergy leadership could have “chosen” to dialogue with OWS instead of folding their arms. Rector Cooper could still “choose” not to send his  custodian to court thereby sustaining these charges. That would take a miracle of awareness that is so out of fashion on Wall Street.

And herein is the ultimate blasphemy for God’s church to defer to the law at hand rather than the justice on which it stands. But that would meant Trinity Church would have “chosen” to act as the Body of Christ instead of the soulless corporation it has  become.  


  1. Paulo Freire has written “Manipulation attempts to anesthetize the people so they will not think.” Trinity's "choice" is manipulative and typically corporate and the defendants are smart enough to see through it.

    Why has the Diocese and Jim Cooper's bishop been silent on this?

  2. Trinity Parish is rapidly become (more of) an embarrassment to the Episcopal Church. Why doesn't the Bishop of New York say something to the Parish about this?

  3. Thanks, George, for telling Jack Boyle's story. Prayers for Jack, for all who will stand trial, and for the powers at Trinity to heed the words of Mary in her song of praise to God, the Magnificat:

    "His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
    He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
    He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
    he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty."


  4. Thank you, George, for your courage and strength.

  5. Wow-a gay Episcopalian? What's next-a disproportionately high percentage of White upper-middle class liberal arts grads in the pews and in leadership?