Radical ministers make waves over joblessness in Pittsburgh
THE Rev. Daniel Solberg lashed chains inside the doors of Capital Nativity Lutheran Church outside Pittsburgh, where he had preached for six years. He built a shower in the janitor's closet, lined shelves with canned foods, and stayed put. A week later, two local policemen, sent by Nativity's governing council, smashed a window and entered the church. They chased the Rev. Mr. Solberg through the pews and arrested him.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
That incident occurred four months ago, but until last week Mr. Solberg sat in jail awaiting trial on criminal-trespass charges. Officials offered to release him if he promised to stay away from Nativity. An administrative judge dismissed those charges in a three-hour trial Tuesday, declaring there was nothing ``surreptitious,'' as the court requires, about the pastor's stay in the church.
Mr. Solberg's release ends the latest chapter in the story of a self-conscious industrial city pressing forward into a new economy and renegade pastors who have told it to wait. ``Unemployment,'' the pastor declared on the jail steps, ``is still the issue in Pittsburgh.''
Such, at least, is the agenda of the Denominational Ministry Strategy (DMS), a network of activist ministers and unionists whose activities have bitterly divided the depressed mill towns of the Monongahela Valley, decrying corporate evil as the cause of widespread unemployment in a region that once led the world in steel production. Group-confrontational tactics have split congregations and pitted bishop against pastor, union representatives against rank-and-file workers.
When Mr. Solberg, whose actor-brother David Soul still faces trespass charges for an Easter demonstration, emerged from the Allegheny County Jail to the arms of his wife and applause of a dozen friends, many wearing cleric's collars, he did not talk about his ordeal. He spoke of ``the lies of corporate Pittsburgh.''
Pittsburgh had heard this before. Just 10 months ago the Rev. D. Douglas Roth, also a Lutheran pastor, drew national attention by holing up in his church. He was jailed and later defrocked by the Lutheran Synod, the regional ruling body for the 3 million-member United Lutheran Church in America.
Ironically, the DMS was founded in 1978 with the blessings of the Lutheran Synod ``to penetrate the lives'' of the unemployed, as declining steel production forced layoffs of tens of thousands of workers. While the ``Mon'' Valley's dominant employer, US Steel, was shearing its work force by nearly 80 percent over the last seven years, the DMS forged what may be the largest coalition of activist ministers in the country.
``We're doing evangelism at its roots, and we're doing it in dying communities,'' said the Rev. James D. Von Dreele, an Episcopal minister and DMS activist.
The way DMS activists see it, the city's large steel and investment concerns have turned their backs on the communities that made them wealthy, opting to invest in and modernize facilities in other states and abroad, where demand is greater or labor is cheaper. Steel producers contend that finding less costly means of production in a competitive market is simple economics. Sacrificing people for profits, DMS pastors counter, is evil.
DMS ``evangelism'' has taken both nasty and humorous forms. Last Christmas a DMS group burst into a children's party at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Shadyside, an affluent neighborhood on the northeast side of Pittsburg, and hurled balloons filled with skunk oil about the room. The indirect target: David M. Roderick, chairman of US steel, who attends services there. Research into Pittsburgh's power structure has spurred DMS to broaden its sights. Its members have planted frozen fish in safe depos it boxes at Mellon Bank, arguing that the state's largest bank dictates public and private interest; they have skunked a judge's home and slashed the car tires of the synod leader, Bishop Kenneth May, who now opposes them.